Tattoo Culture

Art & Architecture
July 22, 2010 9:00 am

Communities do not just exist internationally, but also within our own borders. As individuals seek a sense of belonging — or even of isolation — they create smaller circles that thrive and change as a country might. The American tattoo community has a similar dynamic. To some, tattoos are the highest form of art, and to others, simply a convenient way to apply an indelible eyeliner. Margo DeMello, Josh Howard and Nick Colella offer three perspectives from the community.


At The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co., by Tara for TKGO


Margo DeMello
Author of Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community

“People mark themselves to mark themselves as individuals, rather than as part of a group—to make themselves different and stand out from the group, although ironically, or maybe not ironically, that marking makes them part of a group as well.”

“Part of what has happened in the United States in the post World War II period and much more recently is we’ve lost a sense of community, and that’s part of what I think people are still striving for these days. … I think tattoos are just another vehicle for that.”

“Everybody’s getting tattoos now. It did used to be a working class tradition in this country, limited to certain social groups, like sailors, soldiers, gang members, convicts, bikers. Now practically every social class in this country is getting tattooed.”

“Tattooing has always been stigmatized in the West because it’s typically associated with the under classes, but since the 80s the art form has also been transformed. … Part of the process of making tattooing acceptable to the middle classes is separating it from its traditional American roots and making it foreign and exotic. We see far more non-Western and non-American designs than we ever did before.”

Josh Howard
Tattoo artist at The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co.

“I don’t think I’ve tattooed one biker in the last few years. A lot of the people are younger kids, but you know you tattoo someone who’s 80 years old getting their first tattoo. It’s a little more acceptable now.”

Nick Colella
Tattoo artist at The Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co. for almost 17 years

“The stigma is there, to a degree, but it’s not as heavy as it used to be. People are getting a little more curious, and they realize that their lives aren’t going to drastically change if they have a tattoo on their arms or back.”

“People have been getting the same things for years. They might add their own little twists, but they’ve all been done before. That’s why people get them. They’re iconic.”

“I think people want to make it a deep representation of themselves, which is fine. People get tattooed for all kinds of reasons. But it’s not as heavy and deep as people want to make it out to be. I think people should get tattooed if they like the design. People are always asking me, What do your tattoos mean? They mean nothing! I get tattoos because I like wearing them.”

Tara for TKGO

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