If tattoos had always been as popular as they are today, here is what Charles Darwin, Henry V, Lord Nelson, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama might have inked.
As either individual expression or tribal affiliation, tattoos say a lot. More popular than ever, tattoos have moved “from subculture to pop culture.” The fact that 36% of Americans between 18 and 25 have at least one tattoo ensures that at least some of the social history of this period and at least the near future will be written in tattoo ink. That statistic makes cartoonist Paul Thomas’s An Unreliable History of Tattoos not only an interesting, hilarious read, but also, perhaps, a glimpse into the future. Is history written best in tattoo ink?
Did Edgar Degas, artist of pretty ballet dancers, have a darker, disturbing side?
Edgar Degas, known best publicly today as the painter of those pretty ballerinas on Impressionists calendars and museum souvenirs worldwide, earned a powerful reputation for draftsmanship during his day. Degas nearly re-legitimized pastel as a serious medium after a long period it was consider the domain of women and children. He tried and mastered every medium he touched, including the new, inky medium of monotype. Writing years after Degas’ death, French poet-critic Stéphane Mallarmé remarked that despite being already a “master of drawing,” Degas still pursued “delicate lines and movements exquisite or grotesque” in his late monotypes, arriving at “a strange new beauty.” In the exhibition Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, inadvertently raises the “exquisite or grotesque” question of just how strange that “strange new beauty” was. How dark was Degas dark side?
Why did Jackie Robinson have to break baseball’s color line in 1947 after another man broke it almost 70 years before?
Moses Fleetwood Walker didn’t have a good game for the Toledo Blue Stockings against the Louisville Eclipse on May 1, 1884. Hitless in four at bats and charged with four errors while playing catcher, Fleet Walker played poorly, but he had a good excuse—death threats. On that day, 132 years ago and 63 years before Jackie Robinson, Walker became the first African-American player in major league baseball. We remember Jackie Robinson each year with special days and retired numbers, but Fleet Walker’s faded into the past in the memory of the public at large. Both Walker and Robinson faced bigotry and abuse to realize their dream of equality on the playing field. Today, the question of who did it first isn’t as important as why baseball’s color line had to be broken not once, but twice. What does that fact say about the “color lines” being drawn today?
Is Amanda Palmer (who turns 40 today!), queen of pop-up concerts, kickstarter, and social media, the prototypical artist of the future?
“DEAR DOWNLOADER of MUSIC,” musician-artist Amanda Palmer writes on her online shop page, “this store is built on a ‘pay what you want’ philosophy for my digital music. i firmly believe in music being as free as possible. unlocked. shared and spread.” That openness (“honor system. no judgment.”) comes with a purpose: “once you have it, SHARE SHARE SHARE! COPY COPY COPY! SPREAD THE EVIL!!! we are the media.” On this, Amanda Palmer’s 40th birthday, it’s time to ask if she and her artistic philosophy are the prototype for the artist of the future.
Bob Duggan has Master’s Degrees in English Literature and Education and is not afraid to use them. Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, he has always been fascinated by art and brings an informed amateur’s eye to the conversation.