Progress is Traditional. Have you ever heard things like this when you hear ‘artists’ or clients discussing tattoos?
- “But what will it look like in ten years?”
- “You should stick with the classics they’re proven styles”
- “The bold will hold”
- “It’ll never heal”
Well, doing the kind of work I do, I hear it a lot. Like a lot…
This kind of cheap criticism has long been an ‘easy out’ for ‘artists’ who either don’t want to or have no interest in the progress of tattooing as an art form. It’s easier to plant that kind of doubt in a clients mind in order to talk them into a tired old design that’s been done a thousand times and has long since lost it’s cultural, spiritual or artistic relevance than it is is to be one of the artists who want to push the art form forward.
And it’s a criticism that has been levelled at every new form all the way back to the birth of modern tattooing. You’ll have no doubt heard the ‘it’ll never heal’ criticism levelled at colour realism in recent years all over the interweb by people who have no business or nearly enough qualifications to critique work done by some of the best artists tattooing has ever seen, ever.
Black & Grey was new once
But, can you imagine a world where black and grey doesn’t exist? Or is criticised in the same way? Seems impossible right? Wrong, it was called the 70’s. As amazing as that may seem as recently as the 1970’s you’d struggle to get a black and grey tattoo unless you were in a prison in East LA. Just find a copy of the brilliant film Tattoo Nation for a great insight into the birth of black and grey and see how ‘artists’ viewed this modern day staple of tattooing in it’s early days.
I think what is considered traditional is really just a matter of longevity. It’s human nature that some artists will always look to history for inspiration and some will look to the future to see what is possible. It’s two different mindsets. But – as tattoo has become big business – the argument that traditionalists have always used in an effort to maintain the culture, quality and ethics of tattoo has become a poisonous mindset used by a few, jealous, small minded people that only serves to hold tattoo back and keep it down.
The disadvantage of only looking backwards is that the art-form never progresses beyond the point it was deemed traditional, and its styles, tools and techniques are locked in time forever and as we move further and further forward, its iconography has less and less resonance in the modern day.
Progress is Traditional – Mavericks and Pioneers
It’s also ironic that the artists responsible for creating and defining the styles that we would now consider to be traditional tattoos weren’t traditionalist at all but far from it! They were mavericks and pioneers. If a technique didn’t exist, they created it, If the tools weren’t good enough, they improved them using the latest technologies. If the supplies didn’t cut it, they made their own.
In fact they are responsible for almost everything we take for granted in modern tattooing. They simply defied the establishment and simple defiance is sometimes all we have as a weapon to push things forward.
“But mine is a proven style”. Yeah, but not proven by you though was it. And Actually no it won’t necessarily unless you’re as good as one of the guys that invented it.
You see an originator is a different animal to a copycat. The originator invents and discovers techniques. Refining them as he goes until they are perfect. But the copycat just does it the way he was told. Right or wrong and without ever questioning if the information was even correct in the first place.
By hiding behind the hard work of the originators and claiming that because their work held up yours will you are at best fooling yourself and at worst lying to clients and standing on the shoulders of giants to achieve ‘success’. You are a Charlatan. Holding tattoo back because you can’t move forward. Progress is Traditional.
Traditional, old school artists were neither traditional or old school in their day. They were pioneers.
Every creative field has long accepted that the computer is perfect for making artwork quickly. You can’t make better artwork with one but you can get your ideas from your head to the ‘page’ much faster and you can revise and refine them without any headaches. Take this from someone who remembers manually laying out pages and taking them to the darkroom to create a Bromide. Compare this process to the current means of page layout using a program like Quark Xpress and you’ll see the massive benefits that technology can bring.
So if everyone else is doing it why do I still hear tattoo ‘artists’ calling ‘cheat’ every time they see a laptop? Honestly I dunno. Imagine explaining the modern world to them. It would be akin to explaining my motorbike to the Amish. Honestly I can’t be arsed to try and convert close-minded people. I prefer to just to leave them in their nostalgia bubble and get on with reinventing tattooing for the here and now.
I use all the modern tools and techniques available to me to make tattoos from the 21st century. My Cheyenne Machine is better than a ‘victorian doorbell’. soldering needles onto bars for me. I just use pre-made cartridges. And no mixing inks – mine are pre-dispersed. I don’t even draw with pencils on paper I use an iPad Pro! I use a thermal printer to make hi-res accurate first generation stencils directly from the artwork that I create using photoshop on a computer. Yes, a computer!
Progress is Traditional – Nostalgia
Now, none of that is particularly advanced. But – in some quarters – it signals the end of days and the death of tattooing. I prefer to realise that all crafts move forward inline with advances in technology. Holding onto ‘the old ways’ for no reason other than nostalgia is no different to driving a horse and cart. When it comes to technology and it’s place in my artwork and my life. I could – in no way – be considered a luddite in my attitude. And neither should you be.
You see, tattooing doesn’t die if we move forward. It dies if we stand still. The outdated traditions that some cling to were created by a group of extremely forward thinking artists. Who – unhappy with the tools of the day – created entirely new ones. To do the job quicker and more efficiently. Based on the technology available to them at the time.
Modern Electric tattooing wasn’t created by a bunch of technology hating Amish type characters. It was invented by a bunch of passionate, inspired and driven artists. Looking to make better and better tattoos. If we refuse to move forward and cling desperately to these old ‘traditions’ and ideas . We are insulting their memory and totally missing the point. Progress is Traditional