Tattoo Quest (Part 3): Significance of Tattoos in the 20th and 21st Century

This is Part three of my seemingly never ending investigation of whether or not I should get a tattoo. Click for Part 1 and Part 2.

The emphasis of this article is going to be in examining the cultural significance of tattoos in the 20th and 21st century.

Well to start, holy wow. The holiest of wows. A lot of time has passed between the year nineteen double aught and now. In 1891 the first electric tattoo machine ushered in the modern era of rad tats and it’s effects are still with us today. 

Unfortunately the tattoo machine opened the doors for capitalistic-how you say- compromising of an art form considered sacred, ceremonial and often used in rites of passage. Specifically I’m talking about flash sheets.

flash sheet

Initially, flash sheets were bought by tattoo parlors to give customers an idea for tattoos. One person would create the designs, ship them to shops all over the world and suddenly everybody had the mandarin symbol for peace permanently placed just above their right ankle.

Now to be fair, most studios these days use flash sheets as an inspirational guide for customers who want a tattoo but aren’t really sure what to get.

Flash sheets have also adapted to the times. Now, instead of seeing tired old sheets of peace signs and the like, an aspiring young tattooee is likely to see flash images of tattoos that other people have had custom made. So essentially the flash sheets have evolved. They now show the shop artist’s style and really give a feel for what the customer is getting themselves into.

But, being the purist that I am, there is something to be said about actually working with an artist to get exactly the right tattoo. Design is all of the fun.

Enough blarble jarble. It’s time for some facts. 32% of people with a tattoo say that they have become addicted to the ink. Perhaps it’s time to investigate tattoo addictions. In the United States alone, 1.65 billion dollars is spent on tattoos. You could purchase Youtube for that amount of money. 14% of all Americans harbor tattoos of their own. That’s approximately 43,622,868.38 people! And out of those roughly 44 million people, 17% of them have some regret afterwords.

So there are odds and they seem to be stacked in somebody’s favor, at least. The most important thing to do, when getting a tattoo, is to properly investigate and question the artist. You are going to be getting a permanent work of art placed on your skin by somebody who uses a needle to do so. Also, it is possible to get tattoos removed. Unfortunately, the removal process tends to be just as, if not more, painful as the initial tattooing.

So how has this all effected us? Well I’m glad I asked! Tattoos allow us another medium to display our feelings and explore human creativity. Skin art gives us a chance to express ourselves and visually influence the way that people think about each other. Over the years the world has become a bit smaller and globalization has spread goods and ideas. Tattoos have come in with the tide.

Sources and additional reading:

Tattoo Quest Part 1: Tattoos of Southeast Asia

Tattoo Quest Part 2: The Spread of Tattoos

Tattoo Facts

Tattoo Addiction

Electirc Tattoo Machine
Skin Art as Anthropology

One thought on “Tattoo Quest (Part 3): Significance of Tattoos in the 20th and 21st Century

  1. Pingback: Tattoo Quest (part 1): Tattoos of Southeast Asia

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