Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ink (contains nudity)

"Skin is the border between the self and the world*..A place where touches, traces and markings are negotiated in a productive struggle for meaning."
-quoted from "Written on the Body: The Suicide Girls' Difference and Transgression"

Toronto, Canada.  Hummingbird Theatre for the Performing Arts, about ten years ago. Sandy and I are attending the National Ballet's performance of Don Quixote, an evening which falls just short of a black tie affair.

A woman comes into view.  She's attractive, tall, slender and dressed in an evening gown which seems to fall perfectly in all the right places.  Her blonde hair is up in a bun, very tasteful and classy.  A budding socialite, she's a vision of style and elegance.  The woman turns her back towards us, revealing a ten inch tattoo which spans her shoulders.  For me the vision is shattered.

I expect this post will cause some strong reaction; in fact I hope many of you will take a minute to voice your opinions for or against the subject. There's virtually a 100% chance that some of you reading are wearing ink somewhere, in visible or *ahem* some wonderfully hidden places.  I don't begrudge anyone making that choice, I just want to better understand the attraction.

I've always viewed the human body as a natural art form, and as such I've never seen the need to cover any part of it.  It seems increasingly common in my daily life to see a woman sporting a tattoo across the small of her back or shoulder, not to mention the ever-popular butterfly or some-such on the ankle. And while I know people do this mainly for themselves, it leaves me uninspired.

After stating this point of view my reasoning begins to unravel, because (as with most things in my life) there are exceptions to the rule. I find the puckered "lipstick kiss on the butt cheek" extremely sexy.  Same with the faded Playboy bunny-head tan mark.  But here's the real kicker, which I still haven't been able to fully explain. 

On a trip to my local bookstore recently I chanced upon a hardcover book about 'SuicideGirls'. For anyone not familiar with the term, I'll explain.  SuicideGirls challenge society's notion of what defines female beauty.  These are women who don't confine themselves within any boundaries.  Usually adorned with tattoos or piercings they live life very much on their own terms, and are extremely comfortable outwardly expressing themselves.  Some examples which caught my eye...

As applies to everyday life I would argue that the human body itself is a form of art which shouldn't be defaced with tattoos or piercings.  However upon looking at these photos I'm struck by the notion that the body when adorned in ink is in this sense a living canvas, and I see the whole subject as an artwork.  But why does this hold such allure?  What in my mind makes the difference?

Here's another quote taken from "Written on the Body: The Suicide Girls' Difference and Transgression" as it appears on-line on the New Mappings website:

"The creasing and folding of the skin that tattoos represent, contaminate the gender discourse otherwise established and serve as a disruption and challenge of the conventional image of the female body. It articulates a territory which lies folded inside the sexual pleasure of the image, and allows the production of a subjectivity where female sexuality is not dependent on the male gaze, but rather invites a broader conceptualization of desire."

I find this statement very interesting.

So where do I go from here?  Can my views of what I see in real life vs what I see on paper co-exist? I feel like a tremendous walking contradiction right now.

I'd like to hear you views on this.  Are tattoos art or abomination? If you have a tattoo, what was your reason for getting it and where do you wear it?  And I'll give out the 'Zombie Chicken Award' to anyone who can constructively shed some light on why my views may differ so greatly between what I see in real life vs on the page.

* quoted from Claudia Benthien
All pictures from the SuicideGirls website.  SuicideGirls 2001-2009


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  2. This is deep Barry. Whatever I'll say now is just my own opinion and I hope nobody gets hurt by this. I don't like tattoos. I wouldn't even date a guy with a tattoo back when I was single.

    I guess the reason why you admired the Suicide Girls even with their tattoos is that the photos were able to present the tattoos as a form of art. The lighting, the props and the projection of the girls made the tattoos visually appealing. I, too, love the photos.

  3. I'm sorry, but these photos just do not convince me tattoos are cool. I can't stand body art. I mean, when these beautiful young girls are in their 50s, these tattoos are going to be faded and look ridiculous. Even more so when they get older than that. What are they going to tell their grandchildren? And people's tastes change. People mature. Having a giant butterfly might be cool when you're 25 but when you're 45, it might just be embarrassing. And tattoo removal is not cheap nor is it easy. :(

    I'm not totally uptight about this though. I do agree there are exceptions. If the tattoo truly means something very personal to you, then that's cool. For example, my cousin (who is half Swedish and half Mexican) has the Swedish flag on one arm and the Mexican flag on the other. That's a part of who he is. That will never go away. My bff from high school, Jenn, has a rose and a music note on her hip. She is working on her Masters in music, plus her middle name is Rose. It means something.
    Then again, I have an aunt who got a prominent sunflower on her chest when she was 18. Now 58, she is humiliated by it b/c its faded and doesn't really resemble a sunflower anymore. She even refuses to wear bathing suits b/c of it. She had just wanted to be cool and have a pretty tattoo like all her friends. She doesn't even like sunflowers that much anymore. :(
    So unless that tattoo really symbolizes something very deep and personal about you, which will mean something to you forever, it's just not worth it.
    After all, what seems SO cool today, is going to just seem lame tomorrow...

  4. I'm on the other side of the fence. Well done, tasteful, artistic tattoos are something to be proud of. The fact that the skin ages is just another dimension to the art - Pollacks paintings are falling apart and that just makes them better (at least to me).

    I have a small lotus flower on the inside of my left wrist - and yes, it hurt like hell. I got it when my (ex) husband and I separated. When I choose my tattoo, I did a lot of research as to the meaning of lotus flowers - I found an illustration I liked (Sanjay Patel - he worked for Pixar). I choose the inside of my wrist because it could be easily hidded (I have a corporate job) but also easily exposed and its a part of my body that will not get too many wrinnkles (hopefully).

    I have completely been bitten by the tattoo bug, but I lack the guts to get a large piece. There are a few more small pieces I want - some meaningful, some just silly (like a mustache on my finger - yes I know what a ridiculous old woman I will be). But in the end, I will be getting these to enhance my body's aesthetic. Tattoos and piercings are just like jewerly - they are accessories to the body's aesthetic. If done well then they enhance and if done poorly then they're gaudy and distracting.

  5. I don't think, for the most part, that tattoos are artistic. Tastes change, and what may seem cool now might seem ridiculous ten years later. Plus, tattoo removal is painful, and it leaves scars. God gave us beautiful skin, we shouldn't tamper with it. I would get a very small tattoo of something that has a meaning to me and that I would want to have etched on my skin forever. I doubt I'll find something I would want to commit to in that sense, though. But in general, I don't think tattoos look pretty. I think Jennifer should get the award! She said it just right :)

    Barry, <3

  6. Thanks for your viewpoints! Very interesting discussion so far...

  7. I have one tattoo. It's on my right thigh and it is of a gargoyle.

    I've thought gargoyles (and tattoos) were awesome since I was in primary school.

    Why the gargoyle?

    Because I always identified with them.

    They guard, they watch over people and they aren't pretty to look at.

    I always thought it sucked that most people didn't appreciate them for what they did rather than how they looked.

  8. I'm torn on this subject as well. I want a tattoo, but because it's gotten such a bad connotation I'm like should I? Shouldn't I? Would it give me a bad rep? What if my shirt goes up and my boss sees it? I want get one on my lower back to the side not in the middle. I want a butterfly to signify that I've changed into something beautiful from the dark times I've had recently. But yeah. People with them everywhere are not appealing to me. I can't understand how people can go through allll that pain all over their body. I do like the photo with the girl with the saying on her back but wouldn't that look weird when she walked up the aisle in her wedding dress? See yea Barry I'm torn on this whole subject. hmmmmm....very torn....

  9. It's a hard topic. I remember us talking about this years ago, and about what we were looking for in a partner. I don't really care for them either, but you know who has one as she has mentioned here. It is part of who she is, and it is really quite attractive, and pretty sexy for the fact that only I get to see it. I would definitely not be crazy about the lower back art, or the "tramp stamp". I have thought about getting inked on occasion, but just something simple like the Guns and Roses emblem, on my entire back. Just kidding, something simple like the kids names, or a Maple Leaf.

  10. It's really all a personal opinion. You either hate tattoos and will never get one, like them and will get one or two, or love them and get sleeves or backpieces.

    And this whole thing where people look at others with tattoos and automatically assume they are a bad person is ridiculous. People get tattoos to represent something/someone or because they like the form of art, not to tell people they are drug dealers or kill people in their spare time, or that they are less educated than someone without tattoos. Tattoos aren't labels, they are a representation of ones self through visual art.

  11. Great viewpoints guys, thanks! Curtis, do you have a blog I can visit?

  12. It's really interesting to me to read all of the above comments about how tattoos aren't art. Tattoos - when done well - are crafted from a client's vision and an artist's talent, created specifically for an individual, drawn on paper (usually) and then on a person's body. That's art by definition, right? A visual expression of creativity. It might not be art that you appreciate - just as you might not like the works of Kandinsky or Mondrian - but that doesn't somehow make it not art.

    I do think that if you're someone who's opposed to tattoos, it's easier to appreciate them on the page because then you can see them more as art. When you're looking at a photograph, it's not walking past you, talking to you, or interacting. You can admire it like you'd admire a painting on a wall, without having to attach it to a personality.

    One final note: a few commenters above mentioned that tattoos are abominations unless they have significant life meaning to you. Yes, there are a lot of people who walk into a tattoo shop and pick an image off of a wall because it's "cool." At the same time, sometimes even the most random of images - like the semi-colon tattooed on my leg, or the wrench on the back of my left arm - have very significant personal meaning. It's not my job to explain the meaning of my tattoos to anyone else, though. While you may not understand why someone chose to get a tattoo, that doesn't make it any less important to them.