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Tattoo: An Ancient and Modern Art Form

Updated on August 14, 2013

Tattoo Designs

Fairy Tattoo
Fairy Tattoo
Tribal Tattoo
Tribal Tattoo

Tattoos as an Art Form

It used to be that tattoos were symbols of violent men of which one should be afraid. Hell's Angels, those motorcycle-riding counterculture tough men of the American highways, were often tattooed heavily so that tattoos were associated with them. Any heavily-tattooed man was, in consequence, heavily suspect as someone bent on violence outside the law. Used to be, that is, and even then not always warranted.

Today, tattoos are symbols of pride as the ‘in’ thing for practically everyone, from students to movie stars, from sailors to office girls, and almost everybody else inbetween. In short, tattoos are now an acceptable social marking, that one can flaunt instead of hide. In fact, people are vying with one another in displaying the intricacy and aesthetics of their tattoos, so much so that tattoo competitions and conventions are periodically held to showcase them.

Ancient Tattoos Worldwide

The oldest tattoo marks were found in the famous Otzi the Ice Man, the frozen body of a man found in 1991 in an Italian-Austrian border area and carbon-dated to be about 5,200 years old. There were tattoos on his hands, knees, back and ankles that were thought to be medicinal in purpose. This discovery hurled back the time frame of tattoos from 2,000 BC; previously thought to be the earliest known incidence of tattoos, as found in Mummies of Egyptian women. Egyptian wall figures and clay figurines however, dated back as far as 4,000 BC, show women with tattoos, and ancient tattooing instruments were found in northern Egypt.

Egypt was however not the only place tattoos were prevalent. They were known to be worn by people all over the world in various ages, from the Central Pacific Polynesians to the Maori of New Zealand, the Native American Cree to ancient Chinese, Russians, Japanese, Filipinos and some Africans. In short, practically all ancient peoples used tattooing on their bodies for medicinal, magical, social, martial, decorative and other purposes.

How Tattoos are Made

Tattoos are made by piercing the upper surface of the skin with sharp pointed instruments, at the same time injecting small amounts of ink. The ink colors the area, and when the wounds heal, the tattoo is permanent, unless intentionally removed through surgical means, usually nowadays by lasers. Tattooing instruments used to be extremely sharp needles manipulated by hand, so old tattoos were for the most part rather rudimentary compared to contemporary ones. Today tattooing machines still utilize sharp needles but move them far more rapidly and they are capable of such precise, fine lines that they can produce figures in such great detail they look like pictures or paintings. The top tattoo artists can even reproduce portraits as perfect as any other artist can manage on canvas.

Getting Tattoos

Like many other things, the Internet is one great source of tattoo designs and one can find tattoo artists as well as their reputations. Type ‘tattoo artists’ in your browser search bar and you will get almost 60 million results, so you should find someone near you. Otherwise, there must be a tattoo studio in your community.

However, be sure to consider all relevant factors carefully before deciding on getting a tattoo. Tattoos are permanent, the process is rather painful and can often take many hours, so if you make a mistake in choosing a design, color or artist, the tattoos can be horrible errors of judgment on your part. But if done right, they are true works of art that are a source of pride for both the wearer and the artist.

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