There is a lot of debate in the tattooing community regarding whether or not Ed Hardy is a sell-out. Tattooing is a practice that is considered very sacred to those who do it professionally or view them as fine pieces of art. Naturally, tattoo aesthetics transcending mediums and leading to a massive financial empire is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. However, whether or not that constitutes “selling out” is an interesting debate. Generally, Ed Hardy is regarded both as disliked and incredibly boring. He is super serious in his demeanor, which turns people off. Additionally, he is financially very well off, which immediately makes someone a target for dislike, particularly in an industry where making money is very difficult.
Ed Hardy being regarded as incredibly serious and boring is interesting. I think that there is a common idea that tattoo artists and the person they are tattooing are supposed to have a close bond. Both are supposed to feel comfortable and connected by the artwork. Often, people that are very serious and stoic can be read as disconnected and uninterested. While I think that this may be part of the reason why people have a tough time connecting with Ed Hardy, I do not find the connection between seriousness and lack of passion to be fair. Some people have more muted personalities, and I think that people express their passion in different ways.
To bounce off of that idea, I think that people read a lack of passion, and assume that is no problem why he is no issue “selling out.” If people think that Ed Hardy lacks a passion for the art form, they would think that logically, he has no problem exploiting the medium for financial gain. Even with something as liberal as tattooing, there is still a bit of conservatism in the practice itself. People want to see tattoo designs, particularly ones that strike a similarity to the style and aesthetic of Sailor Jerry’s work, to remain on bodies, and not on clothing.
Despite all of this, I have a hard time believing that Hardy is a “sell-out.” His history shows that from a very young age, he has been extremely passionate about tattooing. As a child, he opened his own makeshift tattoo stand when other kids were opening lemonade stands. From a young age, he was passionate about his craft. As a young teenager, he went from tattoo parlor to tattoo parlor in a pursuit to learn the craft. Even when different tattoo artists turned him down for apprenticeships because they did not appreciate that he was in art school, he continued to persevere.
The alleged appropriation of tattoo imagery, particularly with Sailor Jerry’s style, is also a problematic argument to me. Sailor Jerry very clearly respected Hardy, as he was one of seven tattoo artists that he offered his copyright to. I think that this speaks volumes, as it showed he had faith in whatever Hardy had in mind for his legacy and art.
Sure, Ed Hardy has gone on to be immensely successful, and has changed the perception of where tattoo designs can be placed. I completely understand how this rubs people the wrong way, and I don’t think anyone can deny that Ed Hardy was looking for financial success. However, other art mediums follow similar suit, transferring paintings, graphic designs, etc., to clothing, and Hardy is doing no different. If anything, he is opening the ideas and aesthetics of tattoos to a wider audience, which can help lead to more general acceptance. And additionally, his financial success does not detract from his passion from his craft, which he has proven throughout his life and career.