We often associate honor, or at least I do, with the image of the loyal samurai. Honor-bound by his warrior code he serves his Master until death. It is an extreme example, but I think it is a practical model that can be applied to your own life.
In tattooing as well as many other industries, there is often a lack of honor and integrity. I don’t usually care to dwell on the negative but I would like to clear the air concerning my observations after 15 years as a Tattooer. I have been fortunate enough to own 3 different businesses and have worked alongside some of the best tattooers on the East Coast. I respect everyone I have worked with and owned businesses with, and feel that they all have a high level of integrity. I am mostly referring to some of my younger past employees who have chosen to conduct themselves without honor. They don’t understand the concept and frankly I feel they just don’t care.
One individual was an apprentice of mine. He chose to cut and run, because things were too hard, and he was getting mixed messages that I was unaware of. Countless hours spent showing him the ins and outs of what I do, and even offering up my own body for his first tattoo was not enough to keep him during a rough patch. He didn’t have the courage or the stomach to face his difficulties and left as a thief in the night with merely a “Dear John” letter explaining his poor decision making. (But still took off with his machines given to him as a gift when he finished his apprenticeship). He scurried back home to take his newly acquired skills and set up shop not giving any mind to the commitment that was implied when he began his apprenticeship. Surely this is a common story repeated hundreds of times, and will serve as a learning lesson which I have applied to more recent situations. He in turn, will become just another lost cause. A tattoo cliche. A waste of time and effort.
Over and again, I have been surprised by the personal conduct and lack of honor displayed by other younger tattooers. It is truly an “out for myself” attitude. How much they can steal from those who came before. They can suck up to the truly talented and masterful artists that are out there as much as they want. They can try and claim tradition and how they “honor” it by their stupid, silly, ironic drawings. But they are missing the point. They haven’t worked for it. They haven’t struggled for it. I don’t even think I have struggled that bad, but for a short time I was sleeping in my car to do what I wanted to do.
Now I don’t usually put my two cents out there as blatantly as this. I tend to keep my head down and do work. That’s what I was taught, and that’s what I try to teach to anyone working for me. Ask them, they will tell you themselves. Often I have found myself the target of these same amateurs, running their mouths about how I’m “overrated” or even just calling me an “asshole” for no reason. It’s easy to be a target when people don’t know you or understand you because they can’t figure you out. I like it better that way. I let my work speak for itself. I value my close friendships and the opinions of those who I respect. As for the rest, they can fuck off. Shut up and work. Show me what you can do.
I hope to speak to the bigger issue of personal conduct. Just because we are in an unconventional business does not excuse your dishonorable actions. Some of these individuals have moved on to bright careers full of promise. I truly hope they remember the mistakes they have made and correct themselves accordingly. Because a man without honor is not a man.