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Dawn Cooke: Ask Not What Your Culture Can Do For You, But What Can You Do For Your Culture

Dawn Cooke: Ask Not What Your Culture Can Do For You, But What Can You Do For Your Culture

By Dawn Cooke
I have been thinking lately about how important it is to support the culture and community of tattooing. It seems like a no-brainer, but I noticed that it doesn’t seem like people have any real criteria for the support they do give. It’s almost like people have an odd biased that is based on a “what can I get out of this” attitude. This makes sense since we have such a capitalist environment at play… 

But what if we took that attitude out of it completely. What if we just supported artists, companies, suppliers based on the actual quality of the product, art or service. What if we based our support on the idea of where we wish to see our culture in 5, 10 or 20 years? I don’t know, maybe that’s too much to ask… But maybe we could challenge ourselves to think about why we by needles from Worldwide needles as opposed to Lucky’s Tattoo Supply or KingPin, just as an example. Is the cost the only factor?

Or what if we thought about why we like a certain artist and overlook others with just as much talent or potential. Is it just the hype that has been created around a certain person that attracts us? Everyone wants to be noticed; some people are better at it than others. But there’s something to be said about finding that diamond in the rough. Jumping on someone else’s train isn’t going to get you where you want to go. But this whole blog is about where our culture will go, not about where you or I will go. Time will only tell which of us really made a difference.

With that said, if we know the reasons why we support someone or something there’s a better chance everyone benefits from this whole thing we call life. We can take some responsibility in even the smallest choices, which eventually shape our future. This applies not only to our culture but also to a broader population. We have to decide what we want to happen to our culture and make sure every decision we make is for that common good, rather than being solely self-centered about our choices.

Some intentions are corrosive not only to the self but also to a community as a whole. If you support a company, supplier or artists ask yourself not, “What advantage does this give me?” But ask instead, “What does supporting this do for my community or culture?” Ask these questions when you make any decision involving our culture, such as taking on an apprentice or opening a shop, going on a reality TV show, showing art in a gallery, or publishing a book. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do these things. I’m saying we should know why and have some motivations that benefit the common good. We have to be conscious about how we represent one another. We are our brothers and sisters keepers…

Related TAM Blog Post:

(Dawn Cooke is a contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine can be found at Depot Town Tattoo, 33 East Cross St. Ypsilanti, MI 48197 and
Dawn Cooke is featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine #21:
Digital copy of TAM #21 available here:


  1. Beautifully written, Dawn.
    I know you and I have touched upon the work of John Nash a few times, and I can’t help but notice again how well his work applies to our community and our culture, particularly at this crucial period of tattooing’s history…the digital/mass media age!

    For readers who don’t know, John Nash is the Nobel Prize winning mathematician whom Russell Crowe played in the Hollywood blockbuster, “A Beautiful Mind”. Nash’s groundbreaking work in the 1950’s (barely mentioned in the movie) has led to major advances in modern game theory, economics and mathematics, effecting everything from international currency and business models to game design and even advances in artificial intelligence! In short, the man is a genius.

    Anyway, An aspect of Nash’s work that the movie did highlight had to do with economics and his brilliant idea demonstrating that the very BEST outcome for all individuals AND the GROUP is for each individual to make personal (business) decisions while taking into consideration BOTH their own best interest AND those of the group’s. BRILLIANT!
    This is important – it’s not one of the other, (either I make all my decisions based on personal gain…OR I deny myself to make all my decisions for the good of the group); in either case those models breaks down very quickly in the real world, (as our current economic situation demonstrates), but IF we can be MATURE enough to make decisions based on both personal welfare AND the welfare of the group, it opens up incredible opportunities for everyone. Entire nations are using Nash’s model because it’s an integrated solution for complex problem-solving.

    Look, if our community is ANYTHING these days, it is COMPLEX , and we are in desperate NEED of elegant solutions, precisely this sort.

    In point of fact, this is why we created the “TAM Think Tank”, but that’s a story for another day. :)

    Needless to say, there are several dozen tattooers already involved in dialog about these things…and the numbers can grow rapidly once we lay a solid foundation. If the tattoo community can’t grow up, pull it together, and start working with and for one another, there’s no telling where our beloved art form/trade/craft/industry/,(or whichever silly word is preferred by what clique), will be in another couple of years, after being raped and ravaged by every corporation and media-conglomorate out there…while all along the “noble” tattoo community sits on their thumbs, doing nothin’…nothin’ but complaining and ‘wishing’ things were different than they are, (and being very, very ANGRY about it all), but still not willing to work together to accomplish anything of substance.
    Sorry…am I rambling? (We take all this stuff seriously.)

    THANK YOU, Dawn, so much for continuing to share your voice and your perspectives, and for taking this small amount of time every month to make a contribution to this thing that you (and we) think is so important. Your posts are always refreshing to hear, (and often challenging), so it’s easy to understand why your thought-provoking blogs are consistently amongst the highest viewed, shared, and commented on. You have a fan club growing…and count me in!


  2. Great post, can you please educate me though on the difference in suppliers you mentioned?

  3. There are supply companies who sell products to anyone, including home tattooers and there are those that do not. Supporting companies who sell to the professional in your town as well as to the basement tattooer in your town only serves to inflate the problem. Unprofessional tattooers help to stigmatize the craft. Supporting companies that support this type of business model is contributing to the problem.

    There are companies who care, who screen their buyers, and support safe and reputable tattoo businesses. You can usually tell the companies from their product selection. Will their website let anyone add a machine or ink to the shopping cart? Does the company sell ready made tattoo kits? Are there buying requirements under the terms or FAQ on the site? These things may be an indicator of a supply company’s intentions.

    There is a line you can draw regarding what part of the tattoo community you want to give you dollar to. Choose wisely.

  4. the tattoo bubble has busted, right? the headshop around the corner from my house sells tattoo supplies… i’m all for community, but nobody has mentioned the world outside the tattoo shop. what is your (the bigger, collective ‘your’, not just dawn) shop running on?

    do you get shop towels and gloves by the case from costco? vaseline from CVS, target, or walmart? when it’s time for a shop meeting or birthday does everyone fill up the local chili’s?

    we need to rehaul the way we source our lives completely; if a major corporation is getting the money that we’re making outside of tattooing, how can we expect to make local, sustainable purchasing choices within our own community?

    TAM has given all of us a reliable forum for sourcing quality materials responsibly. all of their ads are ‘of us and by us’ (thank you Crash!!!!!!!!), which is something that we all appreciate as tattooers. let’s try to find that as humans. has pages for every state and beyond. buy local. Freecycle is a regional email list that is free to sign up for and participate in. everything on freecycle is free and local. this is before you even get to your front door.

    I have yet to find a local pharmacy that refuses to special order thinly stocked items like witch hazel and gloves, often at a bulk discount. heck, any pharmacy worth their salt will have green soap ON HAND. no money orders, no postage. just a stronger community.

    the recession that we have can be brought to it’s knees if everyone teams up and takes care of their own backyard. the money that you put into your community makes people in your community wealthy. when people in your community acquire enough wealth to have it turn into disposable income, where do you think they’re gonna spend that money? YOUR SHOP. it’s that easy! support your community and make yourself rich!!!!!!

  5. Hey Thanks for the comments here! It’s a complicated topic for sure. I tried to keep this light and simple and just get people thinking. I’m not about to try to tell anyone where to buy products from or who to support. That’s not my job. I’m just saying that if we are mindful of what we do we might have more deliberate effects on our community as a whole. It’s a simple notion but a very nuanced issue. The debate really includes the topic of buying American made and buying Chinese products also. It seems like a no-brainer, you should buy American right…but even the American supply companies buy from Chinese suppliers, so it’s complicated. Hardly anything is even made in America and that is a huge problem. These are the kinds of issues facing the tattoo community and even our country. I personally see myself as a world citizen so buying Chinese doesn’t bother me but i see the arguments on both sides and I see how this is a problem for our economic health as a nation. Capitalism is about capitol, not community so you can see how our economic system is flawed for the people. This can get serious and deep real fast so I’ll just say that it all starts with thinking about what you wish to support and why..and that starts in your direct community….then let the pieces fall as they may!

  6. You hit the nail on the head Ms Cooke. It’s time to put some love back into our culture… Give back to that which has given us all so much. I always do my best to support true tattoo suppliers. Well said indeed. Cheers.

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