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Tattoos are art. Temporary tattoos aren't.

The tag line (I don't know the official newspaperese term) on the main page for an article in the Tribune today read, Tattoos as an art form. "Well duh tattoos are an art form," I thought. "That's why we call them tattoo artists." Then I saw that it was an article on temporary tattoos, and I vomited with disgust.

Because with a temporary tattoo, you take away the very thing that makes tattoos a powerful art form: their permanence. According to the article, "[t]he tattoos last on the skin about three to five days." Because they require no pain, no commitment, a temporary tattoo is not art in the way that an actual tattoo is. Rather, because it is so ephemeral and, well, temporary, it's just a pretty drawing. It's fashion. No different from a shirt or a pair of sneakers.

I have nothing against the artist or the project, I guess, and I don't really want to get into a discussion of what is and is not "art." I went and read the entire article and the whole thing is harmless enough. It was that tag line that got to me. I'm just not impressed with temporary stickers when there are so many incredible, creative people who are committing their bodies and lifetimes to displaying lasting works of art.



Dave! said...

Huh. I thought what made tattoos an art form was the quality of the drawing and the technique of the tattoo artist. I didn't know that permanence had anything to do with it.

Christo and the people of NYC are going to be pissed when they find out that The Gates in Central Park aren't art because they aren't permanent.


sui generis said...

Dave, I think that permanence propels tattoos from merely pretty drawings on the skin to a "higher art form"... a good tattoo artist is needed to produce quality art. Like any other form, some (most?) individual tattoos suck.

I don't get The Gates personally, but then I've never even been to NYC so what do I know.

Dave! said...

Ah... so"mere pretty drawings" aren't art? :)

I agree that some tattoos are art and some aren't. I just don't think permanence has anything to do with it... the same tattoo artist could do a wonderful piece on someone in marker instead of tattoo ink, and it would be the same great work.

Sometimes there is beauty, even art, in the ephemeral.

michael said...

I saw that article and stopped reading as soon as I saw that the tattoos were temporary. Sure, if splattering paint on a canvas is art then a temporary tattoo is art, too, just not very exciting art.

sui generis said...

Mere pretty drawings are not art. But Goya, Da Vinci, and van Gogh's sketches are no mere pretty drawings!

"Sometimes there is beauty, even art, in the ephemeral." Agreed, wholeheartedly!

"the same tattoo artist could do a wonderful piece on someone in marker instead of tattoo ink, and it would be the same great work." Disagreed. Great work? Quite possibly. The same? No.

When Pollock accidentally spilled some paint on the floor, it was not art. But when he deliberately spattered canvases and called them art, then he had something revolutionary. It's a poor analogy, but I can't think of anything that compares to the living art of tattoo.

Mehndi is a beautiful temporary body art with a great tradition, but authentic Indian mehndi is as far above mass produced 'henna stickers' as tattoos are set apart from 'temporary' tattoos.

Dave! said...

Ah, but see, as with most things, it comes down to semantics.

By mentioning Mehndi you're proving my point: it's not the permanence that you care about--it's the content.

Yes, I agree, a temporary, mass produced sticker is not art. But "temporary tattoo" doesn't have to mean mass produced sticker.

My beef with your original post had nothing to do with content of the tattoo; it was that you predicated whether or not something was art on the basis of its permanence.

But if you agree that Mehndi is beautiful art--and temporary--then we’re actually in agreement.

sui generis said...

You're right! We don't really have an argument, because I never said that permanence was a necessary feature of all art, just of tattoo art. Permanence "makes tattoos a powerful art form" but I recognize and enjoy many forms of temporary art--graffiti comes to mind, for example.

I'm glad I was able to clarify that. Although I also enjoyed the debate; it helped me to clarify the point in my own mind. Now get back to your exams!

Anonymous said...

Permanance and art are two different things. A temporary is just as much of someone's work as getting one ingraved in the flesh. It might seem more fascinating of the idea of an actual tattoo over a temporary, but in any sense, it doesn't matter if it's on skin, washes off, or on a piece of's still art.