Art, as we know it, is changing. From decorative turds and rubbish bins within the Tate to Neil Buchanan making giant portraits out of laundry on random abandoned fields, what we had deemed as art – great, technical portraits of families and dogs, not often without a bit of tub – is being sidelined. Is this a tragedy, or are we simply expanding upon our views of what is “artistic”?
As cliche as this is, “everyone” really is becoming an artist. Through tattoos, graffiti, yarn bombing (probably not the most practiced form of art but undeniably one of the best, right?), cooking odd, majestic cuisine (Heston Blumenthal, I’m talking about you), lyrics, photography and filmmaking – we are all becoming artists. Which is great.
Which is why I believe that we should publicly re-assess what has been previously labelled as “taboo” forms of art. For instance, tattoos – the stigma against them, it seems, has greatly diminished in recent years – percentages change all the time as to how many people actually own one, fluctuating between 15% to 30%, but all agree that the amount of people who do have them has leaped. Tattoos, then, have become something of a cultural emblem and free form of artistic expression, as opposed to simply things that hairy bikers and punks own to demonstrate their rebellion against The Man. We wholly appear to live in a generation which loves tattoos.
Which is why it is surprising that some employers still stigmatize against them. When preparing for interviews in the past, I’ve been advised by friends, family and articles to “cover myself up”, that having a (completely non-offensive) tattoo might (still) be considered “undesirable” by my prospective new company. I also remember a wonderful English teacher in college telling us that she had to wear cardigans and full-sleeved shirts (even on the blazing hot days) as she wasn’t allowed to present her (completely non-offensive) tattoos as all tattoos were labeled “unpresentable” by the administration. Total madness. You would think that people in college – even people in secondary school – would be mature enough to accept tattoos, and not be thrown into a distracted fit of frenzy every lesson by them, screaming and pointing and throwing chairs. Half the people in college owned one themselves anyway, when I was there. Being forced to hide your (completely non-offensive) tattoo(s) feeds a stereotype that they are not to be accepted or desired as art-forms in their own right, that they are an act of self-inflicted vandalism, a “crime”. This could (apart from the entirely extreme cases) not be further from the truth. People have chosen to get their own tattoos with a SOUND MIND, believe it or not, and should not be told to hide their human skin by anyone. Nobody should be ashamed of their skin, or ashamed of owning tattoos, a recent, modern art-form. After all, we all preach that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – a large fraction of the nicest people I have ever known include my tattooed friends. It does not ALTER YOUR BRAIN AT ALL. It does not represent that you are or physically make you a meaner or more violent person to own them (provided you are not making some sort of racist or neo-Nazi statement, in which case such judgments are only to be expected as you are being deliberately backwards, cruel and antagonistic). Tattoos can range from the striking and gothic to the small and simple – none are the same, and they should not be judged under the same, sweeping umbrella.
Graffiti is a more complex issue. Is graffiti banned because some works are considered to be far less desirable than others? On the train on the way to work I see a complete canvas, particularly outside Waterloo, of jagged, chunky signatures and beautiful, subtle works of art nestling together. I personally find most graffiti wildly interesting, both the technical and simple. The issue of graffiti artistry, however, and whether we should let it happen freely, runs deep, to re-enforcing gang culture (as gangs have been known to “mark their territory” via graffiti) to property. Of course we all know that graffiti is often done on public buildings, tampering with possessions that aren’t technically theirs – but what about Banksy? Who decided that Banksy was an artist, and not just another mysterious soul graffiti-ing everywhere? Now Banksy’s works go for millions and he is heralded an artistic phenomena – suggesting that it is not really, solely the issue of public property, but the issue of whether or not your art is “acceptable” in the eyes of the public itself. Further, in considering gang culture – unfortunately, I believe that this will be enforced whether we eliminate graffiti from the picture or not. I am not saying this to be negative or defeatist, but gang culture has adapted time and time again to different situations and I doubt that removing graffiti conclusively from our landscape (a nigh-on-impossible task anyway) would hinder that. In which case the “taboo” label of graffiti in general should perhaps be reconsidered on a personal basis concerning each, individual work of “art”.
Graffiti works are, undeniably, public works of art. After all, when you choose buildings as your canvas you are basically picking the biggest open-air museum ever to host your works in. So I understand the flux of opinions towards it – negative and positive reactions are fuelled by the personal tastes and opinions of those within the masses. If a graffiti artist decides to leave a piece in public, they, like any other creative discipline, must be prepared for criticism and perhaps removal. A cityscape is, after all, our shared canvas, making the issue of art, and which art and what art and where placed, a lot more complex. However, I urge the public to consider before blindly removing all graffiti art made. For instance, yarn bombing. If somebody decides to knit a scarf around the statue of President Lincoln’s neck during winter, why not leave it there as a comic statement, instead of ripping it off and declaring it to be “vandalism”? The very fact that it is public property seems to suggest that we, as a collective, should have some say in what we do with it. If somebody paints a colourful mural on a wall and those who see it respond well to it, why not leave it? Why is it the instinct and instruction of the public to destroy public art immediately, without consideration? It is art – and on occasion our landscape might gain some value from it. Our world is constantly shifting and changing like the art within a museum, and our public art should reflect that.
Tattoos, alternatively, are not a form of public opinion, but personal. Personal art should not be polled against or stigmatized (except for in the aforementioned extreme, antagonistic cases, in which case public judgment is only to be expected, and rightfully so). If you are not actively attempting to offend, aggravate, or enforce cruel structures and beliefs, you should be left alone. Sure, the public can have their own opinions about them. But their opinions shouldn’t affect the ease and happiness of the tattooed person’s life, who is just trying to get on with their business. It is only art. And it always seems to be the in-between people who get it worst. Lucky Diamond Rich (the most tattooed person in the world) has become super famous for going to the extreme of simply having the most, as has the infamous Cat Man (a man who altered his body to look like a cat, including tattooing himself) been made a sensation due to his efforts to make himself inhuman, and the Baked Bean guy who tattooed himself to look like a baked bean because he loves them so much is accepted as he is now a novelty. If you are not a novelty or extreme, then, you are subject to potentially worse, everyday stigma, as your tattoos have not been found as valuable, from an entertainment point of view, to others. I stress again that those who are not endorsing cruel and backwards values via their tattoos should not be judged. Appreciate it, and more importantly, let the art’s owner appreciate it. I have a small tattoo of a cat from an anime I used to love on my wrist, and I plan on getting more because in the name of tattoo art: it is personal, not business.
Assess your public museum before you destroy. Allow us to decorate ourselves, if we wish, and only negatively assess in matters of the uttermost extreme. In a thousand years art will be different anyway, and our future children will wonder what we were fussing about as they zip around in their hyper-fast hovercrafts, painted in colours that haven’t been discovered yet and finding much better things to do with their time.