Tattoo 'Art'

There has been a exponential rise in the amount of people 'wearing' tattoos in the last ten or twenty years. A trite flowering of the information age you could argue,  as although they could be called visual, they are nearly always related to some symbolic statement. When I was a kid it was usually only someone who had been in the forces, prison or kids at a loose end experimenting with ink and a compass point, yet in the nineties tattoos gradually became de-rigueur for the celebrity - women tentatively added little embellishments to their ankle, shoulder, discrete but prominent nonetheless. Men began to add Celtic patterns, dragons, pseudo -political imagery, reptilian scales and so on. Now we have a full blown walking gallery parading its creations on the street, the TV, the chat show, the football field (a new kind of catwalk  these days - the hard man tattoo is long gone from the football field).
I was driving the other day pondering all this stuff and also thinking about the type of art you see in bizarre documentaries from around the world - a sort of junk inspired faux (or not ), naive, folksy assemblage or latino-American muralist inspired  'pictures' - a worldwide art of the 'underground' . The cousins of graffiti Art, the art of the festival. You can't not knock the human spirit and its need to make art, and it seems to be just that, an unquenchable desire to make something. These kinds of art have that tattoo vibe, the art of the layman playing at being an artist (it even spills into medicine with the whole alternative medicine world - I'm sure that there is something going on in it but in both cases there is a complete lack of critical spine present.) In the case of Art, it seems the nobility of wanting to do something 'good' is enough in its own right to carry the visual content with it on a magic carpet ride into the world of 'art' . I wondered about all this and the need to make,  or rather to attempt to make good art. "Artist" should be a protected term like engineer in Germany for example. I wondered what marked the real art out from the faux, the best work from the average, what made the "real deal" as they say, just that? (I would unashamedly and immodestly say that Bill Perehudoff called me this once when I was a 'pup' so many years ago at Emma Lake Workshop - I was thrilled). Anyway, all I could come up with was the word 'dismantle'. It seemed to me that the real artist is prepared to dismantle their language and then rebuild it, to question their own preconceptions, to have a bloody-minded determinedness to destroy and remake. Whereas the amateur, the naive, the tattoo guys just accept their language for what it is - it is enough to have that noble intent, as if the desire to make art makes them- in their eyes- artists. Yet their handiwork feels heavy on the eyes, naive junk art has that polluted feel to it, never rising above the sum of its parts. When you see real art though, you feel like you are breathing clear air,  (it could just as well be made of the same junk like components in a sculpture say,  but the parts have been put through a sort of critical baptism of fire - it has that effect on me, at least and you can see the degree of questioning, practice and sense of purpose it has to engage and stretch the viewer - to take them somewhere uncomfortable yet rewarding, not just uncomfortable. (In a bizarre caveat here I would cite Frank Stella as an artist in this "alternative art" vein.  I can hear the boos and hisses. His work though always looks like someone is playing the piano with boxing gloves on, White, finest leather diamond encrusted gold adorned boxing gloves but gloves none the less and the plonkiness that comes out just 'sounds' leaden. The weight is centred -it  spins you around yet takes you nowhere.

Crystal clear air is at a premium these days and so too in the art world. I prefer the colour of unadorned skin to that of its inky counterpart. Though ink on paper has an altogether different potential…