A tattoo is a personal statement, but is it graffiti or art?
There’s lots of culture and lore connected to tattoos, from ancient art to modern expressionism, and the reasons people decide to get — or not get — inked up are as varied as the tattoos themselves.
Currently, one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo, which is up from previous years, according to a recent Harris Interactive Poll.
And, for the first time in the poll’s history, women are somewhat more likely than men to have a tattoo — 23 percent of women polled versus 19 percent of men polled have tattoos.
Keeping family close
Amy Pietz is one of those women. The 37-year-old Huntley resident has seven tattoos, and she got her first one shortly after her daughter, Maxine, was born. Her Tweety Bird tattoo has been on the inside of her ankle for the last 18 years.
Pietz also has a charm bracelet tattoo around her left wrist, with each of its five charms representing a member of her family. The princess crown is for Maxine; the playing card with the diamond is for her husband, John; the music note is for her sister; the pair of sunglasses is for her mom; and the numbers represent her father’s high school football jersey number.
“Because of my tattoos, I feel like my family is with me at all times,” Pietz says. “I’m really proud of my family.”
Pietz went along with her daughter when she got her first tattoo at Area 51 Tattoos in Crystal Lake a few months ago. Maxine, 18, says her high school graduation present was painful, but having her mom there was a big relief.
“It was a good bonding experience,” Amy Pietz says.
The recent grad opted for a tattoo similar to her mom’s charm bracelet, but she got an anklet on her right ankle instead. There are four charms on her anklet tattoo: a key with a sapphire, representing her mother’s birthstone; the U.S. Marine Corps emblem because her father was a Marine; the Taurus astrological sign because she was born in May; and an Irish Claddagh ring to celebrate her Irish heritage.
Is it art?
A cute, little yellow canary drawn permanently onto the skin of a bare ankle may be eye-catching — but is it art? Khalid Hasan, owner of Area 51 Tattoos, thinks so.
Hasan says tattooing is a well-established art form, with skin acting as just another type of canvas on which an artist can create art. He’s more comfortable creating art on someone’s forearm than he is on paper, but he says it’s not easy to do because everyone’s skin, or canvas, is diverse.
And the types of people who get tattoos are just as diverse. Tattoos are no longer found only on drunken sailors and street hoodlums. Hasan says tattooing has evolved into a well-respected and accepted fashion product.
“Tattoos have transitioned from something that’s rebellious and underground to something that’s artistic and appreciated,” he says.
Hasan says he believes tattoos symbolize permanence in a disposable society and hold a mystique all their own. People get them for a variety of reasons.
“People get tattoos to celebrate the birth of a daughter, like Amy did, or a life milestone like their high school graduation, like Maxine did,” he says.
While Hasan has been a tattooist for 18 years, he hasn’t always had such a career. He was an architect before becoming a tattooist and the owner of a tattoo shop. After getting laid off from his job in the architecture field, he decided to change careers and apply for a tattoo apprenticeship in the mid-1990s. He founded Area 51 Tattoos in 2002.
Hasan has been fascinated with tattoos ever since he was 15 and gave himself his own tattoo of a spade on his ankle. He has about 20 tattoos altogether. Hasan thinks of himself as an artist who has to be able to create almost anything on a skin canvas.
“Tattooing is the only artistic occupation where the creator has to change genres every day,” he says.
Hasan believes there still are some negative stigmas associated with people who have tattoos, partially because some people may not really understand what goes into the process of inking up someone’s skin.
But there are a lot of people who do understand, he says.
“Tattooing is becoming more acceptable and appreciated because of the level of artistry that goes into it,” he says. mc