Do you believe in the Artist? It’s a loaded question, to be sure: the word “believe” already carries with it connotations of faith, dedication, and worship of a higher, mystical being, while “artist” is a title that asserts authority, individualism, and universality all on its own terms. But as melodramatic as it might sound, it’s a serious issue worth examining, as the endless idealization of the creative figure throughout history has prompted the emergence of a dangerous cult of believers. I, myself, was once a member.
It is easy to fall for the Artist—that figure sitting atop a cult of personality, every move perceived as an act of creative genius, a critical darling with unusually popular appeal. Thanks to the gripping prose of many a romanticized New Yorker profile and America’s own historical allegiance to supposedly rugged individualism and celebrity culture, the Artist has worn many iconic faces. At times he—and the Artist is almost always a “he”—has appeared as the intense brooder with brush in one hand and liquor bottle in the other. A cigarette might have once sat behind his now self-mutilated ear. At other times he has worn a furrowed brow beneath an understated bandana, playing the role of misunderstood genius, too sensitive and self-conscious for his own good.
It begins with me scraping at the Veritaffle maker, desperate to cure my hangover with a hearty meal. It then proceeds with the (re)discovery that all the laundry machines are taken, a procrastination session at Lamont, and a good 30 minutes of choosing between “Girls,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Mad Men.” My name for this slew of customs? “Harvard Sunday.” Now don’t get me wrong. For the past two years, this day of rituals has proven itself reliable and comfortable. But when the start of junior year rolled around, I decided it was time to spice things up with a new addition: afternoon student yoga in Winthrop’s Junior Common Room.
Bikram, Hatha, Vinyasa. You name it, and chances are I’ve tried it. After all, I did do my first sun salutation all the way back in the seventh grade when my school offered yoga in conjunction with hip-hop dance as an alternative to sports or fifth-period P.E. class. I’m still not sure who decided Missy Elliot and Tibetan meditation chimes would pair well, but my friends and I were willing to do anything to avoid picking up a field hockey stick or softball.
Tattoos and I have had a long, tumultuous relationship. It all started back in elementary school when I was utterly obsessed with Jack Sparrow. One day, while watching a rerun of “Inside the Actors Studio,” I heard Johnny Depp recount the tale of his infamous tattoo. If you haven’t heard the story, it goes as such: during his bad-boy years of long, greased hair and wool beanies, paparazzi temper tantrums, and 3:00 am appearances at LA nightclub The Viper Room, the actor dedicated his beautifully sculpted deltoid to his then-girlfriend, Winona Ryder, getting “Winona Forever” engraved in capital letters. To my preteen self, it was a bold and foreign move, romantic and cool. It was also utterly stupid. Like many young Hollywood lovers, the two stars eventually split, and Depp had no choice but to rescind his mark of affection. He went and got the “na” removed, revising the words to “Wino Forever.” So began my tattoo dilemma.
For many of us, college is a period of experimentation, self-exploration, and risk-taking. Our bodies are no exception to this. Just yesterday, a friend of mine began winter hibernation early by growing unprecedented facial hair. I have learned more about the anatomy of the ear from listening to my peers choose between daith and tragus piercings than from my high school biology classes. Yet, throughout my time at Harvard, I have found that most individuals fall into one of several categories when it comes to the issue of tattoos: there are those who staunchly claim stretch marks, professional advancement, and cursive ink do not mix well and that regret is inevitable; there are those who don’t see what the big deal is—a tat is a tat, the more the better; and then, there’s me.