It’s no secret that tattooing is becoming more accepted, but while it’s been a valid art form for thousands of years the legitimacy of it as “art” has often been laughed at. Tattooing has come a long way and the capabilities of tattoo artists has increased hugely in the past few decades. Many tattoo artists are artists in their own rights – drawing, painting, sculpture they have more than one medium and are extremely versatile when compared to traditional artists.
One of the biggest signs of tattoo acceptance becoming more mainstream is that many museums and art exhibitions are embracing the style.
Tattooing is something that is fundamentally at odds with the art world. By nature tattooing isn’t tangible. It’s not something you can hang on the wall or stand on a table. Tattooing has a unique status because it’s not an object and is much more similar to performance art – another controversial and debatable art form. Many other art forms such as Japanese woodblock printing weren’t considered fine art or museum worthy for centuries because of the unique method used. Nowadays you can walk into any museum and find block printing on the walls. It’s no wonder that tattooing is slowly creeping into acceptance.
Another reason tattooing isn’t so widely accepted is that there’s a subversive undercurrent of it being linked to gangs, drugs, prison and other unsavory parts of society. It has an outsider status mostly because until recently those who practiced tattooing were part of that outsider social group and had no need to belong to the art world.
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As tattooing becomes more mainstream and more accepted how society sees tattoo art has changed. It’s inevitable that as tattoos become more popular art institutions will begin to embrace it. And embrace it they are. In November an auction in Guernsey offered up tattoo images for as much as $50,000 each while Richmond VA’s museum of Fine Arts recently held an exhibit of traditional Japanese tattoo art photography by Kip Fulbeck.
But the tattoo industry isn’t necessarily keen to enter the limelight. While many artists are fine artists who paint and sculpt in their own rights many big name artists disagree with bringing tattooing and fine art together. Horiyoshi III, one of the most well known Japanese tattoo masters, considers the drawings and paper art a poor facsimile for the living canvas which allows those drawings to come alive.
Traditional art is always associated with the artist, but once a tattoo is done that piece may walk out the door and forever belong to the canvas instead. It’s the exact opposite of fine art.
Even with the reluctance of some artists to join the movement it’s no doubt that tattooing will one day be accepted as fine art. It’s already hanging on walls alongside Picasso at the Virginia Museum of Fine art and that’s a pretty good argument that tattooing is an art form just like any other. Chances are though that much like controversial graffiti art tattooing will always remain slightly subversive even as it becomes accepted by the art world.