For the last couple of decades tattoo art has been steadily making its way into the mainstream. What was once a sign of rebellion against society’s rules and regulations is now rapidly being accepted as a unique expression of individual style and also a legitimate artistic endeavor.
In fact according to Tattoo Removal Creams, approximately one of every five persons have a tattoo of some kind or another – and the rate is higher for those who reached young adulthood early in the 21st century.
The acceptance of the tattoo as a genuine form of art can be gauged by the number of art exhibitions that feature tattoo designs. these are becoming more and more popular in major metropolitan areas across the globe. And when the designs of tattoos are seen as valuable in themselves then it is readily apparent that they have entered the mainstream. This is certainly happening.
In late 2015 Guernsey’s auction house offered punters the opportunity to bid on over 1,500 different designs by the world’s foremost tattoo artists. The designs were valued between $50 and a staggering $50,000.
In recent years tattoo designs have changed dramatically. While many starts on their journey towards multiple and more and more intricate designs with so-called ‘off the shelf’ artwork (called ‘flash’ designs by those in the know) more and more of those getting inked want something truly unique – and this is where the process can become extremely expensive (and time-consuming). An experienced tattoo artist can spend in the region of 40 hours on a single design and depending on their level of skill and area of expertise they can charge several hundred dollars per hour for their services – and this is before the inking process has even started.
Some of the more expert (and internationally recognized) artists have waiting lists that can run into months or even years – that is before they start consulting with their clients in order to get a better idea about their unique requirements. Artists such as Los Angeles based Mark Mahoney and Dr. Woo fall into this category.
But has the tattoo reached the same heights as fine art when it comes to experts and the general public? An argument can be made for the fact that it has. In 2015 the Virginia Museum of Fine Art held an exhibition of tattoo designs that later went tour. That exhibition was specialized in that it featured traditional Japanese tattoo art – but it is a foot in the door indicating a wider acceptance of tattoo designs as having artistic merit.
However, for many tattoo artists, the appearance of tattoo designs in the same institution that houses works by the Old Masters and more contemporary artists misses the point entirely. For them the true expression of the tattoo designers art cannot be appreciated unless it is placed on the medium that it was destined for – human skin.
For these artists, the tattoo tells a story that is as unique as each individual that commissions it and has the ink applied to the surface of their body.
Japanese master tattoo designer Horiyoshi III believes that designs are solely meant for the skin and that is why he never shows his designs at art exhibitions.
However, even taking that approach and philosophy into account there can be no doubt that tattoo art has now entered the mainstream in part due to both its aesthetic appeal and its ability to tell that uniquely human story. It is perhaps that intimacy between the artist and his or her canvas that has elevated tattoo design to the status of art.