Thoughts on tattoos?
Lately I've been wondering what other people think about tattoos. With the younger generation of musicians and pre-professional students making great use of social media platforms, I've started to see a few of these musicians with tattoos. A former violin teacher of mine even has gorgeous half sleeves. I guess I'm asking: would people, particularly in the classical music realm, see that as unprofessional or a turn off? If you were going to attend a recital or a competition and the soloist had visible tattoos, would that in any way influence your perception of them as a person? I'll note that I'm talking about tastefully done ink work, not anything disrespectful or crude.
They never appealed to me.
It has never been my thing, and I live in NYC, and not much of a prude. But it shouldn't matter, and my opinion should not sway you one way or the other.
Classical music is one of the more conservative realms of art, but luckily, with Corona, all those stodgy old people will be dead soon, clearing the way for the 5 millenials left in the audience, who will think about how fun it is to actually go to a classical concert and will find your sleeve to be relatable.
It would definitely be a turnoff to me, in any realm. But hey, I'm over 50 years old.
I like classical aesthetics. I don’t like piercings nor tattoos. But skill is independent from aesthetics. Does it influence my perspective? I don’t think so. I try to appreciate good music, regardless of the looks of the performer. Will it influence opinion of most classical music critics? Probably. It’s a very conservative field, and tattoos are typically seen as rebellious. As an example, the organist Cameron Carpenter was strongly criticised because of his hair styles. And he didn’t even have a tattoo...
If you are a fine musician you probably also have a fine taste and that will translate in the kind of tattoo decoration you choose to apply to your skin. At that point it will not be better or worse than any other kind of decoration you choose to wear, like earrings, bracelets, style of clothing, etc. What I want to say is, it will be you as a whole, not the tattoo in itself, that people will react to. Of course the sorry thing about tattoos is that they are permanent (as far as I understand), which makes them very much less adaptable to circumstances, e.g., the kind of music you play, the kind of audience you play to, the style and color of clothing you wear that moment, etc. So I personally find tattoos not offputting but rather very inconvenient, and I sometimes cannot avoid thinking "why did she do such a dumb thing as getting a tattoo". My apologies in advance :-)
Jean, apart from being able to appreciate what a beautiful woman looks like (and always better without a tattoo!), my taste for art and landscape is appalling or non-existent. But I like to think that I am at least a reasonable musician with at least a reasonable taste in music. So I can't really agree with what you have said.
I don't care for tattoos but then I'm in the over 50 crowd and presumably will be dead soon from Covid-19 (thanks, Christian).
As to generational, it's not just about mores: when I was young there was no hygiene, and in my naval town, the only tattooists around in the 1960s and 1970s were the ones who did sailors and bikers. A friend was a nurse and they traced his patient's 1985 hepatitis (Australia antigen) to a tattoo he had done in 1965.
Mary Ellen wrote:
They look stupid. And 30 years down the line, you need expensive laser treatment to remove them, because they stretch out and fade like an old pair of underpants.
In the more distant past, tattoos and other permanent body markings were used for tribal identity, ownership of slaves, or identifying criminals.
Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular. Among my friends (we’re all in our late 20s/early 30s) approximately half of them have some kind of tattoo. Also, if I remember correctly, all of the ones that are tattooed have finished some kind of superior education, while none of the friends who didn’t attend university is tattooed. They all say that I’m a strange guy for not liking tattoos and being clean shaven, but of course, they’re all wrong, and they know it.
Gordon, was the patient suffering chronic symptoms in 1985, or was it just that his blood was australia antigen positive and everyone had to treat it with respect? Tenofovir for chronic hepatitis B is not cheap (Some $4000 per annum in the USA, last time I heard - They try to make it available in the third world at a cheaper rate)!
Mary Ellen, the stats seem to really hit populations in their 70s. We need you out there making music (hopefully not putting your health on the line)
Christian, that's it, classical music concerts that smell like rock concerts from the 1970s! Transform the genre! :-)
I'm over 70 and a Navy veteran. I don't have any skin-art but knew a lot of sailors and others who did. They are interesting as they are both a form of statement about the person as well as a method to incorporate something important to you into your body.
Neither tattoos nor nail polish would have any effect on the outcome of a professional audition.
I'm OK with tattoos on other people but I don't want one. I've considered that I could get a small red dot put on my back just below the belt line with a small "RESET" written under it, but that probably won't happen.
@John "was the patient suffering chronic symptoms in 1985, or was it just that his blood was australia antigen positive and everyone had to treat it with respect? Tenofovir for chronic hepatitis B is not cheap"
@Joel: "In the more distant past, tattoos and other permanent body markings were used for tribal identity, ownership of slaves, or identifying criminals." Yes, nowadays it seems to be either "tribal" or "individual" (often got from a pattern-book, lol). When Maori tattoos became popular I mocked people by asking which Maori tribe they belonged to.
@Mary: "Neither tattoos nor nail polish would have any effect on the outcome of a professional audition."
I agree with Mary, tattoos, polish, piercings, have absolutely no bearing on talent, auditions, or quality of the musician.
I had a gf for a while who had had her lipline tattooed at the age of 50. That was popular for a little while. I thought it was a little bit tacky.
I've no problem with tatoos - indeed have a quite large one myself - but as a professional travel demand modeler most have no idea it exists. There are many reasons why people make this choice as several have pointed out. It shouldn't have any bearing on the perception of the talent or quality of the musician.
Thank you Gordon. In most of the third world, almost everyone is positive for Hepatitis A, which also spreads through infected food, and, whilst worth avoiding (and, nowadays, getting vaccinated against), is rarely fatal. In some parts, Hepatitis B is also endemic. Both forms are generally symptomless in children, but, the older you are when you catch them, get more severe, B being frequently fatal. In a small proportion of infections (much smaller than with Hepatitis C), B can become chronic, resulting in progressive liver damage. Life expectancy in such patients is increased by administration of tenofovir (C requires different drugs, because it is a totally different class of virus).
I've been told that in the British Royal Navy a visible tattoo on a sailor's arm would be a bar to that person's promotion to officer rank. The reason, apparently, is that in the Officers' Mess short sleeves would often be the norm when dining.
I don't mind, I don't care. I personally don't have one or want one.
I've no idea about the navy (or officers). I come from a naval town, but my father was a technician in the Air Force. Although my uncle was a marine in Burma (before 1962, I guess), but he never talked about it. My father has no tattoos. I don't know about my uncle.
As far as I can see, a tattoo ranges in price from a good set of strings to a good carbon bow (full sleeve £1500). No contest! (lol) Hell, £1500 is twice what my violin cost!
Parts of the world will reject anyone with a tattoo-- Japan is very twitchy about them, for example, and you may be ejected from a spa if you show one. There may also be branches of the military that won't accept certain kinds of tattoos.
40 year old professional here...I have tattoos on both of my upper arms and my calves. I always have them covered for any performance as I feel the classical music world isn't as accepting. I could be wrong but I always just cover as to not even have the issue brought up.
Tattoos, not to be judged by others? I disagree. What other reason is there for someone to alter the outward appearance of their body? Except maybe in the cases where the tat is a small one in remembrance of a loved one who passed away or something along those lines.
Stephen, et al.,
I've read through this thread and I'm kind of wondering why it should matter whether a person's skin coloration is intentional or not. I'll bet there are those who find tattoos "off-putting" who would feel (but perhaps not say) the same about someone with visible port-wine birth marks or vitiligo. Classical music is predicated on the celebration of aesthetic ideals -- I get that. But as musicians and music-lovers shouldn't we also be about celebrating our common humanity?
I also have no tattoos and no interest in getting one, although I have thought that when getting married, a tattooed wedding ring would seem to be an obvious thing to do (do you dare to fill the crossword puzzle out in pen?!), but I always get a laugh out of the classical-music world's reflexive conservatism, although it never surprises me.
I appreciate the variety of responses in this thread. For the record, I do have tattoos on my left arm, from shoulder to elbow, which were carefully thought out and planned with a fantastic artist. I intend on having my other arm done in the future since they are my preferred choice of personal expression and the designs I choose have a specific meaning to me. Neither my current teacher nor my orchestra director have had negative things to say about it, and during undergrad I’ve performed in at least one recital showing them. However, I usually wear 3/4 or long sleeves anyway because 1) I’m always freezing and would rather perform while being too hot than too cold, and 2) I don’t care to show them off just for the sake of showing them off. Personally, I don’t believe it matters when it comes to evaluating someone’s performance or artistic capabilities, whether the tattoos are concealable or not.
Tattoos are like boats, the best time is the day you acquired them, and the day you got rid of them!
George makes an interesting point. Tattoos aren't just about personal adornment (the pictures on my wall get changed fairly regularly) but something deeper, a statement of personal identity and membership of a clan or minority group. "Incorporating some power into your body"? Yes, in some cases (by no means all!) an implicit threat like openly carrying a gun.
Tani: Of course, tattoos have anything to do with skill and artistic capability. No one would say that a heavily tattooed athlete has less skill because of that (is Messi a worse footballer because of having tattoos?). But classical music is a very strict field. And at least today, tattoos are frowned upon. I also think it will progressively change, as society does. Young people from today will be the critics of tomorrow.
I have tattoos. They're fairly common in more than one of my de facto tribes. When in mixed company I wear long sleeves, as would be the case if I attended a classical concert, let alone played in one. (Granted the odds are heavily against the latter ever happening.)
If anything will lead to a shrinking future for classical music, just read these responses.
It might seem like these are disparate ideas, and trigger warning for people, I'm about to whip out some wokeness ;-), but classical music has something akin to a purity culture, which really might seem like innocuous "high standards", or garden variety snobbery, but is deeper penetrating, and has bigger effects. It's the root system as it were.
Steve asked, "Why after hundreds of years during which they were marginalized have tattoos suddenly become so much more prevalent in western culture?"
It's one thing (and not necessarily bigoted, in my view) to hold the opinion that organizations like the Sphinx Competition are not helping us advance the causes of diversity and equal opportunity. (I do not hold this opinion.)
Apparently nearly 40% of 18-29 year olds have at least one tattoo (Pew data), so it's definitely generationally popular.
I very rarely (but have) seen a tattoo that was attractive, never mind enhancing one's appearance. They don't bother me in the sense of being judgemental of those who for whatever reason chose to permanently adorn their body in such fashion (I served for over 27 yrs in the Navy) but I usually feel that it is a shame when someone spoils an otherwise perfect body and often wonder why one would do such a thing (I've seen many sailors waking up with a tattoo and a terrible hangover though!). In certain cultures (we live in a multi cultural society), tattoo wearing can be associated with criminal gang elements (such as Japan I beleive) and can certainly lead to prejudice. The classical music audience in general I would venture to guess is perhaps more prejudiced in that regards than some, and unless an artist is extraordinarily talented, he/she would very likely be frawned upon and/or discriminated against wearing blatantly visible tattoos. My thoughts... think hard about what there is to be gained by getting a tattoo and save the money for a good bow instead.
I really like tattoos and I'd like to get one but my parents would never allow me, and they tell me this often. I'm 17 but I don't think I'll rush out and get one when I turn 18. It's a big decision, so I'll probably wait. I have enough things in life to contemplate as it is, so it would probably be best to wait until I'm older.
Hear hear, Marie! If Nigel Kennedy can come on stage in a soccer jersey or Maxim Vengerov can dress like a used-car salesman, then you will probably not be too affected in your career.
I clicked, expecting tattoo related to the Scottish event; uh, is this site not about music? silly me.
Tell us how you really feel, Rob! I find the best way to purify my skin is by scrubbing it until all the insects burrowed inside leave and go back to the underworld - Well that and incense.
Not a big fan. However if a winsome lass with some tats became smitten with me, would I send her away because of it? Hmm.
Marie wrote:"bottom line should be how well they play". Indeed "should" is the keyword. Pro orchestras have blind auditions for a reason, however the world is full of humans and as long as this is the case, discrimination based on appearance will exist. It's in the human nature, we all do it in varying degree whether we agree or not.
If you're a violinist, the tattoo on your lower arm should say, "Do not try to read this during spiccato passage."
Consistent with what Lydia has mentioned: the legal profession is as stodgy as they get, and I would have estimated that about 30% of my law school class (class of '13) had at least one tattoo. That said, I didn't see any tattoos that would not have been covered by typical business attire.
Stick-on or temporary tattoos:
J Ray wrote, "I don't really understand the motivations for tattoos myself." I think the usual argument goes like this: A self-dare or micro-rebellious kind of experience followed by a conversation piece or a statement of individuality or, in some circles, a rite of passage or uniform.
I like what Marie said, and I agree with her. I also want to add that as a 71 year old man, I really don’t mind tattoos. Your body, your choice. Here in Portland – also known as Ink City - tattoos are as common as leaves on the trees. I’m probably one of only a dozen people in this entire city who doesn’t have a tattoo. They’re everywhere, and I don’t even notice them anymore. Hence, I really don’t care one way or the other, if someone has one or fifty. Also, I don’t make value judgements on people who have them.
Whether tattoos, green hair, or a mohawk, some people are going to have judgments, whether they are overt about it or not. Expecting that that they will not seems a little weird to me. If one doesn't expect some sort of reaction, why bother?
I find most tattoos too stark and geometrical to harmonise with the human body. And usually very ugly.
I always think when I see tattoos on a man he has been in jail, can’t help it it’s the place I was brought up, they would have a swallow on the left hand thumb indentation, and maybe their long list of girlfriends names all down their arm crudely done by themselves with a needle. My own auld fella had mam and dad as well as an anchor and a heart on his arm, but he had been in the Royal Navy. Then again look at Nigel Kennedy, if you hear early interviews with him he has a very upper class accent, but suddenly it changed to an east end accent when he wanted to appeal to a different audience, you could call it a verbal tattoo, didn’t do him any harm if it works why not. I don’t have tattoos, but I do have two ear rings in my left ear. I have friends who are completely covered head to foot, each to their own.
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