TLCs Tattoo SchoolThe 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 Reality television in this case had a positive influence in challenging outdated perceptions.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 or study for a nursing qualification – 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 publicly 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 Hong Kong for their art, clarity and guidance.
The Unique Living Art Organization is a conglomeration of artists from every walk of life.
Tak Woo House
17 D'Aguilar Street
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