marked for life
People often expect a great story from me when they ask about my tattoo. It disappoints them when I give the simple answer: “um, because it’s pretty”. In fact, I just disappointed another person recently, which is what inspired me to write this post.
I think because of shows like "Miami Ink" – so many of the customers go in with heartbreaking and inspiring stories –people have picked up the impression that tattoos are meant to mark momentous occasions.
Many tattoos do have great stories behind them, but mine isn’t one of them. I am one of those people who got tattooed for decorative reasons – an idea I know is abhorrent to some (I have a friend who is deeply offended by the idea, but we’ve agreed to disagree). I picked my Art Nouveau-style tattoo because I like Alphonse Mucha, but he’s hardly my favourite artist. I picked his work largely because I knew they would tattoo beautifully.
In cultures that have a long history of tattoos, they were meant to tell the story of a person’s life and his place in society. Tattoos have also been used in the worst possible ways (such as during the Holocaust) to ostracise and disfigure.
Today, tattoos are fairly commonplace and people get them for all sorts of reasons. But whatever these reasons are, tattoos are a statement because of their sheer visual impact. Whether you got one on impulse or to remember a loved one or to join a gang, they instantly say something about you.
So I can see why it seems a bit lame to say that I like tattoos for their visual appeal. But I remember the first time I felt moved to get a tattoo. I was about 14, and sitting next to me on a bus was this woman with a gorgeously coloured tattoo of a Japanese carp swimming up her arm, fringed with cherry blossoms. On paper, I would consider the image clichéd. But on skin, the image was lush, rich and full of life.
Skin is a living thing, beautiful on its own, but in the right context it’s also a canvas that brings an image to life. I love looking at beautifully rendered tattoos and watching an artist at work. I also like that can be a very personal process – you have to like the artist when you spend hours with the person. I enjoyed the process of talking things over and refining the design.
Some of my friends think tattoos are a “safe” way to rebel for fairly conventional types. I don't see myself in this category (whatever it is I plan to rebel against, why would I do it with a tattoo?), but does it matter what they think? It's mine, it's beautiful and it's forever. I'm not trying sum up my life and my beliefs with one tattoo and that's why I view it with no angst-y "what does it mean?" feelings.
I dream of getting a full sleeve, a lush bouquet of dahlias wending up my arm, but I haven’t because a) I work for a very conventional employer and I need my job; and b) a richly detailed tattoo like that is expensive. But I’ve got a nice mental of ideas I’d like to execute some day, and I just have wait for the right mood to strike, and get it done.
* Yep, that's me up there. And the picture is very appropriate, since I am flying to Indonesia tonight for a bit of diving. Have a good weekend everyone!