What is the definition of art? What is its purpose? For many, the purpose of art is to make a statement - to alter one's perception. So, what does that mean for tattoos?
Tattoos are a long debated topic for many reasons, even in the art world. Where can these permanent creations fit into the mold of fine arts? Does the medium apply in this world, or is it, as may be thought, unrefined?
Why are tattoos considered an art form?
Intention = Art
According to many modern artists and renowned museum curators, that answer is simple: if someone intends for their tattoo to be art, then it automatically takes the label. This is simply a long standing rule of that world. Whether the tattoo is designed by a tattoo artist or if it is designed with the intended wearer, the intention behind the design is what determines its definition.
If your ink makes a statement, you are now the owner of a piece of fine art.
The statements behind tattoos can be vast: both implied and explicit. Whether the point of your tattoo is to garner attention, or if the tattoo represents a movement or a person important in your life
, the underlying message is important to the person wearing the tattoo. These words are permanently inked on the skin so that they can be carried by a person forever as a reminder, or as a badge of honor and pride. This matches well with the intentions of many artists to leave their mark forever on the world and guide others utilizing their medium including tattoo artists.
The Art Debate and Tattoo Stigma
Like any good art, tattoos are still debated. However, the stigma surrounding tattoos is fading, with twenty percent of the world population sporting one - the percentage being even higher among those aged thirty and younger. Even careers where tattoos were once considered taboo are now more accepting of their employees getting one. Some employers are even allowing their employees to display their ink openly. Banks, schools, and offices often let their workers sport tattoos uncovered, as long as they are appropriate to the environment in which they work. They are no longer considered a mark of an alternative or rebellious lifestyle, thus customers are not threatened or worried by their appearance.
For those who use tattoos as a form of expression, they can now obtain gainful employment without fear that they will be forced to cover their artwork, or that they will face repercussions. These pieces are no longer something that will keep you in a minimum wage position or that may be the deciding factor on your next promotion. Many people recognize tattoos for what they are: an assertion of self-expression and freedom of choice.
Art Has Collectible Value. Do Tattoos?
Much like art, tattoos, even have a collectible value. Whether that person is collecting them on their own skin or they are collecting them alternatively, tattoos can cost a lot of money
, many as much as a piece of fine art. Collectors of tattoos will traverse the country to have a specific artist they follow leave their mark on human skin. Depending on the name of the artist, a tattoo can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars because of the process. The better the ink quality, the better the equipment, and the better the artist, the more you are likely to pay for your next project - and the more likely you are to be satisfied with the end result. The price of a tattoo qualifies as an investment.
Some collectors have even gone so far as to collect human skin! These are mounted and preserved, like a normal canvas, to feature the tattoos even after death. Auction houses are even selling these oddities for thousands of dollars to equally eccentric collectors.
Recognition in the Art World
Over the last century, tattoos have begun to make their debut in galleries and museums, as well as having spawned numerous tattoo conventions. There has been an insurgence of artists, founding tattoo museums, which feature artifacts such as the machinery that has been involved in the tattooing process, to the tattoos themselves - whether that is a picture, living displays, or skin.
The museums have begun to recognize these artworks as having multiple interpretations and the ability to elicit feelings from the viewer, just as a painting by Degas might evoke emotions. These pieces are open to interpretation by the viewer and can be long standing conversation pieces for enthusiasts. No matter the size of the piece, the art on the body offers a window into the soul of the designer, a sneak peek at what you are feeling and how you live your life. The medium is just different.
Pop Culture Breaths Life Into the Tattoo Subculture
Popular culture has widely embraced in the tattoo culture. Instagram tattoo artists garner hundreds of thousands of followers to watch them work, design, and see finished pieces. This following provides extra income, notoriety, and support for the artist and the subculture, effectively marketing their brand through social media. The actors show off their tattoos on the red carpet without shame and even openly talk about their meanings in interviews. Some actors, such as Johnny Depp, have tattoos commemorating their roles in certain films and franchises.
Television is not spared from this presence, either. Shows like L.A. Ink popularize already thriving shops and artists with people across the globe. This has increased travel for tattoos and shows off the work of artists that deserve to be featured. There are even reality competitions for artists to earn a spot working in one of these shops. This presence in mainstream media has allowed for the subculture to come out of the darkness and emerge stronger.
With the emergence of the subculture into pop culture
, the art of tattooing is becoming more and more appreciated in the world of fine and modern art. As the tattoo becomes more mainstream, and more and more people appreciate the collection of these pieces, the culture of tattoos is growing. As more experts begin to agree that these pieces should be appreciated and studied along with masterworks of long ago, it is clear in the art world that, although not typical, these pieces of art are here to stay and continue evolving with time.