Enquiry into the mind of an Artist

After having a few philosophical conversations with my own artists, I decided to prepare a questionnaire to probe further into the mind of a tattoo artist. I will post the questions here, and if any artist out there wants to send me their answers, I will gladly post them here (with a name and a picture).

Tattoo Artist Q & A

(1)Tattoo Ethics: Is there something you absolutely would not tattoo on someone? Explain. Do you think every tattoo artist holds an ethics? How does one come to hold an ethics about tattoos?

(2)Tattoo Aesthetics: Are tattoos beautiful in the sense of a great piece of art (i.e. a Rembrandt painting)? Are tattoos ‘art’ in the commonly used sense or do they stretch the boundaries of what art is/should be? Explain. What makes a good tattoo ‘good’ or a bad tattoo ‘bad’, in your opinion? Is there an objective ranking for tattoos or is it all in the eye of the beholder?

(3)Tattoo Hermeneutics: Because tattoos are applied to skin/to the body, does that affect how they communicate meaning to ourselves and to others? Explain.

(4)Tattoo Individuality: What one tattoo have you done during your career that has left the biggest impression on your life and/or work? Explain. What is a tattoo you would love to do in the future? Explain why. What is your favorite tattoo on your own body, and why is it your favorite?

(5)Tattoo Identity: What does it mean to have a tattoo style? Is it a self-label or is it one assigned to you? Does such a label benefit or hurt you as an artist?

Answer, include your details (most importantly your name, maybe your shop and city/country), & email to: tattooed.philosopher@gmail.com. They will be posted shortly after.

Bettie Page & Philosophy: Authenticity, Freedom, & Stilettos

Traditional Sailor Jerry Pin-Up Girls

The pin-up girl tattoo is an old favorite of mine; it’s just so classic and slightly kitschy, whether it’s a hula girl, a naughty nurse, or your mother as a young lady in a classic dress. And in the last 15 years, I have seen many a leggy lass on a girl’s body. And no one can deny the qualitative difference present when a lady rather than a guy sports a pin-up girl tattoo. This idea has intrigued me for a while, and since I too am planning on a pin-up girl tattoo at some future point I think it’s time to explore this qualitative difference. Why do I want to sport a half-naked voluptuous lady on my body?

Ms. Bettie Page

I will start with the “what” to get to the “why”. In my case, the pin-up girl I want permanently placed on my body is Bettie Page. I adore Bettie Page, and for more reasons than her physical beauty. I think she’s important to the 20th century sexual revolution, to feminism and advancements to the status of women, and to the acceptance of sexual behavior once declared (wrongly so) deviant. So, here, I call upon two philosophical ladies to help further explain the ‘why’: Simone de Beauvoir and Iris Marion Young.

Simone de Beauvoir

Beauvoir famously said that “one is not born but rather becomes a woman”, since women were defined in relation to men – man is ‘one’ and woman is the ‘Other’, the second sex. This notion of Other, and the associated oppression of women that Beauvoir speaks of, was a real presence during Bettie’s life (1923 – 2008). However, it is Beauvoir’s authenticity I want to focus on with concerns to Bettie Page. Authenticity is affirming oneself as a free human being, fully acknowledging one’s own freedom to make choices and define one’s essence, and according to Beauvoir this is extra challenging for women given that they often can only exercise this freedom within preestablished boundaries (ones for you, without your consent) created by a male dominated society. However, I think Beauvoir would agree completely that it is better to act freely within established boundaries, maybe even attempt to push them outward or abolish them, then not to act at all. This is exactly what Bettie did, even if at times unknowingly. Bettie posed for bondage photos when it was very unpopular (it was considered sexual deviance and beyond indecent) and she made the choice to do it because she found it fun, it paid well, and it created harmless pleasure for others. Bettie’s bondage pictures and short films (produced by Irving Klaw and his sister) pushed the preestablished boundaries of female sexuality, traditional gender roles, and sexual stereotypes in general. Further, in all the photo sessions she did with the Klaws, she was never forced to do something, never mistreated, never exploited, never even fully nude or showing her vagina; she was always treated with respect and dignity. Bettie chose to model for the Klaws for 5 years, and every moment was her own decision. She said in 1998, “I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.” Bettie modeled for many others, with clothes and without, and every moment of it was authentic and a part of her self-defining: “I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.” Bettie married and divorced 3 times between 1950 and 1965, very unpopular at that time for a woman to do, she earned her own way in the world, and she also overcame the sexual assaults of her youth to become a world-class sex symbol: In 1955 she was voted Pin-Up Girl of The World. I would add Bettie wasn’t just simply a beautiful sex symbol for men to fantasize about, she was way more than that. I think Bettie’s sexual freedom, acceptance of various forms of sexuality (shoe fetishes, bondage, animal furs, corsets, etc.), and love of the natural naked body empowered women: it was okay to be a sexual woman and to love your naked body … and if you liked leather, whips, and stiletto boots, then that’s okay too. (FYI: It wasn’t guilt or God that brought Bettie down, it was mental illness that took her away from the career she loved.) Bettie was a strong, independent woman who didn’t let the world determine her or define her. I admire those qualities and I want to embody them myself as a part of my essence; I want to become/be an authentic woman who accepts myself and defines myself according to my rules.

Iris Marion Young

Iris Marion Young wrote a fantastic essay titled “Women Recovering Our Clothes”, and it centers around the question: can women enjoy fashion, and all its elements and industry, without being/becoming an object for men (without being objectified)? Subjectivity is said to be ‘crucially constituted’ by relations of looking: I see myself being seen. When looking at an outfit in a store, I picture myself wearing it in a setting and I imagine how others will see me. Headless mannequins were an evolution of this thinking – any woman could put their head on that body and see themselves being seen in that outfit. However, the problem is, if the fashion industry is dictated by men then I am simply turning myself into an object for them, by their rules. But this seems so sad since I do take pleasure in my clothes; I feel good when I wear something that suits me well. Does that in itself have to be all about objectification (aka am I really just someone’s dressed up slave)? Young argues ‘no’, and explains the unique female pleasure in clothes in three ways: touch, bonding, and fantasy. Briefly, touch, according to Young via Irigaray, is the medium through which female desire moves through, more so than sight. Touching blurs the border between self and the thing, self and other. Bonding is simply the way women bond with clothes: initial contact between two strangers can be a comment about clothing (e.g., I like your sweater) or even with two sisters or best girlfriends and their sharing of clothes. Clothing plays a large role in the bonds of sisterhood. Fantasy describes the pleasure women take in looking at images of clothes: women like to imagine themselves in those clothes at fancy parties or on the town with a sexy movie star, or walking on a street with the wind softly blowing through their hair. This love of looking at clothes extends back to childhood, playing dress-up to look like Mom or a princess at a lavish ball, or playing with Barbie or paper dolls. Young points out that fantasizing is not as bad as once conceived. Fantasy has no future, it is not a wish, desire, or a hope to be someone else in any real way: the fantasy is timeless, ‘an infinite before and after’, it can be situationless too, and in the face of this openness lie so many possibilities, freedom.

Now why do I bring up Young here in a discussion of Bettie Page? First, I think Bettie is very much apart of this ‘recovery’: with Bettie we recover our sexuality, our strength, and our femininity … and clothes too (she was a snappy dresser). In Bettie, we can reclaim and recover our femininity in all aspects. Second, to relate back to the start of this entry, I think women choosing to have pin-up girls tattooed on themselves are performing a ‘recovery’ of this kind. Tattooing a sexual, liberated, independent, vibrant, feminine figure on yourself is a reclaiming and recovering of what it means to be a modern woman. It says “I am a woman who accepts who and what I am, even if you don’t”. There is also still some lasting stereotypes as to what is a lady’s tattoo and what isn’t, and often the pin-up girl is still deemed ‘for men’. So, a woman getting a pin-up girl tattoo is fucking with that old norm … needs to go anyway. Moreover, I think many women who are tattooed can be considered as ‘recovering’ their skin, and for the list of reasons Young gives above, slightly tweaked: (1) Being tattooed and having tattoos is all about touch and texture; (2) Tattooed women bond over their ink and share stories; and (3) Tattoos involve fantasy in that a woman can fantasize about her body when it’s done, or in a small way, even in the prospect of getting a new tattoo she can visualize what it will look like, or looking at magazine pictures of tattooed women prompts fantasy as well. I’ve said it before, being tattooed is a way of making your body your own, it’s a self-definition and creation. Also, for many women who’ve been through body image issues in the past, or have had problems with their skin or bear scars they don’t like/want, tattooing is a way of taking your skin back and making it something you can enjoy being in again. In recovery there is strength.

So, there’s my answer and sorry it was a long one (even though I think I did owe something longer due to my absence this month). If only I were paid by the word like Dickens, or paid by the idea (I like that better), then I’d have enough for my Bettie Page tattoo. I’ll end on a strong note, the images of two strong women who I admire because they are strong, intelligent, independent, beautiful women … and who both have nice assess too!

Simone de Beauvoir as photographed by Art Shay

The Naked Bettie Page

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