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Art: In(k) the Flesh

Delineating the taboo of the tattoo

By Dana StewartPublished 8 months ago Updated 8 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - August 2023
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My take on American Gothic 2023, image created by author with Midjourney Imagine AI

People watching is one of my favorite things to do. Granted I don’t sit still much if I’m not frantically birthing an idea on the keyboard. But when those moments happen, those pristine, carefree minutes when I can let my mind wander and turn off the part of my brain that screams there’s laundry to be folded (I’m ahead of the game if I'm at the folding stage) or bills to be paid, or how impossible it is to cobble together a meal when I haven’t done an Instacart order in weeks, I embrace them full throttle. With vigor. The art of doing nothing but, well, nothing.

Existing. Breathing in and out. Sitting on a rusty wobbly bench at some random outdoor mall because I hate to shop. Sure, I’ll go on the excursion, heck, I’m happy to carpool everybody there. But what I’m shopping for isn’t found in a store.

I’m always on the hunt, sniffing the trail, watching and waiting for what every creative person craves, what every creative person needs - inspiration.

A thunderbolt can strike anywhere.

As a writer, there’s no better research into character development than to actually observe real world people doing ordinary things. Think I’m kidding?

Humans - emotional and impressionable creatures, each with a distinct qualified vice, all choose how to communicate with their bodies. Some dress with the latest fashion trends, others pick hairstyles that convey who they are as an individual. Some take it a step further and make a permanent commitment for their personal statement.

Ink. In the flesh.

Tattoos are nothing new. El Algarrobal Museum in Peru displays a Chiribaya mummy with a tattoo on the fingers of the right hand. The Chiribaya were farmers who lived from A.D. 900 to 1350.

tattooed right hand of a Chiribaya mummy, Smithsonian Magazine

Further back in time, tomb scenes or hieroglyphics document Egyptian female mummies exhibited tattoos on their actual bodies from around 2000 B.C. Since the earliest documentation of ink in the flesh roots in Egypt, modern (male) excavators deemed the Egyptian women mummies to have a rather dubious status, described in some cases as ‘dancing girls.’

Is that how tattoos started as taboo? A misguided opinion, a notion without any merit?

King Tut’s step-mother, Nefertiti (her name means the beautiful woman has come) is without a doubt the most famous Egyptian Queen. It’s legend that her grooming habits were infamous as Nefertiti bathed with luxurious chamomile, a commodity only available to royalty. Her constant pruning is remembered by naming a flower in her name that garners exceptional care itself, the Nefertiti Rose.

If Nefertiti’s splurges in pruning are above the standard for the time, then the ‘dancing girls’ as described by the excavators were not low ranking citizens. They were in fact, the exact opposite. Any person in ancient Egypt that had the means to alter their bodies had to come from a prominent class, so to speak.

Today, in modern times people have various reasons to get inked. For some it serves as a personal talisman. An amulet or sorts. Others choose to commemorate an event, a special place, honor a loved one, or express a religious belief. Some choose to display wicked art simply because they can. Whether it’s plain or elaborate, the art is a statement in self-expression.

What I personally love about tattoos is that the art itself is a two-fold process in the origination and implementation. The tattoo artist or the express-ee (coin termed by author) is the visionary that implements the design. The tattoo artist brings the vision to life. The express-or is the person that wears the tattoo.

Tattoos are art in the flesh. Beared by one person, yet created by another person altogether. Extraordinary concept, isn’t it? Like witnessing van Gogh himself carrying a handful of Sunflowers on the way to his studio – his muse to inspire and create another masterpiece.

van Gogh carrying sunflowers, image created by author using Midjourney Imagine AI

Tattooing is a skill that takes time and patience. Like any artist, mastery can take a lifetime. Many tattoo artists have a natural talent and began their journey in art in an entirely different medium.

Here are a few examples of tattoo art, photographs courtesy of United Ink Tattoos & Body Piercings. You can follow their Facebook profile by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of United Ink Tattoos & Body Piercings
Photo courtesy of United Ink Tattoos & Body Piercings
Portrait of Terence Mckenna - Photo courtesy of United Ink Tattoos & Body Piercings

Just as the Renaissance and Impressionist art periods evolved, tattoo art mimics cultural realism in today’s society. Like all great artworks, ink art is subjective. While the reasoning of why people get tattoos has been misunderstood for centuries, this medium has been underrepresented in the realm of artistry, and by most standards, still is.

Renaissance Tattooed Woman dancing in the moonlight, image created by author using Midjourney Imagine AI

Art in the flesh is a personal choice, the reasoning of choosing to get inked differs from one person to another. J.R.R Tolkien’s, ‘not all those who wonder are lost’ quote is often seen on bumper stickers because that one sentence is inspiring. Often the quote is misunderstood, as the entirety is not contexed fully. The full quote reads:

All that is gold does not glitter;

Not all who wander are lost.

The old that is strong does not wither.

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

As with tattoos, there is a deeper meaning highlighting the muse within and when you get the whole story, the bigger picture you have a clue to interpret.

But then again, some get lost intentionally searching to find themselves. In that journey you might find yourself off the beaten path, on the old Seven Mile Bridge traveling to the Florida Keyes. With no soil and exposed to the sun, salt water and winds the Keyes are known for grows an evergreen tree. He has a name, the locals call him Fred. He defies any logic as to how he survives at all. You might be inspired by the tree’s grit to exist through hurricanes. You might even choose to get a tattoo of him on your arm, like this guy.

https://www.facebook.com/FredtheTree1

Fred the Tree, Florida Keyes

If you're a sucker for a good love story, here's a link to a short piece of fiction. Spoiler alert - there's a tattoo.

GeneralJourneyExhibitionDrawing
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About the Creator

Dana Stewart

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insight

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (36)

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  • Veronica Coldiron6 months ago

    I learned so much from this! And also, I knew people had been tattooed throughout history, but this article puts that into perspective! What beautiful artwork, and the idea that it takes more than one person to create it never really occurred to me before. LOVE this! ❤️

  • This is brilliant and love the American Gothic lead picture

  • Samira7 months ago

    Great work! Fantastic writing 🤘

  • Donna Renee7 months ago

    I am so bad at staring when I see awesome tattoos 🫣🤣. I love them so much!! This was such a great read, Dana and your images are amazing! Also, Idk where I was when this was published 🤷🏼‍♀️🤷🏼‍♀️ very belated congrats on the Top Story too!

  • Darkos7 months ago

    I love how You are entering the introductory verses and all the phases of this article kept me fully synchronized together Splendid in writing Congratulations on Topstory! even I wish You go on with this topic! but I feel it comes naturally out of Your inner needs!

  • Raymond G. Taylor7 months ago

    Hi Dana, I have just posted the roundup, a little late that I thought, here: https://vocal.media/art/art-for-our-sake-six Best wishes, Ray

  • Caroline Jane8 months ago

    I am sorry I missed this! I live Fred. I love that people have had tattoos done of him (?) Great article and very deserving of a top story. Great stuff. 🥰

  • Gina C.8 months ago

    This is so beautifully done, Dana! 🥹 I really love not only the topic, but how you approached it and wove it all together. The history tied with your own thoughts was sublime. Congrats on Top Story! 🤗 I've been on a bit of a break from Vocal but I'll be back soon to read more of your amazing words! 🤗

  • slimizzy8 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Leslie Writes8 months ago

    This is excellent! I love the exploration of the meanings behind tattoos. I grew up in a household that did not accept them. I thought their reasoning was pretty flimsy. I was like REALLY? ANY TATTOO is BAD because only bad people get tattoos? Ridiculous nonsense! Also I hate shopping and love people watching too :)

  • Naomi Gold8 months ago

    Once again, you’ve written a fascinating piece of nonfiction! I love the way you weaved personal narrative and ancient history into this. This whole paragraph: “Tattoos are art in the flesh. Beared by one person, yet created by another person altogether. Extraordinary concept, isn’t it? Like witnessing van Gogh himself carrying a handful of Sunflowers on the way to his studio – his muse to inspire and create another masterpiece.” Just beautiful! And Van Gogh looks sexy in that AI art. 😍Haha. I don’t have any tattoos because I’m commitment phobic. I can’t even stand to live in the same place for more than a year or two. There’s no way I want permanent art on my skin. Yet, I absolutely love tattoos on other people. Congrats on a marvelous Top Story! 🥂

  • upanddown8 months ago

    the quote in detail ,explain everything

  • S. C. Almanzar8 months ago

    Isn't it fascinating the way that archaeologists get things so wrong sometimes? Modern values (sexism and bigotry, rather) are frequently assigned to those ancient civilizations. Tattooed women are cast off as "just" entertainers, for example, when their tattoos may have in fact signified a very high rank in their own society. We know now that women of the past could be revered artisans, warriors, rulers, scientists, and just about any other role historically assigned to men.

  • Raymond G. Taylor8 months ago

    Fantastic article celebrating body art. Congrats on the TS. More importantly, best use of images to illustrate a story I have yet seen on Vocal. I hope you will allow me to say so in my next edition of my 'Art for our sake' roundup. I have no tattoos and probably never will, but I always like to see other people's and often comment when I see a particularly good example. I can remember a time when only sailors, builders and road-workers had tattoos. No self-respecting woman would consider defacing their skin in such a way. I had to bite my tongue when my then teenage daughter first came home with a tattoo 🤣

  • Real Poetic8 months ago

    Wonderful Dana! Congrats on Top Story!

  • Lucero King8 months ago

    In a world that glorifies being “busy,” and “on-the-go,” finding time to just be and simply exist is a rare and beautiful thing. A precious commodity. I say this as I stare at my own full laundry baskets that need to be folded and put away. Three of them, to be exact! Who know a 14 month old could produce so much laundry?! I’ve gotten to the point where I pick and choose my battles - digging clean clothes out of a laundry basket in exchange for a few moments a day of peaceful existing and doing something I love, just for me and just because…I’ll take it!

  • JBaz8 months ago

    A well deserved Top Story. I like how you clarified the Quote from LOTR, that bumper sticker has always bothered me, I hope those that use it know the poem in its entirety.

  • Kendall Defoe 8 months ago

    Aha, another TS for you!

  • Tiffany Gordon 8 months ago

    Congrats on your TOP STORY! 🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

  • Dana Crandell8 months ago

    Great piece, Dana and congratulations! I personally know 2 tattoo artists and they are among the most gifted artists I know. That said, I have never had the urge to be a canvas, and was vehemently opposed to them in my younger years. These days, I couldn't begin to tell you why. If I found the perfect piece of art, I'd consider getting one. I'm already wrinkled, so I wouldn't have to worry about what it would look like when... 😁

  • Celia in Underland8 months ago

    Brilliant! Congrats! Love this- "Tattoos are art in the flesh. Beared by one person, yet created by another person altogether. Extraordinary concept, isn’t it? Like witnessing van Gogh himself carrying a handful of Sunflowers on the way to his studio – his muse to inspire and create another masterpiece." A really interesting read-Thank you!

  • Congratulations on your Cool 😎 🎉Top Story❤️🎉

  • Missclicked8 months ago

    wonderful! congratulations on top story.

  • Lamar Wiggins8 months ago

    What a great topic to write about. This went from people watching to Egypt and then back again. All the while, educating us the history and Beaty of tattoos. Excellent read, Dana!🤩🤩🤩

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