Should Tattoos be Regarded as an Art Form?

People say that tattoos look “trashy” and “cheap”, subjected to those who practice the art with either no or a small amount of artistic ability or poor handling of the machines as they are heavy and tend to shake due to needle’s motion of up to eighty times per second. It is nothing to do with the general art form as there are many talented artists who are still working to perfect the art, they should not be tarred with the same brush as lazy, incompetent so-called “artists” as the majority of tattoo artists are skilled practitioners who take their work very seriously.

Tattoos are judged negatively because of previous owners, as they used to solely belong to the skin of prisoners and pirates. They were a mark of pride to prove to the community of their criminal reputation. Symbols such as a tear applied just below eyes, and religious imagery was a popular choice if the criminal had found God during conviction. These were very common “prison” tattoos. When tattoo artists and enthusiasts alike are questioned; they have a completely different outlook on the practice. Tattoo art conveys individuality, as the choice of image, design and artist communicates the person’s interests and significance of their own imagination.

Andy Bowler from Derbyshire tattoo studio ‘Monki Do’ enthused that “it’s best when people [research tattoo art] themselves.” He also commented that it is a good change in the tattoo world that customers use their own imagination with “real input” into their ideas and desired ink. Prison tattoos do show the person’s experiences but as tattoo art is expanding and becoming more popular, it isn’t just prisoners that are showing their true colours; images and text can show interests of music, family, reminiscence among
many other topics.

Now that integration of multiple styles has been taken, people are better informed and much more accepting of the past time. An increasing number of people are interested in tattoos as they see it as an art form rather than a mark of the ‘wicked’ or a specific tradition. As a result of this, tattoo conventions have been arranged all around the world to provide a service for enthusiasts to meet and discuss their passion. Artists worldwide work at the conventions for a chance to meet idols and promote their own work, and also share ideas and find inspiration. As a worldwide phenomenon, tattoo conventions are growing increasingly as copious amounts of shows are being arranged. ‘Tattoo Freeze’ hold the ‘National Tattoo Photography Awards’ for those who have a keen eye for photography, thus, showing the positive reception of tattoos and how other art forms are being integrated together.

Japanese tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy, best known as ‘The Godfather Of Modern Tattoo,’ brings an interesting statement to the discussion on the reputation of tattoos in a recent interview; ‘its not fun to be looked down on… it’s always going to be that way, you are always going to be judged by the way you look. You see someone who is covered in tattoos, and it’s like, you don’t expect people to accept you for the beautiful person you are inside, they are going to judge you for your tattoos.” He also adds that ‘every generation does through that’. This is the harsh reality of discrimination and prejudice against tattoos, though it should not be this way. More so nowadays; tattoos are seen as a sign of expression, extrovert personalities and freedom – these are factors associated with art in general.

Female bodies decorated with tattoos are still a concern for most people. Condescending views have been made about women who love and ‘wear’ tattoos, including scrutiny of their sexuality, class and job roles. Men are virtually accepted into the community with tattoos covering them, so what is the difference with women? Throughout history, women have constantly been regarded as less important than men, and continuously; women have fought for their equal rights on issues such as voting and job roles. Women have proved that they are equal regarding these matters; therefore this should be the same with opinions of tattooed females.

Jo Harrison; a famous tattoo artist breaks the stereotypes for the typical female – she is a ‘Suicide Girl’. She is part of an alternative-modeling agency for heavily tattooed and pierced women. ‘Suicide Girls’ are seen as the modern soft porn pin-up girls with an alternative edge. These type of agencies are ones who aim to satisfy the needs of the audience who are accepting of the alternative culture, and this is growing daily. People admire alternative women for their confidence and view of disregarding the negative things people say or think about them. This attitude is one that will assist the mainstream public into accepting these women for who they are, as well as how beautiful and expressive tattoo art is, rather than judging them to be ‘tacky’ and lower class.

TV series such as ‘Miami Ink’ have increased the popularity of the tattoo industry, but due to the media and editing of the programme; tattoo enthusiasts have commented that these shows convey the wrong impression about life of tattoo related labour. The programme shortens time it takes to draw/free-hand a stencil of a tattoo, as well as the time it takes to actually do the tattoo itself. This is giving a false impression that can lead to complications when a naive customer visits a shop expecting their piece to be completed in less than an hour. Despite this set back, I feel that these multiple TV series have helped the tattoo industry immensely regarding the increasing numbers of customers.

Through the years, tattoos are gradually becoming more accepted to the mainstream society, with negative opinions decreasing every year. Copious amounts of people want to involve themselves in the lifestyle and labour of the tattoo industry, thus creating an ever-growing competition for the prior artists to ‘up their game’ if they want to maintain their reputation and customer reception.

Mainstream advertising agencies are boasting tattoos. Magazine agencies are buying into the love of tattoos, as there is a vast and varied audience to address, ‘Jazz Publishing’ is the main contender with famous publications such as ‘Skin Deep’ ‘Skin Shots’ and ‘Tattoo Master’. Advertising is using tattoos in this manner – Yahoo published a billboard of a man’s tribal sleeves as well as Juicy Couture; male models covered in tattoo sleeves. More recently, fashion brand ‘Diesel’ have launched a ‘tattoo’ edition of their aftershave ‘Only The Brave’ trademarked and well-known for it’s fist sculpted container. The ‘tattoo’ edition has script embellished across the hand of the bottle, mimicking a popular tattoo craze.

This highlights acceptance; yet the female is regarded as “butch” if she was covered with tattoos. “Ed Hardy” clothing, for both men and women, offers women’s leggings that sport tattoo designs on them – as if they were realistic! Could this be the continued effort of instigating moral acceptance of tattooed females? Or merely fashion? Time will tell.

Is this media fascination with tattoos just a mere fashion trend that will cease to exist in years to come? And people who like to jump on the bandwagon will regret their choices of ink. Or does this continued growth of interest in tattoos mark a start of acceptance and improvement of society’s view of abnormal appearances, leading onto notions such as banning discrimination within the workplace and social circles.

Art forms should not be ridiculed nor degraded, art from different cultures are admired and inspiring – Tattoos are an art form. Hence they should be treated with the same respect and admiration as other forms of art as they are methods of expression and creativity.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below.


Article written by Sophie May Cheetham – Design For Digital Media student at University of Salford with a passion and love for all things art, design, music and literature: Art & Design is a real escape for me and when I’m doing work I don’t feel like I’m labouring over everything as I enjoy it so much. Art and design is always changing and developing, so it’s very exciting to know that I will never stop learning and developing my artistic and design skills.

Follow Sophie on Twitter@sophiemaycheets and Tumblr.

See Sophie’s Previous article: The Effect of Video Games in Today’s Society

2 Responses to “Should Tattoos be Regarded as an Art Form?”
  1. Great article, I totally agree with this tattooing is certainly an art form. There are some bad tattoo artists out there, but when you see someone like Corey Miller on the popular TV programme LA Ink or similar artists freehanding onto the skin and creating artwork fuelled by their own creativity and imagination it can only be admired.

  2. Great article guys – I think tattoos are accepted within some cultures and countries more freely than here. It’s a traditional art form for some religions / cultures such as in thailand or tribes in certain countries. In Australia it’s accepted massively as is art like graffiti – I think certainly in the UK it’s a little more accepted since the media attention via tv shows like Inked and Miami Ink etc but we are so behind with acceptance in the workplace. Still to this day a lot of places don’t want ink on show. It’s an art form – a different way of expressing it yes but what’s so shameful about it that it needs to be hidden? Unless it’s profanity tattooed on your skin then I guess yeah it may cause offence. People need to wake up…its 2012 after all 😉 Unfortunately unless its ‘accepted’ in the media – people shy away from it – i guess that’s controlled media for you though… Hopefully the people who jump on the bandwagon won’t go on to regret their pieces!

%d bloggers like this: