How Tattooing Slowly Became the Most Influential Art Form of the 21st Century
The History of How Prison Art Became Popular, and Why People Choose to Ink Themselves
Tattoos are one of the most common ways people choose to express themselves in the 21st century, but not too long ago, it was considered a shameful act, done only by the criminal outlaws. So what made people re-center their view on what was initially called "prison art"and market what is now one of the most successful industries in the world? To answer such a question is no easy task. For us to understand why tattooing has become such a popular art form we must dive into its rich history of design and innovation.
The earliest form of tattooing was present in many aboriginal and Native cultures, but the art form itself was not nearly as popularized in the new world all the way up until the 1960s. Japan, known for its intricate style of tattooing, was one of the pioneers in making complex artworks that were transferred to the skin. This Japanese style was called "Yakuza" or "Irezuki," and involved a tool that was much harder to use, and a lot more painful than the modern electric tattoo machine—traditional Japanese tattoos were done with a stick that held together over ten needles, and are still done the same way in certain parts of Japan. The first modern electric tattoo machine was invented in 1891 by Samuel O'Reilly, but it wasn't truly mastered until the American tattoo revolution of the 1960’s. Some well-known names who introduced this form of art to the general public were Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy who are both known for their American Traditional style of tattooing that still lives on to this day.
Today, tattoo artists have reimagined tattoo art by patenting their own style which can range from Japanese, American Traditional, Neo-Traditional, Geometric, Blackwork, Colour work, Realism and Minimalism just to name a few. Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat have become the new artist portfolios, and it is through these medias that people are reaching out to tattoo artists and becoming more and more interested in the art, sometimes traveling over hundreds of miles just to get tattooed by a certain artist who has mastered his or her craft. Initially, tattoos were meant to have meaning—prison tattoos were symbolic of crimes and aboriginal ink was symbolic of hierarchical status. Today's tattoo world has seen a massive shift—many come to get tattoos with no meaning and view it as an appreciation for art and its creator. Apart from the art losing meaning, it has become more socially acceptable for women to get tattooed and enter the industry (although it is still heavily male-dominated). Every year, new tattoo trends are introduced. Therefore artists must stay versatile in order to keep the consumers interested. Just like the trashy cartoon stars and treble clefs dominated pop culture in the early 2000s, today’s tattoo world is focused on minimalism. From celebrity promotion to regular client interaction, minimalistic tattoo artists like Curt Montgomery and Mr. K are gaining massive worldwide recognition, setting the bar higher than ever for competing artists.
So why is it that people are so interested in getting their entire bodies mapped out with intricate artwork and designs? For each individual, the answer may vary, but the majority of people gift their bodies to the art form either because of appreciation for art, commemoration to something they view as important, a symbol or symbolic reference, a form of self expression and self validation, or simply just to have a tattoo. With so many options of styles, shops, and artists, tattooing has become one of the most revolutionary art forms of all time, and each work of art is responsible for influencing a new generation of artists and human canvas.