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Is the Mainstream Ready for Tattooing?

Or are the Tattooed Ready to be Mainstream?

by AdamSkyArtist

October 3, 2006

The other day I had a sudden realization that tattooing had become normal. The thought hit me as I was walking through a Nordstrom's in San Francisco and saw an advertisement for Sketchers brand running shoes featuring a foot in some trendy kicks and attached to that foot and sneaker was a heavily tattooed ankle. Using tattoos in advertisements certainly isn't anything new but in this instance, using a tattoo in an ad for any other reason than blatant shock value was what caught my attention.

When I first started getting tattooed back in the mid 80's, even visiting a tattoo parlour was a patented act of rebellion. When I got a tattoo I became a tattooed person! And suddenly being tattooed was my own personal zeitgeist. Reactions from people on the street ranged from morbid curiosity to outright disgust. People would quite literally cross the street if they saw me coming. Car doors would lock as I passed through supermarket parking lots. When the average Joe on the street asked about my tattoos, I'd be interrogated like some sort of circus sideshow curiosity; "did that hurt?"; "why would you do that to yourself?"; "is that permanent?" Certainly the last thing on anyone's mind was the quality of the work I had on display or who the artist was who created my work. Those types of queries were reserved for the hardcore tattoo enthusiast or more likely when I was in the company of another tattoo artist.

Flash forward 20 years and tattooing is now deeply entrenched in the mainstream. News bits touching on tattoo stories no longer start with "Once reserved only for sailors and prostitutes..." These days tattoo ownership most likely lumps as all in with the same targeted economic market as Volkswagen Beetle and iMacs owners.

My Aunt Alicia who never cared for tattoos now thinks that Kat Von D lady on television is just adorable. These days whenever I deposit my paycheque, every bank teller has to tell me that I have "nice ink work".

So what allowed tattooing to get so normalized? It wasn't just media recognition; that was the fallout of normalization. It was tattoo artists who cared for more than just a means to line their pockets. It was generations of tattoo artists who steered the ship we call tattooing in a direction where our craft would rise out from the bowery and back alley parlours to a point where we could allow this sort of normalization. It was the results of hard work, talent and ingenuity by legions of dedicated tattooers. I don't think that any tattooer intentionally wanted tattooing to become part of the mainstream but it certainly was an unavoidable part of tattooing's evolution.

Evolution occurs when the environment surrounding the tattoo shop changes and tattooing must adapt to those changes. So now we have tattoo shops in shopping malls and on network television. There's no one else to blame but the giants who's shoulders we stand on who pushed tattooing artistically and technically and made tattooing become attractive and attainable for mass public consumption.

I don't miss the days of being stared at like I've got a foot growing out of my head because of my tattoos. Doing things for shock value lost its appeal once I grew out of the 'I'm not doing my homework because I'm angry at my parents' phase. I'm confident that tattooing will continue to evolve in to exciting and wonderful places and its embrace by the mainstream will elevate it to places we can't even imagine.

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