Art critics and patrons have begun to accept it as an art form.
While museums, art auctions, and collectors still collect art, there is still a debate over whether or not tattoos are fine art.
Should tattoos be considered Fine Art?
In the world of art, different mediums offer different ways of preserving and experiencing the creation. Picture, for a moment, if one of history's most celebrated artists, Vincent van Gogh, chose to express his artistic genius not through the oils and canvases that have famously endured the ravages of time, but rather on the canvas of human skin.
Indeed, had van Gogh been a tattoo artist, his iconic "Starry Night" wouldn't grace the walls of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Instead, it would've been laid to rest alongside its bearer, fading into obscurity as an artwork consigned to the grave.
Yet, does that impermanence of the medium diminish the artistic merit of the work?
Shouldn't a van Gogh be a van Gogh, whether it's on canvas or skin?
The canvas on which an artist chooses to convey their vision is not always a traditional one, and the tattoos that adorn the bodies of millions across the world are a testament to that. Tattoos are intricate, personal, and meaningful. They are a form of self-expression, a way of declaring identity or paying homage to personal stories and memories. They are often as beautiful, complex, and thought-provoking as any masterpiece that hangs in a gallery.
So, why then, has tattooing struggled to gain recognition as a fine art?
With this question looming, we need to dissect the distinguishing elements that qualify the recognized Fine Arts, such as painting or sculpture, for their esteemed standing. When we sift through these benchmarks, we commonly find attributes such as technical mastery, historical significance, and the capability to stir emotion at the forefront.
Now, how do these characteristics relate to the art of tattooing? Every damn point.
Inarguably, tattooing necessitates an advanced level of technical dexterity. The concept of grabbing a tattoo machine and immediately being able to etch onto human skin as if it were paper is a far-fetched notion. The interplay between the inks utilized and the canvas of the flesh offers an unmatched, unique experience.
Skin Deep Insights
The ability to comprehend how individual skin will interact with ink is vital. Each skin is a unique canvas, influenced by factors such as aging, weathering, tanning, and moisturization. Moreover, tattoo artists shoulder the responsibility of ensuring their designs withstand the test of time, necessitating a sophisticated understanding of skin and ink chemistry.
Body Conscious Placement
A critical aspect of the tattoo artist's skill set is a keen awareness of the placement on the body and how the design will adapt to movement, rest, stretching, and more. A competent tattoo artist is acutely attuned to the body's natural flow and tailors their work to align harmoniously with the given space.
Tattoos are not mere add-ons; they are an integral part of the human body, living and breathing with the bearer, forming a symbiotic relationship. A seasoned tattoo artist appreciates this intimate connection and tweaks their art to blend seamlessly with the human form. These facets represent just a fraction of the basic elements of tattooing, but each one denotes a unique technical challenge intrinsic to the field.
An Art Form Akin to Others, Yet Distinct...
Advancing further, there are other facets of tattooing that parallel other art forms. Tattoo artists, like painters, need a solid grasp of color theory, shading, and perspective. Simultaneously, like sculptors, they need a deep understanding of the human form and the principles of proportion. Tattooing demands a suite of technical skills, all mastered through a fusion of hard work, perseverance, and inherent talent.
Above all, the quintessential purpose of art is to stir emotions, to resonate with people, and to evoke sentiments that establish connections. This, indeed, is the hallmark of tattoos. At their pinnacle, tattoo artists craft living masterpieces that reflect as much of the clients' personas as they do of the artists themselves.
When executed perfectly, tattoos become the tangible manifestation of a connection between the artist and the client. This dynamic interplay of creativity and trust births something entirely unique. The individual bearing the tattoo transcends the role of a mere canvas, becoming a person profoundly connected to their body art.
"Tattoos, in all their glory and flaws, mirror the human journey. They are chronicles of our triumphs, joys, lapses, and failures imprinted on our skins. Much like life itself, they may not always be perfect. Sometimes, they can be deeply tragic. But their authenticity is undeniable. A tattoo is just ink in skin—it is the bearer who imparts meaning or value to it."
"I draw simply for the joy of it, and to provide a catalog of designs for my clients from which they can select a new piece. Once the depiction comes to life on the skin, it breathes in harmony with the person — they start inhaling and exhaling together. The course of human history alters the appearance of the animals and plants I ink, and when the person who carries them passes away, so too do they."
Horitaka, State of Grace Tattoo, 2019
In many ways, the value of a tattoo is amplified by the individual who bears it. It breathes with the client, shares a life span, and eventually, dies with them. This makes tattooing one of the very few artistic practices that truly embody fine art.
Paul Park, The Xtreme Team
For more information on our sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections.