How Social Media Has Forced Evolution In Tattooing
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I’ve had a weird few years. But to be honest, things have been in flux for a while. Most of this coincides with my having children (who are fantastic) and being forced to travel a lot for work. Along with these significant life changes, I also attended school and buried myself into studying philosophy. Specifically, studying ethics and philosophy of mind.
One of the most formative papers I read was written by Peter Singer. Singer is famous for many different thought experiments over the past 40+ years of his career, but the one I felt compelled to toss into this article was the drowning child problem. (Rewritten for simplicity – Source)
This experiment has many aspects, but I will take only a single part of it to make a point further on:
“If you were walking by a stream and saw a child had fallen into the stream, would you stop and save that child from drowning?”
If you were to answer, “Yes, I would stop and save that child from drowning!” ask yourself: Why?
Why would you take time out of your day when your happiness and energies could be better spent increasing the experiences you only have one chance to obtain in this lifetime? If you spend time helping this child in need, you will never get that time back. How can you be sure that a child is a good person (here and forever forward) or that they will have a life of value? You have no idea. Yet, in most people’s cases, they would take action to save a child because they are not (or do not want to be considered) what society would label a monster or heartless person.
I may have taken a bit of a leap there, but, as a society (local or global), we look to the children as something pure and malleable. They have been untouched by the work-life balance efforts or the politic that make up our daily existence.
So, let’s take another run at the previous thought experiment:
What if you walk by a stream and see two children drowning? You only can save a single child at a time.
In saving one child, you may neglect the other, so there’s a chance that the other could perish.
If confronted with this dilemma, how would you act? How would you triage this? Would you check to see if one was more significant than the other in hopes that the bigger one may be able to save itself? Do you go to the closer or further one? Would you save a child based on hair color? Do you let them both drown? What if one was your child? Or both?
Regardless of any action taken in this situation, a rational person must always attempt the best possible outcome for all involved. Their actions must result in the most significant utility to those involved, regardless of how it affects themselves. Without this effort, society is prone to disruption as the efforts of the individual fracture from the cohesion necessary for mutual benefit in society. When removing the idea of personal ego, we are forced to look outside our worldview to see how our actions create positives or negatives. This can be applied universally among groups or people and their environment.
The practice of considering what is good and evil by picking apart our actions seems to be less organic than it had in the past. In more recent years, I have observed a loss of identity, a greater hive-mind collective, and a less objective society. Given our thought experiment above, I think there would be a more significant crisis among members of society when presented with the need for immediate action. This is due to social networks and the identity manufacturing accompanying such technology.
As an aside, if you want more philosophy about social media and tattoo shops specifically, check out our article:
How The Tattoo Shop Became God.
Our use of technology has been of benefit in many ways. We have been able to advance progress in every field of study. Schools are offered via institutions that have gone online; We can send correspondence across the world in milliseconds, and we can modify genetic structures to assume a godlike control of the physical world. In most ways, technology has benefited society, but our lives have become a shadow of what is required to be a social being when applied individualistically.
Some claim that our use of social networks has removed the social aspects of society and is leading to the destruction of individuality altogether. I tend to disagree with that sentiment. What I do see happening is the evolution of two separate, distinct cultures evolving parallel each other, never intersecting.
There are a few aspects of ethics and social networks that we can go over and, at the same time, refute the arguments made.
First, I look at social networks in general, what I think is absurd about them, and what people can do to avoid being sucked into the marketing machine they choose to portray themselves as not being. After that, a bit about language about how we can never be confident when presented with written/texted/typed representations. Finally, we will look at what it means to be responsible when using these social connections.
Throughout this essay, I will point out how to critically examine this social network machine and why we should offer a harsh critique of this new aspect of society. At the same time, one should never take the critique as an assault on the individualism being prescribed by those who choose to line its proverbial halls but rather a one-sided explanation as to why media literacy is needed, should be adapted to the new social norm, and how to identify or explain the evolution of our diasporic society.
Social Media and Responsible Viewing – My perspective.
Social media is a linchpin of interpersonal connectedness in our modern world. Global citizens focus large amounts of their lives on the assumptions others will make when viewing an online portfolio of statements, pictures, or videos of their lives. This exclusive access (in some ways, depending on your security settings) gives voyeurs an insight into your life. Your followers and prowlers can choose to live vicariously through you, and you never know what they are up to behind their digital device’s screen.
The idea of being a “follower” of a person or brand has always struck me as weird. As soon as I had written “follower” above, I felt a little sick with those appended quotation marks. Why is it that an emotional response without these markings provokes me less but feels more separate from the emotion when with them?
If we look to the past, in our societies, the label of being a “follower” had been attached to something crazy like Purple Kool-Aid or compounds with militant weapon caches. It was a descriptor that labeled a person unable to think for themselves. Followers were always an integral part of a larger mass that, while being led, shook the critical inquiry that accompanied life and disposed of the efforts of free-thinking while idolizing individuals that benefited from their obeisance. Our lives now fit perfectly into the idea of being a “follower,” and we choose to propagate this lack of critical thinking.
From Social Media Into Tattooing.
I work as a tattoo artist and part-time as a thinker. My focus in the tattoo industry is putting what you think looks good into your skin. It is a permanent adornment that creates a myriad of emotions for some and is quasi cathartic to me when doing a procedure. We utilize artistic skills and technical knowledge to make our clients happy as tattoo artists. We do our jobs when the urge to make a permanent change to their body springs up.
As a free thinker, I am always trying to understand what surrounds me and my place in the world. Combining these two efforts has been very difficult at times as I am forced to reconcile my want for understanding with the needs of my clientele.
As a tattoo artist, the focus for the business in modern times has been trying to figure out how best to adorn our client’s body with an ageless piece of art. When designing for the skin, we always look forward to ensuring a tattoo looks great for 15+ years.
At least, this had been our effort in the past. We have slowly evolved away from this effort due to the knowledge necessary when designing a piece. It is an insanely difficult endeavor.
How Tattooing Encourages the Development of Craft.
Growing as an artist combined the study and effort of generations who previously made mistakes so that the future could avoid them. The study of art, tattooing, and the body was an immersive experience. People wishing to achieve mastery were forced to learn all aspects of the trade to become proficient. Once proficiency was obtained, a person practicing the craft was forced to understand their place in the industry. They developed their own “voice” in their artwork and honed this application to master their process. This process, once mastered, could be passed down to future generations, and the art would evolve to fit a best practice that would ensure the survivability and growth of the art form.
A mastery in tattooing included making pigment and needles; understanding and developing your tools of use; drafting and applying art to skin and the actual procedure; client management; and running your business. Since the inception of regional and national supply companies, this practice of evolving a personal mastery has slowly devolved and an art-centric focus. The idea of mastery has shifted from the full knowledge accrued in a lifetime’s work to something obtained through social media acceptance and a single applicable art style. An artisan’s efforts can be so focused that mastery can be achieved in as little as a year.
How Short-Term Benefits Created a Lack of Knowledge.
The industry has evolved away from mastery due to the inconvenience of time in everyday life. In many ways, it has become easier to learn with the invention of technologies that make designing a tattoo far easier. We also can capture lost hours with premade, pre-dispersed pigments (although the safety of such products is of question), premade needles and, what are treated as disposable tattoo machines and supplies, that can be delivered to your door in a matter of days. Suppliers became an integral part of the operations and, in time, grew to service the entire industry on demand.
With an increased amount of free time, what were tattoo artists searching for mastery doing to fill the time? Newly freed time was applied to becoming a better artist and learning how to market their products better. This is not as it always was…
This shift in free time occurred (in the west) at about the same time media started showcasing a new wave of personalities who sported tattoos. After that, television shows began to come out that introduced legions of captivated viewers to the inner workings of a tattoo shop and humanized the tattoo artist through careful manipulations and editing. What was once considered evil, drug-riddled trade for bikers and sailors, was broadcast on global networks. Viewers were given a chance to learn about the business, become attached to the artist’s struggles, and see that tattooing wasn’t occupied by fat-white dudes riding Harleys. It was the ordinary folk that was getting tattooed.
This progress of acceptance was terrific for the wallets of those who were already established, competent artists. The influx of tattoo clientele created a ripple effect. Previously hidden shops in a basement or the back of a barbershop expanded into strip malls and large common areas. The money rolling in was exponentially more significant than anything seen before. It was like a biker rally on steroids, and it was happening every day, all year long.
With the exposure granted by TV and massive marketing campaigns, most tattoo shops became a place where hopeful artists would flock to gain a chance to be like the new stars on TV. Walking into a shop in the early 2000s was not comparable to how things looked in the ’80s and ’90s. Church groups getting a tattoo for God were sitting next to Hell’s Angels getting a tattoo of Baphomet cradling a firearm. The hopeful apprentices walked into a scene that secreted a different lifestyle than previous generations. The industry was in the midst of an evolution.
The Evolution of Tattooing from Underground to Mainstream.
The free time that the supply companies had granted was again absent from the lives of tattoo artists everywhere as clients packed tattoo shop floors. Demands for new and exciting artwork forced tattoo artists to evolve into offering custom designs; otherwise, they would lose their newfound financial security. That peaceful nights and weekdays off had vanished. They were being replaced with something tattoo artists were not prepared for:
Artwork. Lots of artwork.
With this influx of new client demands, shop owners were hungry to open up apprenticeships so new tattoo artists could fulfill clientele wants. Contrary to the demand placed on shop owners, the industry did not become easier to break into. Even if they were desperate, shop owners were what we call now “old school,” and they were prone to distrusting new people in their shops. They had learned a trade that was far different than the one they resided in, and, being overrun with new demands, they were a little cranky about the swift evolution of the industry. It became complicated to train a new apprentice as the traditional tools and tricks one needed to acquire in an apprenticeship were, at times, meaningless or outdated. Coupled with shop owners thrust into developing new skills, the apprentices were uniquely positioned to advocate for an exchange.
As soon as they were done scrubbing the toilet.
The exchange and eventual breakdown of the system
Most apprentices were not being utilized to the best of their abilities during the great expansion (I think I will coin that term for this era of tattooing). With new art being demanded by the increased clientele, apprentices were chosen based on their artistic abilities, and their personalities meshed with shop owners. Artists were chosen based on their artistic ability, not their drive to become craftspeople. Due to this change, shop owners were placed in a role where the power dynamic would become upended, and the masters of old were placed on a pedestal next to their apprentices.
In traditional apprenticeships, the master has acquired all necessary fundamental knowledge that will be passed down and their expression of their mastered craft. The apprentice is forced to learn by watching and asking questions. The apprentice is forced to learn at their own speed by slowly learning the foundational elements of the craft. But when confronted with the great expansion, shop owners were forced to take a demotion (in a way).
The master’s artistry skills were subpar compared to those they agreed to train. They were put in a place where the apprentice, who had been chosen solely on how much the master could learn from their association, held as much power as the shop owner. The master and apprentice had become equals, and in doing so, masters, in desperate need of education, instilled a level of competency unearned by the new apprentice. It became more accessible for a new apprentice to challenge the master. When conflicts arose, the exit of the apprentice did not accompany their departure from the industry, as it had in the past.
Tattoo Artists – The new masters
As the industry evolved and apprentices were forced out of shops that had started their apprenticeship, many of these new talents had little background knowledge of mastering the trade. The trade master being labeled as a tattoo artist had vanished. The new masters were tattoo artists.
These new masters were quickly promoted through the apprentice ranks due to the shop owners’ need to grow as an artist. As well as the need for trained staff to meet the expectations of a booming industry evolved. The apprentice’s skill was traded for a referral and enough basic training to ensure a modicum of quality in the least amount of time.
The new masters had been brought up when “custom was king,” and all the efforts of tattoo artists were based solely on their artistic abilities. As the industry evolved, the passing of knowledge to the new masters left behind the skills necessary to understand the craft fully.
Suppliers came in and filled the want of freedom for time-consuming tasks. Shop owners outsourced all aspects of the operations to focus on their growth as an artist to meet clientele demands. This shift in applied mastery created a new baseline for artists wishing to join the industry. Art comes first. You can learn by mistake. As the new masters evolved and opened shops, previous shop owners were being run out of business by these dismissed, art-focused new masters.
A break in the chain
The apprentice leaving with a lack of complete understanding left a rift in a place where, historically, the master was invested in the success of their apprentice and was a part of their future expressions of the craft. By creating a situation where apprentices had moved into independent operations before fully understanding the craft and granting apprenticeships based solely on what they could take from the new generations, the masters of the past were dismissed and labeled as the outdated problems inside an evolving craft. To the new masters, the artistic skills of the past couldn’t compete with their own, and they did not know what had been missed due to an incomplete education. In driving their own need of evolution towards new expertise, the old masters created an environment where they were made obsolete.
The new masters had come into the craft without a bridge to the past. They were thrust into a position of power in an industry growing at an alarming rate. The new masters were left without a foundation for educating the next round of apprentices as mastery was only focused on a single aspect of the craft. Their lack of apprenticeship was now something that could ruin the industry.
As it happened before, the growth in the industry made it difficult for these new masters to succeed, as they did not have complete knowledge of the craft. They were bound to the previous generation’s failures, unable to make growth built on a solid foundation, and were forced to adapt to a new way that would leave a significant gap in knowledge moving forward.
How Social Media Forced Evolution in Tattooing.
In the last ten years, tattooing has become part of who we are as individuals and allows us to define better who we are inside society. The efforts of the new masters created an industry in which a client had the freedom to design something that fits their personality. To the new masters, the collaboration between clients and artists was always present when designing. Their goal was to do something unique, which would set them apart from their competition. Not having a master to help guide their efforts positively affected many in the industry as customization became king. The individual voice of artists worldwide became more pronounced and defined the culture of tattooing we see today.
Without being tied to the past techniques, artists could push the boundaries in how designs were made and how they were applied. Innovations in style were consistently shown through access made possible via social networks and supported by industry suppliers that made increasingly vivid products. These remarkable feats of artistic ability led hungry artists, new to the craft, to replicate these tattoo styles. We had superstars of art in the industry, sponsored artists, and a lifestyle that was being sold as a way to become something bigger and better than what had been seen before.
There had been little effort to guide or instill a sense of mastery in the techniques being developed for the adventurous artist. Efforts to spread the information to the new generation were being hampered by what some have identified as “trade secrets “that could be purchased by going online, attending trade seminars, or paying those in control of such knowledge to give wanting artists a tattoo.
For those who were unlucky or had little funds to chase the information for sale, the guidance was separate from this practice. Those without time or funds were told: practice on paper, so you don’t make a mistake in the skin; clients will willingly give you money to learn on them; you can make mistakes; this is how we learn now; you must sacrifice your client to improve; you can be the best if you focus on one aspect of tattooing.
Social Media Makes its Mark on Tattooing.
Those in modern tattooing were faced with the dilemma of training the next generation of masters as the industry continued to grow and evolve. Art was still at the forefront, and artistic applications of tattoos were continually being developed. The next generation came into their training in the same way the previous generation had, with a skill unknown to their masters; the use of social media to market your ability.
What had happened before with the new apprentices happened again. The new masters fulfilled their obligations by developing the new apprentice in the same way they had been brought into the craft. Their teachings were focused on personal development in art. The training was focused on learning by making mistakes.
The imbalance in the exchange of information continued to grow as the new masters exchanged their knowledge, and the apprentice gave new techniques to improve the master’s business. While this exchange happens, the apprentice slowly becomes detached from the master. The latter is grooming their entry into an industry devoid of the history that holds the fabric of understanding together. There is not enough information left to pass along to the new industry members, and a greater separation from the past occurs.
The new apprentices are pushing the boundaries of evolution and leading the industry in a new direction, just as the new masters showed theirs.
I fear that this may continue to occur for the foreseeable future. With innovations that accompany the growth of a new generation, there will always be a tool that the new apprentice can utilize to level the master-apprentice interaction. This aspect of devolution is ever apparent in modern western tattooing. Social media became the latest tool that the new masters did not understand, and the apprentice could utilize these evolutions of society in their favor.
How The New Class of Artists Utilize Social Media.
We have delved into the idea that modern apprenticeships are undertaken by a master who has less than the necessary experience to pass along an adequate foundational understanding. Now let’s look to the future.
In my opinion, this degradation of knowledge has accelerated in the past decade. This is due to social networks and mass media representations of the tattoo industry. The media is a powerful tool for the populations who enjoy its benefits. Our civilizations have evolved in magnificent ways that allow the transfer of knowledge and ideas at lightning speed. We have grown to know each other over great distances. Our lives are moving towards the true expression of a global society wherein our lives are inextricably intertwined. We will be forced to fight common threats together or face extinction.
While all of this is going on, a cult of personality is raging rampant in many industries. People are held aloft based on “likes” and “followers,” and trends that define the generation are bought and sold as commodities to the highest bidder. The media giants have shifted from those who presented ideas on television or radio to those who sell space on portable devices. The new idols of a generation are those who sell lifestyles or products that guarantee – fame if emulated or happiness and longevity if purchased. The lifestyles of the rich and famous are at your fingertips. If you like and follow, you can be a part of it.
Social Media and Ethical Standards.
We are confronted with images of what we want by large technology companies that sell advertising space. These spaces of influence are available for a price and are gobbled up by those in society that wish to extort a level of control or influence on others. Advertising is a monster that has adapted to the changes in society better than any industry. Billions are spent so that companies know how to get you, the potential client, to purchase things you do not need. Social networks culminate this knowledge, spanning decades, that collectively alter our perceptions to influence our behavior. As tech companies have evolved, social connectedness has also deteriorated. Our societies are more comparable to the “1984” version of existence.
We love the Company, and they will tell us what to do.
These companies have little regard for changing their practices, regardless of the pressure civilizations, politicians, or global alliances put on them. Not to be separated from the international society of this new age, the new class of tattoo artists is fully entrenched in their grasp. They have mastered navigating this new realm of representation. They are rewriting the idea of success hand-in-hand with the social networks, and they have brought this mastery to the table when negotiating their apprenticeship.
Social networks and Influencers.
Since the inception of social networks, our focus has slowly turned towards what I interpret as the instant gratification of our cult of personality. We are focused on building followers like a non-sanctioned church. To do this, we develop a character that is far separate from who we are in reality and sell a story that falsely implies our mastery.
Most of our efforts inside the social network realm are focused not on stealing money or selling products that are misleading or fake; our efforts are focused on building an Image…(dramatic typing there). They are here to influence opinions and trends and manipulate followers who hold them aloft. For a price, they can select a product and deliver its benefit to millions of enrapt individuals with nothing better to do than look at a screen while waiting for a social update.
Social networking Influencers are forced to make a product with a limited shelf life as the media, being delivered to billions globally, must adapt to keep people’s attention. The influencer’s focus is to bring in as many likes as possible and offer a service that is so exclusive that it has a bloated industry. So many products are being represented by selfish individuals who utilize their fame to reconcile their high cost of service.
Influencers are skilled at building a persona that attracts people who are less than willing to think critically. Followers accept the image displayed on their phone/computer screen and seek validation of such photos by evading critical inquiry. The proof is presented by influenced followers instead of a meritocracy where an individual’s talents are put on display.
We see the numbers associated with an account and determine validity through insecurity. If numbers are significant enough, those without enough knowledge to question will blindly follow representations put forth by the influencers to be a part of the “in-crowd.” By denying inquiry, a person can be a part of something larger. They gain acceptance where otherwise they would be rejected. Whether there is a physical presence to associate the person with the group, commenting on social networks allows users to segregate their ideals, likes, and beliefs to ensure less confrontation when interaction occurs.
How Social Media Misleads Tattoo Clients.
New apprentices or young artists in tattooing utilize social networks and media in the same way as influencers. Efforts made to display work that is edited for consumption are a constant. It misleads the public by imbuing a level of trust in clientele that is impossible to uphold and has nothing to do with mastery in tattooing. These new artists working toward mastery supplant past ideas and extort a new version of what should be sought after.
To obtain new mastery, follow these simple rules – The process and design are the artist’s possessions. The client is no longer required to have input; they are canvasses utilized to impress or gain acceptance from competitors. This may seem Machiavellian, but social networks do not accurately represent reality. Instead, they instill insecurity by propagating false images.
We, as an industry, cannot fault the new generation for taking such actions. This is our fault. We walked away from our responsibilities searching for fame and riches and were brought into the industry in the same vein. We are focused on personal growth rather than the industry’s growth collectively. The efforts of this new generation in utilizing ignorance to build a brand are reminiscent of how the new masters were used to gain artistic ability by previous generations. This epidemic is cyclic, and the industry (as well as the majority of the world) is faced with a choice: Slow down and fix what is broken – or – kick it into high gear and get out before the ship sinks.
What Appearance Means to the Tattoo Industry?
When I go onto a social network, I am constantly presented with well-groomed pages when searching for something entertaining. I rarely find many followers on pages that aren’t built to look a specific way, and those that aren’t well groomed are not the first to appear in a search. When looking at my social networking pages, or those of some of my friends, we are not developing an image or brand that represents our position in the world. Comparing our pages to influencers is like comparing fire and ice.
Typical social media pages are utilized for updating close proximal relations and sharing statuses so friends and family can stay in touch with each other. Influencer pages are polished and are prime real estate for paying companies. This is due to grooming tactics these social networks have worked tirelessly to promote. In practice, you are attracted to a specific cult or style, and the pages with the most “followers” deliver products more efficiently than others.
When people join a social network, they only want to follow what mirrors what they feel mostly resembles who they are, what they like, or who they wish to embody. In joining the ranks of a social media influencer, a person becomes attached to those who release entertaining material. Some want to emulate it. For those bringing forth the next generation of tattooing, their ability to manipulate social networks has become vital in their success. Those who are unwilling or able to compete on this new battlefield are left to fail.
What Future Lies Ahead in Tattooing When Social Media is King?
We are moving ever forward in society. Tattooing has evolved in so many ways that today’s art form is a mere shadow of what it had once been, in some ways. Artists are marching towards a more efficient manner in delivering works of art to wanting clientele. Looking at social networks, tattoo artists are creating a platform wherein the “flash” of the past currently pays the bills. They are creating images posting them online, and clients are free to pick and choose the designs that hand on a digital wall. Social networking has turned our practices into a giant marketplace where social connections are ignored, and the idea of customization is absent.
It’s funny when you look at it. We have come full circle and are reduced to the same practices before the great expansion. The only thing that is missing is the link to the past.
As the industry moves forward, they are confronted with a problem: Continue the march of progress and further remove themselves from the idea of mastery or critically question the practices currently in use to rebuild the knowledge lost from the past.
I see the next generation of tattoo artists evolving in one of two ways:
One Way. I see the same mistakes being remade again. The master will need skills from the apprentice, creating an imbalance in power during training. Once the apprentice feels they have gleaned enough knowledge, they will break from the master and lose a little more of the past as the industry evolves. This will continue until tattooing becomes something lost in the translation of society’s evolution.
The Other Way. Tattooing slows down and becomes intertwined with the idea of mastery again. The new apprentices are given a whole foundational experience when introduced to the industry, and new knowledge is presented as it becomes available. The industry works together to promote specialization and spread knowledge effectively. Artists become attached to the process with their clientele. Insert a whole bunch of goodness!
This leads me back to the thought experiment we started with: If you come upon someone or something drowning, do you make an effort to save it?
Or do you just continue walking by?