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tattoos: an element of visual culture, or fine art?

Visual culture is the aspect of culture expressed in visual images. Visual culture includes but is not limited to advertising, buildings, photographs, movies, and apparel. Today tattoos are no longer considered a symbol of rebellion or subculture, but a form of self expression. We proudly adorn them on our skin for others to see. In recent years there have been fine art exhibitions that feature photographs of tattoos by famous tattoo artists. For example in 2015 the auction house Guernsey offered a collection of 1,500 images by some of the worlds foremost tattoo artists. But does the fine art community actually see tattoos as fine art, or decorations to permanently wear?

  • If the day comes that the million dollar paying critics accept tattoos as fine art the art industry will change drastically. Once tattoo artists become renown and their time to make work gets valued to the point of museum or major gallery level commissions, what will previously experienced collectors of art say or do? They can't collect tattoos, and their value depreciates over time as skin ages. How do tattoos break into the fine arts world with these limitations? Are images of tangible tattoos enough or will they always face some form of stigma? – Slaidey 6 years ago
  • Cultural iconography is expressed through tattoos; from anime to tribal symmetry, the fact that an individual is able to create an expression of their identity of which is cultivated by their upbringing and society fits the definitions of what we are calling art. The issue is the canvas used, human skin. I have personally known individuals who's skill was originally cultivated through the root cause of their profession; a painter or visual artist, who became good enough to become a tattooist. They already think like, and behave like a painter who has made the choice to focus on tattooing as a means of ether, exploring a new medium, or a way to practice art while being able to pay the bills. If the art was instead done on a canvas there wouldn't be any difference in question. There is no way of owning an original, so as far as galleries are concerned, photography is the only way to create a "market" of sorts outside of the tattoo parlors themselves. I don't believe there to be an arbiter of taste, the event that is human expression does not depend on this or that critics opinion; it has been said that the writing on the bathroom wall is a more pure form of artistic expression than that of the person who creates with premeditated intent, especially when pecuniary gain is to had. On the other side of the issue, some go into tattooing due to the ease of "paint by numbers" techniques, the people who going to it with the mindset of making money and social status tend to produce lesser quality work than those who apply themselves due to their own passion for the art, this happens in all areas of expression. – LelandMarmon 6 years ago

Tattoos as Art

From traditional Folklife tattooing to the evolving methods and styles of tattooing (watercolor, biomechanical, pixels, dot work), tattoos are the unsung contributions to the world of art.

In 2013, Buzzfeed compiled a listicle of 13 brilliant tattooists who are contributing to the new artistic stylings: (link)

The Smithsonian Center of Folklife and Cultural Heritage held a 2012 exhibit on tattoos, and the New York Times profiled a 2013 Highbrow Ink exhibit regarding the artistry of tattoos.

In what ways do tattoos conform to artistic norms and practices, and in what ways are they still regarded as culturally inferior expressions of art? Examine the bias (and growing acceptance) to tattoo culture, and draw parallels to how similar bias existed regarding modern art, living art, and various other forms artistic expression throughout history.

  • As someone with numerous tattoos--many of which, if not all, are inspired by literary and poetic works--I love this topic! There is always a debate regarding whether or not tattoo artists can truly be considered artists. This is asinine, especially due to the amount of time and skill implemented in the sketches for tattoos. Great inclusion of the exhibit featured at the Smithsonian! I know a few people who went and said it was amazing. I do hope this topic gets picked up...great conversation piece! – danielle577 8 years ago
  • There's currently an exhibit on until September at the ROM in Toronto called "Tattoos. Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art.", which explores the history of tattoos (and highlights how so many traditions were destroyed by colonialism...). It was fascinating, and I would highly recommend checking it out for sources. – tmorand 8 years ago
  • Interesting art form that combines the traditional and the avant-garde! – jcsart 7 years ago