17 June, 2010

Dan Loves Schenectady

Dan Loves Schenectady


I was playing bass at a cover gig recently, filling in for my friend Dan’s usual bass player. Yes, I rocked out to some “Bad Romance,” and “The Right Stuff.” Every time I play those songs, I sell a little bit more of my soul. Midway through the first set, a scad of senselessly attractive people walked in. Three of the man types had full sleeves, and the tattoos were terrible looking. Absolutely wretched. I felt bad because I think I was staring at the poo mods while jamming out on the breakdown to “Brown Eyed Girl.” There goes some more soul. One man person was proudly sharing his art work with others around him, and I wept inside for his ignorance. Well, whatever is left inside from all of the soul I’ve sold during “What I Got.” I shouldn’t judge, though. I’m sure the attractive types were happy with the mods, and who am I to say they were awful; I have no soul. See also, “Call Me Al.”

I hold the career of tattoo artist in pretty high regard. It isn’t so much that I think what they do is something necessary to reality. Quite the contrary. I have always believed that there is a very small handful of occupations that are essential to human survival. Farmer, teacher, policeman, fireman, trash man. We need these people. With that said, I do highly regard tattoo artists. In actuality, I hold high regard for those who can establish a career in any artistic field. Like musician (Dan), or photographer (Isobel, Derrick), or actor (Matt). What’s interesting is that there are academies for these aforementioned studies. Art schools and acting schools and music schools. What’s also interesting is that in the fields of art, one doesn’t really need to be trained to succeed. Is the actor with the college degree any more or less talented than the one who didn’t go to a university? Does the self taught musician write better or worse songs than the one who graduated with a degree in that instrument?

What am I getting at. There are schools for tattooing. That’s the point, and I didn’t feel like writing something interesting to get to that point. So there it is. The Tattoo Learning Center in Schenectady, New York is one such school, and has recently expanded to another campus in San Diego. Schenectady, as you may know, is the birthplace of the ottoman, and peach preserves. Here, people can go and learn the gentle art of modification through tattooing. I made the ottoman and peach preserves thing up, by the way. Schenectady is the birthplace of Mickey Rourke, though. That one’s true.

Getting back to the point, according to an article I read on internet, there is less than a dozen tattoo trade schools in the country; The Tattoo Learning Center is attempting to widen that number. At the school, students will be douched with a two week, highly hands on study with classes that include color theory, marketing, and pricing. The instructors that will be heading these classes are picked by the board of the school, and represent quality working artists in the field. With your tuition at the school, you’ll get a t-shirt, free living space for the two weeks, eighty hours of training, people to tattoo, and a certificate of completion. With one campus in Schenectady and another in San Diego, The Tattoo Learning Center hopes to train talent in the art of tattoo on both coasts. Well, Schenectady isn’t on the coast, but you get the idea. Remind me to tell you about the time my friends and I drove through Schenectady on the way to Toronto. It’s an awesomely boring story.

My question is this: Is this a good idea? A simple question, and one that I think people ought to ask to themselves more frequently when they actually do. I’m talking to you, guy who spends three nights a week at the strip club. To extrapolate, does this help the culture, and do we in the culture need established schools for the art form? Let’s compare to other art forms.

I know several people who have graduated from photo school. Here, they learned quite a bit about the art form; they learned of lighting, poses, photo chemical production, digital enhancements. Could these people have been successful in the field having not graduated from art school? I know actors with degrees. I know fine art students. What do these degrees do, and is the knowledge that is gained from attending real world applicable?

I’m sure that those friends with the degrees will say that it is essential to their success. But to me, there are many other trade jobs that work under the apprentice system that are much more important than art careers. Like plumber, electrician, and HVAC. These jobs are a bit more important to life, and most of them work very well under the apprentice system. That is not to say that a trade school can’t teach a plumber how to plumb well; it seems as if it isn’t direly necessary.

Can we apply that sensibility to tattoo art? In my opinion, artistic aptitude isn’t something that can be taught. Some people are artistically gifted, some aren’t. Sure, someone could teach you how to mechanically use a tattoo machine, but does that make you a talented artist? I’m skeptical about that. Good visual artists are like good drummers (they don’t exist! Kidding.). It is something that I believe needs to be there to start, and then nurtured. I think anyone can learn how to play the guitar or write a sonnet. I don’t think anyone can learn how to use a specific medium to create photorealistic visual art, or work within a visual style, or even create his own.

But that’s opinion. The question here is, is this good for the culture. I’m not entirely sure how to answer that. On one hand, you have a bevy of no talent, van in the parking lot scumbags tattooing idiot kids and spreading disease. If these people took the effort to go to one of these trade schools, then perhaps we’d have less butcher artists spreading misinformation about the culture.

On the other hand, it seems as if anyone with enough money in his bank account can sign up for this two week summer camp and emerge with the moniker of ‘tattoo artist.’ Is that fair to those who have studied in apprenticeships and pursued the career in a more conventional manner? Well, fair isn’t a good word because life isn’t fair. But just because someone can buy a two week sabbatical at a school for art doesn’t patently make that person an artist. I couldn’t draw you an accurate map on a diner napkin if you asked me to, but if I go to this place and pay for the training, and pass, then am I an artist because someone signed a paper that said I am? I’m not sure.

OK, I know that getting an apprenticeship is difficult. I know that you have to go walking around like Kwai Chang Caine, looking for someone who will train you and nurture you and all that. But from my point of view, easy isn’t rewarding. What makes something rewarding is the difficulty. To just go to a school and leave fourteen days later with an affirmation that you can make art on skin doesn’t seem terribly rewarding to me. It seems to me like a dilution and a legitimacy of quality robbing vacation that will only populate the industry with people who were tattooists first and artists second. That doesn’t sound attractive to me. I’d like to have an artist who has chosen the medium of tattoo. Seeing the certificate of this place hanging on the wall of my artist doesn’t really impress me. If anything, it makes me think that this guy took the easy road. I’d rather hear the long story of someone starving for his art and toiling with the desire and drive to reach his goals. I’d rather hear the story of the guy who wanted badly enough to make it happen, not the guy who was given the opportunity and decided to take it.

Easy for me to say; I’ve never accomplished anything, and perhaps my bitterness is dominating my connotation. As someone who has written forever and never achieved any success in it, I will wallow in the refreshing relief of my success if I ever get a book deal because I know what I had to do to get that deal. And no, it didn’t involve blowing anybody. Still, this little tattoo day camp is an interesting idea, but I like my interests to be slightly more esoteric than that. Not that I’m one of those ‘mainstream kills everything’ idiots, but something ought to be left to those who know how to nurture it and keep it healthy in the same manner as it has for thousands of years. I like the idea of the antiquity of our culture rather than third period swallow drawing from 11:15 to 12:05. Stay beautiful, kids.

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  1. I have too much to say, to say anything at all.

  2. my boss has a business degree and cant even spell

  3. One of my friends actually went to the tattooing school in LA a few summers ago. She went for two weeks, did all the jazz, practiced on melons blah blah. But when she got out she still had to apprentice at a shop and go through all the procedures dealing with that. Going to the school just gave her a slight (heavy emphasis on slight) advantage over everyone else to get an apprenticeship since she already knew the bare bone basics. I don't think these schools are going to take away the hard work of in-shop apprentices since any shop worth it's salt knows that going to a school for two weeks doesn't mean you're an artist. Just like every other trade, you still have to prove you know what you're doing.