goodness, humor

Germany, you sneak…

Being an art history major is pretty fun sometimes.  It turns movies like The Da Vinci Code into a comedy (except for the part where all the evil Vatican people are meeting in that giant wooden room, and there in the background is a super cool painting that’s been lost to history: The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio!  Someone in the props department did their homework 🙂

check out that awesome highlighting!

Anyway, it’s fun to see art pop up in weird places, especially when its used in bizarre ways.  Like all those rappers (and people in their entourage [what a catch! Check out “Xscape” last album cover, LOL) I see with that “praying hands” tattoo; do they have any idea of its origins?  I think they’re all under the impression that it’s just a set of thoroughly Christian hands (which is true).  But that’s not all… at all!

yes, that is the contemporary pope being eaten by a demon from hell in the lower left

Around 1500, a German Renaissance man named Albrecht Dürer was getting famous by freaking people out with his woodblock prints of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  He did a whole series of these, and they’re all pretty crazy.  He was a painter who established himself with these super scary prints and his fine technical abilities as an engraver.

Around 1507, he was commissioned to paint a triptych for some wealthy dude in Germany.  This was totally common at the time; rich people would commission paintings of saints and contemporary popes and shit to gain favor with THE LORD, and basically buy their way into heaven.  Hax.  Anyway, Dürer, like any good artist, did some sketches before dedicating himself to this project for two years.  One of the studies was of a pair of praying hands (“Betende Hände” in German) to be used on one of the guys in the painting who watches Jesus’ mom, Mary, get assumed into heaven (like a dust bunny into a Hoover).

the original

the original

Recently these hands have been used on some inexplicably non-sequitur stuff (skateboards and t-shirts come to mind).  But my favorite medium that these hands show up in has to be the loads of less-than-classy tattoos, often to demonstrate faith in Christianity (this guy keeps similar company), prayer for the death of one or many loved ones, belief in zombie Jesus, or that you might be a giant douche bag who has no clue that you’re wearing a sketch done by a Renaissance era German engraver.

These hands are so popular, they’re reproduced in just about every tacky medium you can think of: little gold pendants, creepy bronze statues, ugly crystal knick-knacks, and fucking mugs.

original image file name: gold-iced-out-rosary-cross-praying-hands-bead-necklace

What if one of Dürer’s other studies for that painting had skyrocketed to fame instead?  Like this one of some very pleasant looking feet.  Can’t you just picture those on your grandmother’s bookshelf under the “Footprints in the Sand” poster?

tickle tickle!


Poverty = death = tattoos

that shit is forever

I have only one relative with more than one tattoo, and minimal regrets about them.  He has good taste and I like most of the tattoos he’d gotten, so I was shocked to hear that he wanted to get a portrait of his grandfather tattooed to his arm.  My knee-jerk reaction: “Wow, that’s ghetto.”  Tattooed Cousin: “What?!  Why is that ghetto?”

I love my cousin.  He’s a smart guy and a good person, so when I saw how bothered he was when I blurted out my (admittedly harsh) opinion, I figured I owed it to him to give it some serious thought.  The following is written in the language of huge generalization.

It starts with poverty.

People of similar economic status live among each other

Whenever I look for an apartment, I’m struck by the fact that at the end of the day, I’m exchanging money for safety.  Apartments in Koreatown, Compton, and Crenshaw are cheaper than apartments in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu.  In order to live in what I would consider a safe neighborhood, I must pay more money.  Poor people are therefore more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods.

The poor stay poor

Everyone in the neighborhood is in similar economic straits.  They can’t afford to send their kids to a school where everyone gets their own books, or personal attention from the teachers.  Some don’t finish high school as a result of the terrible school environment.  They can’t afford higher education, so the kids who graduate high school don’t go to college.  Instead they get crap jobs with crap pay that doesn’t cover basic costs like rent and bills.  It’s a cycle of poverty = lack of education = poverty.  Some find some escape through alcohol and drug abuse, resulting in the occasional DUI (eventually resulting in the death of the user, or innocents caught in his way).  There seems to be no way out without joining the armed forces (where they may die in combat), or breaking the law.

Poverty makes for a shorter, harder life

A percentage of the neighborhood turns to crime as a last resort.  They arm themselves.  A gang is formed.  Rival gangs pop up nearby.  They kill each other and are hunted by the police.  Innocent people get killed during burgalies, hold ups, drive-bys, etc.  The rest of the community are now a group of impoverished people living among criminals because they can’t afford not to.  They are trapped by their own circumstance in a cycle of poverty and danger that lowers their life expectancy based solely on their geography.  In addition, health insurance is a luxury most cannot afford.  Preventative medicine is non-existent, so people die younger than they need to.

Collateral damage

As a result of all of these circumstances, poor people are very likely to know more than one person who has died in their life, often far too young.  Ritual commemoration surrounds the death of loved ones.  Decals are placed on cars.  T-shirts are printed.  Tattoos of the dead are seen as a genuine gesture of loss and love.

But everyone dies

Why don’t rich people get tattoos of their kids who die in car accidents, or drown in pools, assuming they love each other just as much as the poor?  For the middle-to-upper class, tattoos are not accepted as a civilized form of expression of any experience or emotion, death and grief included.  The constant reminder of the dead is not necessary to demonstrate a sense of loss.  In fact, the tendency by the poor to constantly remind themselves and others of their beloved dead is seen as a callous, somewhat selfish and attention-seeking gesture.  Grief is viewed by the poor as a public experience, but is decidedly private in more privileged circles.

Is it the sense of community that causes this?  Rich people have the luxury of complete independence.  They don’t depend upon each other for survival, while the poor may need to borrow a neighbor’s car to get to work, or loan money to a friend so he can make rent.  For the poor, death is a group experience because everything is a group experience.  For the wealthy, a WASPy, reserved attitude is the most acceptable response to just about everything

even after you die... it'll still be there

SPOILER: Tattooed Cousin got the tattoo recently, and it looks amazing.  I mean, it looks ghetto, but portraits are some of the most difficult art to pull off, especially in a tattoo medium.  His is really well done.  I guess another qualm I had was that there’s nothing worse than a bad portrait tattoo.  I guess I was a little worried it would turn out to be a fucking disaster (see pictured).  And that shit is forever.