Tattooing: Mind, Body and Spirit. the Inner Essence of the Art

By Johnson, Frankie J | Sociological Viewpoints, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Tattooing: Mind, Body and Spirit. the Inner Essence of the Art


Johnson, Frankie J, Sociological Viewpoints


ABSTRACT

This research began to understand why people choose to get tattoos. The reason was to find out if getting a tattoo was a novelty or if there was more to it than just what we can see inked on their skin. The interest of this research lies in the feeling, emotion, human awareness of expression, and the deeper meaning on the inside that coincides with what is seen only as skin deep on the outside.

Open-ended interviews were conducted, over a period of six months, with four tattoo artists and thirteen people that have tattoos. Time was spent in a local tattoo studio talking with people who were getting a tattoo or who had already been tattooed.

The reasons and the meaning behind getting a tattoo were found to vary as much as the number of people getting tattoos. The similar thread running through the reasons for getting a tattoo, however, was that tattooing is a form of self-expression.

INTRODUCTION

The subject of tattooing has been of interest to this researcher for many years, toying with the idea of getting one on every milestone year that was celebrated. However, enough nerve was never conjured up to go through with it. Then, a few years ago, a talented young artist, who does tattooing for a living, entered the scene. Several of her paintings, done in different media, promoted a certain energy in their presence that was magnetic. It was not known, to the researcher, that she was also a tattoo artist. The researcher's ingrained image of a tattoo artist was extremely the opposite of what was found in her. Her talent, her almost shy, meditative energy, and her knowledge gave a reason to question an unfounded opinion of the art of tattooing. Beginning to relate to it with a new awareness, the desire to acquire a tattoo rose to a new level. One no longer wanted just a cute little ladybug on the foot. The tattoo had to have meaning, to resonate with the spirit within, and portray the intent from which one lives their life.

The research of symbols, sayings, meanings of colors, and different types of tattoos, began while thinking of the places on ones body that one would comfortably wear a tattoo. This led me to wonder why other people got tattooed and what their tattoo meant to them, if anything. How does one arrive at the decision to make a permanent statement on their body? In this paper, the desire is to gain a wider knowledge of the art of tattooing and the people involved in it.

WHO GETS TATTOOS

For purposes of this research, the concentration is on tattooing in Western societies. According to researcher Shannon Bell (1999), there is a differentiation between people who have tattoos and tattooed people. The people who have tattoos only have one or two; usually personal images strategically placed so as not to be seen. Tattooed people have many tattoos, usually larger and more colorful and placed so they can be seen. She states that they have "crossed the point of no return" (Bell 1999: 56) and have chosen to socialize in the subculture of tattooists and others as heavily tattooed as they are. This action allows them to avoid the reactions of the general population and "fully embrace marginalization" (Bell 1999: 56).

Studies over the last ten years show that people from all types of occupations, ages, and social classes are getting tattoos at an increasing rate (Armstrong 1991). According to a study done by Armstrong and Pace-Murphy (1997); 10% of high school adolescents have tattoos. Studies done between 2000 and 2002 found that 16 - 23% of college students surveyed have tattoos and thirty seven percent of military recruits in basic training have tattoos, with 64% of them entering the military with them, having had them done between the ages of 15 and 21 years old (Armstrong, Pace-Murphy, Sallee, and Watson 2000).

An article in Newsweek dated January of 1991 by M. Mason states "from sailor to sales rep: tattoos go mainstream It's (tattooing) moved up the cultural system. …

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