Guy Prandstatter said it’s just a “realization” of a “better fucking way of doing things.” Co-founder of a tattoo school network, he described a growth in tattoo schools as following the industry’s popularization and professionalization. “Nothing first came into the world as a formal school.” He asserts schools will replace the tradition of apprenticeship-training just as “medical schools replaced whatever came before them.”
And I couldn’t even finish saying “tattoo school” without Oakland artist Freddy Corbin protesting, “That’s a complete bastardization!” I was met with a resounding “Booooo!” upon using the words in another shop, and elsewhere encountered a nearly ubiquitous echo of one artist’s succinct statement: “Seriously. Fuck those guys.”
Meanwhile, a queer artist who requested anonymity suggested schools may offer a more inclusive way into tattooing, if they didn’t charge too much and “actually taught people to tattoo.” They otherwise championed the efficacy of self-training, and of created new models for apprenticeship.
These responses highlight a cultural struggle in tattooing in the US. Traditionally, newcomers arrange one-to-three year apprenticeships with established artists. Typically unpaid, apprentices answer phones, arrange equipment, and begin tattooing after varied time learning shop organization. 1 Artists who don’t apprentice are often labeled “scratchers” and rejected from shops and conventions. Academy of Responsible Tattooing (ART) in New York to “revolutionize the tattoo industry” by training those outside the “renegade or law-breaking stereotype.” It seems this revolution is not itself entirely standardized; after students attend a $379 workshop they enroll in a yearlong program, the costs of which multiple sources declined to reveal. I was told by one that the amount is “not straightforward.”
During an interview, Prandstatter suggested critics conflate “tattoo schools” with “short-term bullshit” while describing his schools as emulating the valuable aspects of apprenticeships. The difference, he claims, is “an actual contract” and that you avoid being “fucking hazed.” According to him, of the roughly ninety people who have graduated from his program, fifty-five tattoo in one of ART’s shops, thirty “went to existing tattoo culture,” and the remaining individuals left the field. He noted that, to avoid association, graduates don’t mention their school training in their professional portfolios, adding, “I’m okay with that, I understand it.”
Prandstatter didn’t dispute the efficacy of the apprenticeship ideal but challenged me about the reality: “Show me one of these great apprenticeships.” He suggested people join schools after being rejected from “macho” cultural barriers, something substantiated by Rhonda, a school graduate currently working in one of ART’s shops. She eschewed traditional apprenticeship for the school, which she called a “wonderful experience” where she felt “accepted” and able to tattoo “rather than mop floors.”
Acknowledging that apprenticeships are imperfect, Oey from Sacred Tattoo nonetheless echoed Prandstatter’s ideal/reality distinction from the opposite position, saying schools sound good but actually “sell pieces of paper.” Dan Gilsdorf of Atlas agreed, arguing schools foreground “ability to pay” over “merit and dedication.”