Dawn Cooke: Why a Tattoo Is Not a Painting, and a Painting Is Not a Tattoo
By Dawn Cooke
This is actually a simple concept really, it’s because they are completely different mediums, if you even consider tattooing an artistic medium. The same way a sculpture isn’t a painting, a drawing isn’t a sculpture, needlepoint isn’t furniture making, a tattoo is not a painting and a painting is not a tattoo.
Many tattoo artists have attempted to combine or blur the lines between the two forms of expression. While these attempts are very impressive to people who know little or care nothing about the tradition and history of tattooing, they can sometimes go against the spirit of the trade or craft of tattooing…
I’ll clarify that I am not trying to minimize the work or style of tattoo artists who do attempt to mimic the affects of paintings in their tattoos. And I’m not really talking about quality portrait tattoos either. Actually I have a great appreciation for most styles where it shows that the tattoo artists take the utmost care for their craft. I understand that artists are always “pushing the boundaries”. However, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.
Personally, I regard the history and tradition of tattooing above my own artistic ego. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel with my own tattoo work. If I can apply a piece for a client that will stand the test of time then that is my primary goal.
Tattooing is not a medium for me to express myself through. I use my skills and design sensibility to provide the experience and application of a tattoo to the best of my ability. Which is a constant evolution and striving for improvement. However I do choose to explore other artistic mediums for the specific purpose of personal artistic expression. I really think it is important to appreciate a medium for it’s particular qualities.
Paint for example is beautiful just as a material. Oil paint, specifically, is an amazing medium also rich in history but it has such a lush texture, so buttery and seductive. With different mediums the affects that are possible are endless. You can paint on many kinds of surfaces. Tattooing is more about the process and the collaborative interaction. The process is completely different. It is not a thing of material substance. A person that wears it is the thing of material substance. A tattoo involves the puncturing of the skin of a live being, its always skin. There are not many services in public that quite compare.
As artists in general I think we are required to understand the tradition and history of the mediums we choose to use as our language. It gives our work more power and importance. Understanding our language is essential in allowing us to be better speakers.
“There is no known culture in which people do not paint pierce tattoo re-shape or simple adorn their bodies.” Enid Schildkrout, Anthropologist.
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