The quiet hum of needles is a comforting sound to some people. They see it as a way to finally be able to show people who they are, and what they have been to, without having to tell them. The feeling of needles being stabbed into skin over and over and over again may hurt, but they see it as a small price to pay for a few hours or days in exchange for a beautiful piece of artwork that they can carry around with them for a lifetime.
The view people have on tattoos today is divided, with some people who think they are pieces of art and forms of self expression that take a lot of time and money, or as markings that only criminals and ‘lower class citizens’ would get, something that lowers your self worth. Tattoos shouldn’t be seen as bad or gross, they take time and money, and have been found around the world for so long that they can’t be that bad, can they? The art of tattooing is thousands of years old, with the first ever tattooed skin found on the upper lip of a chinchorro man from 7000 BC.
Tattoos were widespread around the world before the 20th century. The Picts, in Northern Europe who had bright blue tattoos decorating their bodies, to India, where the henna tattoos were used on womens wedding days. Around the world, tattoos have been used for many different things, in Ancient Egypt, they were a form of medicine and in South America a status symbol. So, if tattoos used to be found all over the world? Where did this hatred of them come from? The answer? The spread of christianity. As the christian faith started to spread, the tradition of tattooing within all of these different cultures started to die.
That tattoos started to disappear because they were considered to be representative of the pagan culture and the devil. Tattooing then started to rise in popularity among the british colonies in the mid 19th century. It started off being practiced by school kids who would rub soot into their cuts, but became popular among the upper class by the 1870’s and cost a small fortune. Kings across Europe were even sporting tattoos, usually of their family coat of arms. So if the Kings of Europe had tattoos, why are they now considered to be marks of criminals and people who aren’t as well of as others.
Today, traditional tattoos are still being practiced, tribes in Africa and Polynesia still carry on the tradition of getting these intricate hand poked tattoos, because they mean something to them, and are representative of what they are, new tattooing traditions are starting to emerge as well, with couples and families getting matching tattoos in order to show that they are part of the same group, and to represent themselves, to show that they are proud of who they are. The view on tattoos is changing slowly, which is a good thing, people should not have to be afraid to express themselves anymore.
Being able to tattoo requires a lot of skill, patience and practice. A professional tattoo artist takes pride in their work and puts a lot of effort into every single tattoo, carefully considering the colours, placement of the tattoo on the body and the composition, people study for years just to learn the basics. Leonardo Da Vinci took 4 years to finish the Mona Lisa, it can take longer for a member of the Yakuza, Japan’s Mafia, to have their trademark tattoos completed. The Mona Lisa is known as one of the best pieces of art in the entire world, but it was the size of an A4 piece of paper and Da Vinci could paint of what he didn’t like.
Good tattoos, now they can be the size of your fingernail, or your entire body, but they can’t be erased, if an artist makes a mistake, that’s it. They can’t rub it out. Now, I’ll be honest, there are some pretty garbage tattoos out there, 95% of the people in the world who are doing tattoos, shouldn’t be, and the people who are ruining the reputation of tattoos today are those people who can’t tattoo, people who are just plain awful, or kids who are doing their own tattoos at home with Indian ink and a needle.
But even the awful tattoos you see on people that make you think ‘why on earth would someone get that permanently tattooed on them? ’ hold meaning to that person, whether it is a memory, representative of a period in their life or just because they like the picture. A famous tattoo that many people have now adopted is the Barn Swallow tattoo that was commonly donned by sailors of the british navy. The swallows were commonly found on the neck,chest or hands. A sailor with one swallow meant he had travelled 5,000 (9,260km) nautical miles, and having 2 meant he had travelled 10,000 nautical miles (18,520km).
This tattoo has lasted decades, and each new person who gets it has a slightly different meaning for it, making it their own and important to not just them, but the artist, who gets to carry on a long standing tradition within the tattooing community. While you may not agree with someone’s decision to get a tattoo or being a tattoo artist, you have to at least appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into producing these pieces these pieces of art tha