That is the question.
To start this post I should probably confess to you all that I am highly unlikely to ever get a tattoo. So mum and dad you can recollect those food crumbs you spat out in sheer horror of me contemplating the permanent inking of my body. Because in all honestly I am too much of a wimp!
It took me almost three years to pluck up the courage to get more than just one piercing on each ear, so at this rate I will probably be entering the parlour around the age of 80.
But sheer fear of commitment (and also needles) does not mean that I can’t appreciate a great tat when I see one, and if anything the admiration I feel is stronger as it is infused with a sense of awe. How do people muster up the courage to not only go through the physical process getting a tattoo involves, but also the long and arduous task of deciding what design they want permanently stuck to their skin.
The history of self-embellishment via skin dyeing is a long one dating back to 6000 BC through South American skin preserves from the Chinchorres mummy. In Europe the first encounter we have with ancient tattooing is the Oki Iceman, originating from the Ok valley in the Alps in the 5th Century BC, whose body was adorned with 57 carbon designs, including dots under his left knee, right ankle and lower spine.
In India permanent tattoos are referred to as ‘Pachkutharathu’ and ‘Godna’ (depending on the region) however the practise of Henna, a non-permanent, try-before-you-buy option, is widely used and now also common in Western society. And there are numerous tales of tattooed immigrants being imported in the Elizabethan courts for entertainment – they rarely lasted longer than a few months.
The first documented professional tattoo artist was a German immigrant living in Boston, who opened shop in 1846 – soon to be followed by an English equivalent from Liverpool in the 1870s. This initiated the rise of what can only be described as the era of the tattoo artist, in which inked up limbs are no longer reserved to muscular marines attempting to portray their masculinity through “MOM” scrawled across their bicep. Tattooing is now considered a form of fine art with the rise of ‘sleeve fashion’ in which Polynesian and Japanese tattoo art has influenced and inspired people to commit to Avant-garde designs decorating their arm in a similar manner to decorative clothing. There are now even cases in which artists are trying to copy write their designs, viewing it as the latest form of outsider art, taking the place of the now mainstream street art.
Yet the thing that attracts and fascinates me most about this new era of ink is the delicacy and femininity that many of these photos narrate. Tattoos have traditionally been viewed of as a masculine, anti-conformist statement, however as these photos show this form of artistic statement can be most striking when the rawness of design is contrasted against a traditionally chic and formal outfits. Margot Mifflin has documented this foray into femininity in her 1997 book Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo, in which she discusses the relationship between body art and female revolutionary aesthetics. And this concept of anti-testosterone-tats is becoming ever more present in popular culture with 2013 being the year of the first ever tattooed winner of Miss America– Theresa Vail from Kansas proudly displayed her “Serenity Prayer” inscription on her right torso and U.S Army Dental Corps design on her left should, during the swimsuit pageant.
But whilst I have lyrically waxed on about the beauty of new-era tattoos, like everything else in this design world it is a fashion fad. We only have to look to the tribal tattoos of the nineties, once the height of cool and now a permanent stamp of dated taste, to realise that anything that has once been cool will then equally become irrelevant (or worse still, un-cool). Committing to a ‘tattoo of the moment’ is the sartorial equivalent of modern architecture, except for laser surgery is a lot more painful than bulldozing a building. For whilst the architecture of the late 50’s and early 60’s was the height of forward thinking design then, will the inked bodies of these currently but not permanently lithe and youthful creative minds suffer the same fate as these decaying building as new fads come and go?
Let us know what you think!
(Photos taken from the ever talented The Sartorialist)