The latest TLC show titled ‘Tattoo School’ has caused global uproar throughout the tattoo community. Students who seem to lack any foundation in art or design are given two weeks to learn how to tattoo. Without question, righteous indignation from genuine tattoo artists ensued. Tattooing is an art form to which many have dedicated decades and still not achieved the levels to which they aspire. This art form is now being sold off like a work-from-home pyramid scheme with all the grace, subtlety and intelligence of a brick to the face. Yet in reviewing the abysmal tattoos completed by students of this ‘school’ one can’t help but draw numerous similarities to the portfolios of many tattooists currently practicing in studios around the world. If an inferior product is widely accepted, why would education of its recreation be so strongly criticized? It is a hard fact that true talent may not be taught or fostered within the aforementioned timeframe. And the primary negative repercussion would be the propagation of bad tattoos and ‘scratchers’ who work out of home or from equally un-hygienic venues. Acceptance that similar works can be produced by untalented hacks would more offend those who operate under delusions of grandeur in regards to the quality of their work or those who have settled for similar works under the delusion of it being art. The TLC ‘Tattoo School’ is truly an appalling creation yet, its very existence raises deep seeded questions of acceptability and standards in tattooing as a practice.
First we face the question of why the TLC ‘Tattoo School’ was even green-lighted. Standard Western mass entertainment can be neatly summarized in two words: ‘reality television’. Highly staged shows with star-struck participants claim to offer viewers some unique stance that is magically one step closer to real life than other productions. From the Jerry Springer Show, to Cops, American Idol and Big Brother demand for reality T.V. has only been on the rise. Speaking from a South East Asian viewpoint the television productions of “Miami” and “LA Ink” did wonders for broad public acceptance of tattooing. Tattoos moved from an underground practice reserved for criminals to, if not a type of collectable, then at least a much more acceptable lifestyle choice. Reality television in this case had a positive influence in challenging outdated perceptions. Yet the two aforementioned tattooing programs featured established artists in studios of some repute. Therefore the quality of tattoo work produced had already been voted as acceptable through basic economics of the studios continued presence. ‘Tattoo School’ is the litmus test of how far the public’s acceptance of any kind of tattoo can be pushed. In a kind of Hegelian dialectic tattoo acceptance was initiated (‘LA Ink’), tattoo standards are now in question (‘Tattoo School’), and the result should be a synthesis of quality and acceptability. In the same insultingly hypocritical vein as Jerry Springer’s closing remarks of “… Take care of yourself and each other”, TLC’s ‘Tattoo School’ is a reflection of the standards we hold each other accountable to. Here the synthesis being initiated with the acknowledgment of the difference between ‘markings classified as tattoos’ on the one side and ‘tattoo art’ on the other.
Could the negative reaction to the ‘Tattoo School’ be considered a form of artistic elitism? Perhaps there were no other possible avenues that the ‘Tattoo School’ participants could have explored? An extremely well known television personality by the name of Bob Ross popularized landscape painting. His half hour program opened with him standing in front of a blank canvas, brush and palette in hand. After some helpful hints and gentle commentary one ended the program faced with a beautiful, albeit sometimes clichéd, nature scene. Art and design do not need to be taken in concentrated doses. In most branches of art there is room for those who dabble in drawing, paint for recreation and take up sculpture in their garage. And the grandest of educations does not guarantee aptitude. Yet tattoo art is the personalized culmination of design, physiology and artistic vision that is evidently not accessible to all. Options of amateur participation should extend only to activities that pose no physical danger to participants. In the same way that one must sit for a drivers’ license – control must be placed on activities that pose serious risks to health and safety if carried out by unqualified individuals. The ‘Tattoo School’ program has fundamentally failed in this respect.
If the ‘Tattoo School’ was produced by a single studio on a shoestring budget then the concept of the school itself as well as the supposed training offered would be dismissed as a joke. Reality shows like Donald Trump’s The Apprentice or The Dragons Den can create an illusion of proximity and therefore ability. The incongruence of perceived versus actual ability coming from long term indoctrination. Simply, value is attributed to that which people deem worthy to record. The camera’s presence helps substantiate most any action recorded, an effect that much of MTV’s Jackass popularity relies on. Therefore participants of these shows have a kind of automatic authority. With viewers, possibly connecting to or empathizing with the participants’ course of logic, then being validated for congruent capabilities. Mr. X is someone worth watching. Mr. X did something I could have done! I am as capable as Mr. X. Psychologically, the chain of logic is massively powerful considering the perceived potential audience of these ‘reality’ shows. If ‘monkey see – monkey do’ works anywhere, it certainly does not pertain to tattooing. The core foundation of TLC’s ‘Tattoo School’ seems based around the convoluted logic that the cameras will somehow provide the authority of action so desperately lacking.
The production of the ‘Tattoo School’ was fundamentally pre-approved through long term public acceptance of sub-standard tattooing. TLC’s ‘Tattoo School’ is simply a culmination of complacency. If the differentiation between inferior work and tattoo art is made clear, then the school itself will be publically rejected as fast as a Nigerian phising scam. Quality standards of tattoo art are appropriately being called into question. Yet instead of berating the symptom, stop the cause. If bad tattoos are truly not acceptable – TLC’s ‘Tattoo School’ won’t be either.
As always special thanks to ULA and Tattoo Temple for their art, clarity and guidance.
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Hong Kong has somewhat of a ‘traditional infamy’ regarding triad tattoos. Due to the economic success and population density of this small fishing village turned metropolis, China’s Special Administrative Region is renowned for criminal tattoos and displays of organized crime affiliation. Public perception and purported fear of these markings is then reinforced by mainstream media, Hollywood included. Far from an insight into gang organization, this portrayal is a fantastic double bluff. The practice also sheds light on how the general public’s judgment of the tattooed is merely an economy of thought – allowing for broad generalizations without the need for subsequent artistic discrimination. Both of these conditions allow for illogical and outdated ‘inked-discrimination’.
The term ‘triad’ is said to have been coined by the British after assuming control of the colony. The name was derived from the traditional Chinese triangle iconography used by the gangs signifying the unity between heaven, earth and man. And even most Hong Kong triad groups still have their roots strongly in Mainland China. Throughout the 19th and 20th century the triads’ presence in Hong Kong grew alongside the territory’s reputation as an international business and shipping hub. Like any industry, the triad groups were separated by area of specialty and geographical location. There are still many active groups throughout both Mainland China and Hong Kong. It was just in 1993 that the notorious 6 acre ‘Walled City’, boasting a population of 33,000 under triad rule, was demolished. Today the number of active members in each of the top groups is estimated to range between 20,000 and 100,000+.
The two most recognizable forms in triad tattoos are the dragon and the phoenix. These generally aggressive images work in tandem within the mythology. The dragon image is held to signify the ‘yang’ or dark side of the ‘yin-yang’ balance. Far from a beast to be feared or hunted as in Western mythology, the Chinese dragon traditionally symbolized good luck, power and control over various elements. Of these traits power is the most common reason behind the acquisition of dragon tattoos. On the other side is the ‘light’ or ‘yin’ element represented by the phoenix. A fire bird consistently reborn from the ashes, the phoenix symbolizes regeneration. And to that extent the phoenix also stands for a kind of power over the mortal coil. Again, the dragon and phoenix are the most recognizable pairing in triad tattoos. The other combination is the dragon and tiger. The reason for this second grouping derives from a variety of cultural sources including particular etymology of local dialects, myths behind famous Chinese leaders as well as the perceived internal struggle between the inclination towards good or bad (with each animal representing a distinct proclivity).
The use of these images and mythology by triad members is not in question. Many triad members will have such tattoos. However, the mistaken belief is that these tattoos are used by the triad organizations themselves. Any broad categorizations of those who wear these tattoos automatically being a triad member of any repute are deeply inaccurate. The subtle differentiation being that those who publically display these tattoos are either a separate class of triad members or simply tattooed individuals.
Generally speaking there are two types of triads. The first is locally referred to as a ‘troublemaker’, the ‘young and dangerous’ type. These ‘troublemakers’ are generally concerned with street squabbles over territory, drugs, petty crime and intimidation. Due to their public profile and propensity for display, this type receives the most attention. The second type is colloquially referred to as the ‘black-band’ society. Much like any major crime organization their ranks are controlled with militarily precision and its members can be professionals from a variety of fields. Throughout the largest groups lawyers, bankers, business owners, politicians and policeman can be included in this second category. There are two rules governing the second type, to never cause trouble and to never be identified as a member. The gang’s income and business structures require the preservation of a status-quo. To upset this through any petty crime, unauthorized intimidation or showboating would be short sighted and absolutely detrimental to operations. The first type has allowed for the current negative stereotyping of the tattooed in Hong Kong. They have a propensity for very large tattoos yet, due to limited financial means, will usually only complete the outline of the piece. The second type, should they have any tattoos, would not display them in the same way. At an organizational level, leaders of various fractions will not allow followers to be tattooed. Such tattoos would draw too much attention whilst allowing for immediate identification. In a business where anonymity and discrete operations are of primary importance it would be wrong to assume that there is some displayed, physical method of membership categorization.
The idea of an economy of thought is simple, it is a mental shortcut. If one was passed by three people on the street and then asked to describe who passed, answers are most commonly economies of thought. A response could be “Two guys and a girl passed by”. Another could be “Two business men and a woman walked by”, and so on. From personal grooming, types of clothing and even their stride; a plethora of readily available information is frequently overlooked. Due to the sheer amount of information we are exposed to on a daily basis it very rarely serves any purpose to go into further detail than this. And in the absence of any extenuating circumstance, for the everyday person much of this information would indeed be useless to retain. One’s more complete attention is devoted to the environmental aspects that are of immediate concern or use. Economies of thought serve multiple purposes and allow for speedy navigation of modern day life. Yet if these economies of thought are taken as inherent truths they form the foundation for most every type of discrimination.
To racially profile, judge, dismiss or otherwise unfairly discriminate is to uphold an ill-formed economy of thought. A striking example of this being the ‘Craniometry’ and ‘Eugenics’ movements most famously employed by the Nazi’s. These supposed ‘sciences’ consisted of taking physical measurements of various body parts. The subsequent ratios between the measured sections were then said to indicate the subjects’ value as a human being. So the length and shape of one’s nose could be used as evidence of intrinsic inferiority or cognitive capacity. Again, an ill-formed economy of thought enables discrimination as investigation or genuine understanding of the facts is rendered unnecessary. This mental process (or lack thereof) with varying levels of complexity and specific cultural pressure applies to all racial profiling, stereotyping and prejudice.
To move out of the somewhat morbidly extreme nature of the previous example, general economies of thought are applied to most every aspect of life. These are internal defense mechanisms that allow for rapid categorization of the information saturated world we are part of. And not to reduce this logic to the Socratic line of continual investigation ending in the admittance we actually know nothing with certainty, mental economies of thought are comparatively topical shortcuts. Much like the snap judgment of someone’s supposed indicated wealth through a subjective calculation of the price of their clothing, the shortcuts in question here are ones that can be reduced or removed entirely with minimal effort.
To see that public displays of dragon and phoenix tattoos do not necessarily indicate a true inclination or connection to organized crime is a novel concept to many. As with any behavior, extreme actions are of course rightfully questionable. Yet tattoo art, in and of itself, can be an art form collected by the most educated and trustworthy people across the globe. To know that there are tattoos and on the other end of the spectrum there is tattoo art will allow for new, slightly more accurate mental economies of thought to develop. To automatically fear, discriminate or dismiss the tattooed would be allowing ill-formed economies of thought to grow and negative stereotypes to propagate. In a world where the rate of tattoo adoption is growing exponentially, we must understand that when properly performed tattoo art can be as varied, complex, beautiful and as detailed as the people who wear it.
As always, huge thanks to Tattoo Temple and the Unique Living Art Organization for their art, inspiration and clarity.
Tattoo Care -
Before the tattoo arrive well rested and be sure to have eaten something
After the tattoo keep the tattoo clean, apply moisturizer, don’t pick or scratch the tattoo, stay out of the sun, swimming pool, sauna and sea for at least four weeks
- Please scroll down for more detailed instructions -
Before obtaining a tattoo it’s important you prepare your self. We have to have our canvas in first-rate condition!
* You should come at your appointment relaxed and well rested. Keep in mind, getting a great tattoo is not a short procedure.
Don’t schedule your appointment just before important engagements.
Allow yourself the appropriate time and space to finish the process.
*Ink will be present
Dress in clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty.
Additionally, make sure the clothes you select are light enough that they won’t rub or otherwise chafe your new tattoo.
*Avoid tanning and direct sunlight 1 to 2 weeks before your appointment
*DO NOT come to your appointment on an empty stomach
Doing so can lead to cardiac and circulatory complications.
You should have eaten a reasonable amount a couple of hours before.
*DO NOT consume any drugs on or the day before your appointment
These chemicals will change your blood and the tattooing process will pointlessly take more time than it has to.
The usage of these substances will negatively affect the artists’ capability to provide you with the best tattoo possible.
*DO NOT book an appointment immediately before a vacation (if you’re going anywhere where your new tattoo will be exposed to strong sun)
The same applies to the period after a holiday, where your skin has already been exposed to strong sun.
*DO NOT get a tattoo if you have epilepsy, hemophilia or diabetes
*Also, be sure to inform your tattoo artist about any existing allergies
If you have any medical conditions (especially HIV or hepatitis), you are obligated to inform the artist.
The term aftercare refers to the suggested procedures to take after the tattoo or modification has been performed.
Aftercare encompasses many different actions. The primary set of which include how you ought to wash the modification, with what and how frequently. There are numerous guidelines and tricks. All of which aim to ensure the trouble-free healing of every modification. Good aftercare will maximize the modification’s probability of correct, natural healing. Bad aftercare can ensure a poor end result and, in some cases, even failure.
* Leave your new tattoo wrapped within the protective material applied at the studio for approximately four hours
* Once unwrapped, wash the tattoo well. Be sure this is done with warm soapy water and clean fingers
* After washing the tattoo, gently pat the tattoo dry with a clean paper towel and allow the tattoo to air-dry for about 10 to 15 minutes
* DO NOT re-bandage the tattoo once it has been unwrapped
* DO NOT shave or wax the area until the tattoo is totally healed
This typically means nothing done to the tattooed area for the first month or so.
* It is best to apply a thin layer of Vitamin A + Vitamin D ointment to the tattoo 4 to 6 times a day
Gently wipe off any surplus ointment before each new application.
This should be kept up for at least 3 to 4 days.
* The tattoo will start to flake somewhere between 3 and 6 days after having been applied
NOT pick or scratch. Let the skin peel naturally.
* While using the lotion or washing the tattoo you will notice the same small pieces of colored dry skin coming off. This is normal. It is simply the removal of the top layer of dead skin. Your tattoo is not disappearing!
Unscented dry skin lotion can be applied to the tattoo about 3 to 4 times a day
≡ This should be repeated until the tattoo has completely finished peeling.
* If possible, wear loose fitting clothes over your new tattoo
Be careful not to ‘suffocate’ the newly tattooed area, especially with socks or pantyhose.
* Avoid tanning and all forms of direct sunlight on the new tattoo for the first 4 weeks
* Also avoid swimming, hot tubes and saunas for the first 4 weeks
* If the tattoo is in an area where it can be exposed to air, allow it to breath
Allowing the tattoo to breathe will help the healing process.
Your body and good, clean oxygen are what’s going to really heal your new tattoo.
* Even when the tattoo has completely healed, we recommend that you apply SPF 50+ sunscreen to the tattooed area in order to keep the art sharp for years to come.