What is style?
“Style is everything,” according to Tom Robbins, modern novelist and master of the metaphorical sentence.
Certainly, style is communication — a distinctive way of being that tells people something about us before we even open our mouths to speak. And while it’s definitely true that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” — that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
At its most elemental, style is a clue to understanding a world cosmology.
A life-long statement
One of the oldest and most controversial forms of self-decoration is the ancient art of tattooing. This practice uses the human body as a canvas for a permanent work of art. In ancient Japan, tattoos were strictly taboo for most citizens; only outlaws even dared adorn their bodies this way. But despite the harsh social repercussions, the practice of full-body tattooing was developed as a unique art form.
Today, each new season brings with it new trends in tattooing. Why are people so drawn to this permanent form of adornment?
Rob Hunt of Asheville’s Forever Tattoo explains, “It’s an aesthetic. Tattooing is multicultural — it puts aspects of different cultures together … for ritual use … it is the common man’s way of appreciating art.”
Hunt does many styles of tattoos but says, “I don’t do any trendy tattoos. I call it Forever Tattoo because they are supposed to be on there until you die.” Nevertheless, he also creates options for people who’ve had a change of heart about their old tattoos and want cover-ups.
“Styles change,” he acknowledges. “People get tattooed at this shop because they want a work of art. I have a conscience; I have to know why someone wants to be tattooed.”
Evan Garner, a local artist, wears a tattoo by Hunt that depicts the hand of God reaching down to touch the hand of Adam as Michelangelo painted it on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Garner was initially attracted to tattooing because of its ancient origins: “I like to think of it as a root of primitive culture.”
Asked why he chose this particular tattoo, he says, “I worked in [Hunt’s] shop and he offered to [do my tattoo] for free. He was really into doing the work of the masters … so I thought about what would correspond the best with me.”
If Garner’s tattoo is a personal statement, it bespeaks “art appreciation,” according to its owner, who also comments, “I wouldn’t just go get a tattoo from [just] any [artist]. … I don’t want someone to slap a confederate flag on me.”
Heart on your sleeve
Local activist Rebecca Wagner contemplates the meaning of style: “Style can be anything from the way you carry yourself to the language that you use [to] the way that you interact in relationships. It is the essence of who you are.
“You can buy the components,” she adds, “but style is ultimately something that you can’t purchase.”
So what purpose does style serve?