Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Before and After

November 29th, 2008 by

Over the course of time tattooing has worn many hats, so to speak. As near as anyone can guess from prehistoric times it seems to have been mainly used as a form of magic and healing. Considering that the Iceman’s tattoos, while obscure, were all placed on areas of the body where he had an ailment of some sort; magic and healing is not such a stretch of the imagination.

Later as the art became more common it was used to identify members of the group, or tribe, and as a rite of passage. Something that when you consider the gang tattoos of modern society it is still used for today. From Samoan tribes to ancient mariners the major role of tattoo on life’s stage has been inextricably linked with these three modus operandi. Magic, Rite of Passage, and Tribal Identification.

Later, in the late 1800’s and on until the advent of television, it became a way for some to make a living as an object of entertainment. I am referring, of course, to the heavily tattooed individuals who became such fixtures on the Sideshow circuit of the traveling carnivals, and stationary exhibits, such as P. T. Barnum’s museum. Heavy tattooing at that time was a novelty usually reserved to sailors yet even these bastions of the art did not go as far as some of the Sideshow exhibits.

The most popular of these being the tattooed ladies. Not only because to show the extent of her tattooing she had to be dressed, or undressed in this case, as skimpily as the fading Victorian morals of the times would allow. But because there was also offered to the men leaving the tent a chance to see some of the more intimate tattoos in a closed show for a higher rate. The jury is still out on whether the “private” shows were such a success because of the erotic placement of the tattoos, or just the eroticism. My guess would be a bit of both.

Still, and all, during these bye gone times of tattooing, with the exception of certain “primitive” tribes and Japanese Yakuza, the state of tattooing was little more than graffiti art. A mish mash of so many different unrelated themes that the body looked slightly better than a New York subway wall. The idea of a specific related theme for turning the body into a living coherent piece of art was almost unknown. Heart and roses here, panther there, maybe a dragon, or a skull, perhaps a hula dancer on the forearm so you could make her wiggle.

Very little of it matched, or even held a vague resemblance to any thing else put on over the course of a few years. Of course we didn’t have the choices then that we do now either. Custom work was virtually unknown. If the artist didn’t have the flash for hat you wanted, tough shit. You either got what was on the wall, or found one of the very few artists who would do something you brought in. There weren’t a lot of those around at the time.

One of the things that really thrills me about tattooing in modern times is the way new collectors are viewing the use of both the art, and their bodies as living canvases instead of just a place to put the thought of the day. Modern collectors are, for the most part, about the over all effect of their art on their bodies and this is a trend that should be encouraged, in my opinion.

Tattooing as a whole has reached levels of art and acceptance that it has not seen in perhaps thousands of years and it is always gratifying to see an art form reach some measure of acceptance as an art from. This more than anything could be why there has been such a change in the way tattoo collectors are viewing how they want their over all “look” to be. After all, a well thought out painting still seems more pleasant to look at that a collage of unrelated images.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have important tattoos, such as the “In Memory Of” types. With the skill level of artists today they can be worked in to your general theme with relative ease. In many cases they can be a part of your overall look. With a little imagination, and a bit of input from your artist. That’s the key element, the artist. Skilled tattoo artists abound and it is much easier to find one now than it was back then.

Remember, it’s your body and your look. There is never a reason to rush, even where your first tat is concerned. Talk to your artist, get his input and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t have any regrets. It also pays to think ahead, even with your first tattoo. Think about how you would want it to fit in if you were to want more work done. Where you want it to fit in, and how it would relate to any future work you may, or may not want done.

In the end it could make all the difference between being a walking, talking masterpiece, or a subway station restroom that is in bad need of being painted over. To use an old advertising slogan that happens to ring very true: “Take pride in your hide”.

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