The career path of Ed Hardy is highly contested, as there seems to be a deep schism between his supporters and his detractors. Interestingly enough, Ed Hardy does not even seem to know where he stands regarding the choices he has made in his career. By blurring the lines of art and business, he has effectively built an empire for himself, which has not exactly gone over well for him. However, there are a number of factors that play into his reputation.
According to his biography, Ed Hardy seems to regret “selling out.” He feels that he cheapened his personal brand. Interestingly, the way he refers to his work as a “brand” makes it sound more business-like. This can be construed as him not even looking at his work as strictly art anymore. He may have been thinking art in his head, but his phrasing seems to indicate that his work has transitioned to more of a business. These kind of statements have given ammunition to his detractors to call out how he has lost respect for the art form in favor of making money.
His detractors are passionate. There are a number of websites that are devoted strictly to calling out Ed Hardy as a sell-out. In particular, they call out a number of his different products, including wine glasses, car accessory kits, diaper bags, onesies, and shower curtains. To many different tattoo artists, this cheapened the practice of tattooing. The fact that Ed Hardy has drawn a large degree of inspiration from renowned artist Sailor Jerry and uses that stylization in different forms makes the actions more egregious.
Another aspect of his new designs that makes him problematic is who wears them. His clothing line, in particular, is closely associated with “douche bags.” Upper-middle class people with the Jersey Shore style were the major consumers of his clothing line. However, the upper-middle class is not typically the most heavily tattooed. That’s where tattoos are generally considered taboo. The acceptance of tattoo designs in this community gave further evidence of commodification.
Even with all of these aspects of Hardy’s life and career being cause for disdain amongst the tattoo community, Hardy has still done a substantial amount for the industry, and his proven his love for the art. There are countless stories in the book that prove his passion for the craft. He had his own tattoo stand as a kid when other kids were selling lemonade. He went around to different tattoo parlors and worked his way through the ranks to become seriously skilled at his craft. Additionally, he brought the idea of Japanese style to the west. We would be a decade behind acceptance of tattoos and a decade behind high quality art had he not been in the industry.
While the grievances are definitely understandable, I think it is important to realize that these types of commodification come with the territory of major success in any field. While it may not be ideal to the integrity of the art, I don’t think it is entirely fair to call all of Ed Hardy’s work into question because of it.