"Is it art?"
08:22 AM
Yesterday, CNN published "Ed Hardy: From art to infamy and back again" -- a feature that largely focuses on the trajectory of the Ed Hardy fashion brand, from celebrity status symbol to "one of the most polarizing brands in recent memory."

The article is inspired by Hardy's excellent memoir "Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoos." As CNN writes, the book does "set the record straight" about the brand, which came about when Hardy entered into a deal with Christian Audigier to produce merchandise with his art. However, the book is so much more. As I noted in my post on the book, it is not just a story about one tattooist's life. It is an ode to the art of tattooing, its philosophy, and its culture.

The greatest thing about the CNN feature is the link it includes to a 1995 NY Times article entitled, "Tattoo Moves From Fringes To Fashion. But Is It Art?"  In fact, I probably would not have even posted the CNN piece at all if it weren't for this wonderful find.

That NY Times piece discusses "Pierced Hearts and True Love: A Century of Drawings for Tattoos," the 1995 exhibition at the Drawing Center in NYC for which Hardy contributed and consulted. [Hardy Marks Publishing also put out the catalog to the show.]  It is an excellent read on the relationship between body art and the fine art world, and almost 20 years later, the questions that Michael Kimmelman asks in that article are just as important today. Here's a bit from the article:

One wonders what tattoos mean, if anything, even unconsciously, to a generation that has grown up with AIDS. Tattooers talk about the erotic aspect of tattooing. The mix of needles, blood and doing something unalterable to one's own body, something taboo, besides, seems germane. So does the fact that tattoos violate the notion of the body as sacrosanct and pure. (And remember when William F. Buckley proposed tattooing everyone with H.I.V.?) Tattooing has to do with taking liberties with one's own body at a time when such liberties have been circumscribed.

And in the end, no matter how popular they have become, no matter how much they have been assimilated and sanitized by fashion and the art world, tattoos are still startling. Which is the bottom line. By now virtually no visual art form has the power truly to startle. But tattoos, not the drawings of them, but the actual things, can. They're genuinely transgressive, and every generation wants to redefine beauty by adopting what seems transgressive to the previous generation. Are tattoos beautiful? Well, to paraphrase the old saying, a tattoo is only skin deep.

I highly recommend you check out the rest of the 1995 NY Times article, and if you have the time, the CNN piece on Hardy is worth a read as well.

If you haven't picked it up yet, grab Ed Hardy's memoir "Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoos."

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