Skull of Flowers Tattoo by Paolino of Rising Dragon Tattoos (West Village, NYC)
“Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many—either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry—why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost’rous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts. Whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.” – Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello
I recently got a sizable back tattoo (my 13th or 14th tattoo, depending on how you count them)–a skull made of flowers. All of my tattoos mean something deeper to me–they are not just art, but symbols that I want to help tell a story. It is part of my ambition to write a book of modern philosophy, one that lays out not only a theory of humanity, but also a theory of the individual self. My goals are definitely lofty, but if I can come anywhere close to them, it will require constant, rigorous self-evaluation and deep understanding of others. The skull of flowers is a relatively blatant illustration of Shakespeare’s ‘body as a garden’ allegory above. The strength to cultivate oneself, to make yourself into a person worthy of your own love (often a harder project than making yourself worthy of the love of others) is a deep kind of strength that requires a strong will. As someone who has struggled with, and been shaped by a mix of perfectionism and a resulting deep well of insecurity growing up, this is a concept that is near and dear to me. The placement of the skull on my back signals that this is also a kind of burden–facing down the demons that plague us, gleaning something from the worst parts of ourselves and learning to take pride in our best parts is one of the most difficult tasks we undertake as human beings. This idea is partially taken from Nietzsche’s conception of man as standing on a precipice–with the past descending into the mists below, and the abyss of the future before him (this is paraphrased and I have forgotten which book, but I think he’s discussing modernity at this particular moment…it might also be from Thus Spoke Zarathustra…my philosophy may be a little rusty ;__;)
After getting this particular tattoo, I came to the realization that I am, in a way, writing the book of my future ambitions on my own skin. These pictures that I have had grafted across my body in ink, are a kind of outline–each one connected to a personal philosophy or parable that I want others to understand, or to tell them about. These stories are all just as much a part of me and who I am as the tattoos that represent them. This clarity came only after extended amounts of thought: I knew why I got each tattoo, but I had never really probed the question of why I chose tattoos to express these things–rather than another art form or something that was less permanent. I think that part of the appeal to me is their permanence–that as my own philosophies and ideals change, the images will change in meaning, but at the same time will always remind me of the reasons I first got them. I am keeping a record of my past selves on my skin, along with ideals I hope I will live up to in the future. They are all part of me, and I hope that they act as guideposts as I move forward.