OPINION: Tattoos are a way to express creativity

Tattoos allow people to show creativity, originality with their designs

Tattoos+and+tattoo+artists+create+understated%2C+underappreciated+works+of+art.+

ANISSA CHAK

Tattoos and tattoo artists create understated, underappreciated works of art.

MEGHAN HENRY

As students build more independence than their teenage selves had, they begin to cultivate their own identities. Forming their own opinions about art and selfexpression is often one of the first steps to individuality.

Music, style, passions for school, political ideas — they’re all a part of molding who we want to become.

For many, one aspect of this process is often shoved aside, labeled as shortsighted and inappropriate, getting tattoos.

Those who do have them view tattoos as a form of expression, a reminder of a lesson or a memory, or simply an appreciation for something cool. The time-old question “What does your tattoo mean?” doesn’t always have an eloquent answer that untattooed people can understand.

Many young people work through these insecurities by leaning into their passions.

“People get a draw to the things that they like, and it’s natural for people to have a natural draw to snowboarding or the ocean,” WSU alumna Camden Clark said, “and that’s how I always felt about tattoos.”

When she was growing up, Clark had a tough time figuring out exactly how she wanted to express herself and feel comfortable in her own skin. When she started getting tattoos, that changed.

“I got a tattoo when I was 14, and then got a few more that I liked,” Clark said. “Then with each tattoo, I started to get more and more comfortable in my body — feeling like it was my skin.”

Since she was 14 years old, she has grown more and more confident in who she is because of her ability to carry around art, personal lessons, memories and reminders on her skin.

“I personally think my tattoos should be appreciated because they are all like a story on my arm,” Clark said. “Each tattoo has a story to it — has a meaning. And even if they don’t, it’s an art piece that that person felt they loved and needed and connected with so much … and even if it wasn’t, I don’t see how that affects other people.”

Another popular argument against tattoos is that tattooed individuals are less likely to be hired in respectable jobs, but that’s not always the case.

“It shows I can sit through painful things, like a 12-hour meeting. It shows that I have money to sustain myself because tattoos are not cheap. It shows that I have passion about things,” Clark said. “I just think it’s funny that [tattoos] are seen as trashy when tattoos to people are so meaningful and beautiful.”

The reality is we have overlooked the artistry of tattooing because of the stigma of gangs and prisoners. Though it is true that many people in jail and many gang members have tattoos, it is not the tattoos themselves that lead to illegal or undesirable behavior.

Those who argue that tattooing is not an art in itself don’t know the history nor do they understand the time and effort tattoo artists give to the profession.

Sarah Bailey, a tattoo artist finishing her apprenticeship at Blood Diamond Ink in Pullman, said that before she ever considered this field of art, she was a college graduate with an intermedia degree. She focused on video and sound, as well as painting, but nothing like tattooing.

“[Tattooing] was a pretty foreign thing to me, and I have come to appreciate a lot about it,” Bailey said. “It’s actually kind of nice approaching it from such a fresh view because there’s a lot more room to experiment.”

Her perspective of the art has grown since she began working at Blood Diamond Ink. Bailey spent time educating herself on the history of tattooing before ever touching a bottle of ink. She read about the origins of the art, as well as the roots of the stigmas mentioned earlier.

In the same way the stigmas around tattoos separate groups of people now, there was a separation within the field for years.

“It was super, super rare for women to get tattooed or to be tattoo artists,” Bailey said.

Though this might not come as a surprise, as we have definite statistics on the division between women and men in the workplace, this is a part of history we may not know without seeking the knowledge. By pursuing this career in tattooing, Bailey is learning about America’s history, not just tattoos.

Bailey also built a coil machine, which is an older, more basic tattooing machine. Tattooists use more modern designs now, but understanding the evolution of the job starts with the evolution of its tools.

She practiced drawing for hours, adding the weight of the pen to familiarize herself with that as well. When she finally started doing actual tattoos, she practiced on herself with water many times to perfect her technique.

The time she has spent in her apprenticeship is not just about perfecting the art of tattooing. It’s also about understanding the depth of intimacy a tattoo artist and their client has.

“I think it’s really cool — the relationship between an artist and the person getting a tattoo — because you’re giving that artist the opportunity to translate that vision you have into something that will display it well,” Bailey said.

This only solidifies my opinion that tattoos are a real, living art form. They are even better than paintings or music because we walk around with it displayed on our bodies. It is a clear connection between people, as Bailey revealed through her own experience getting and giving tattoos.

“Because it’s their physical body, the way that you interact with them while they’re getting it really is important because making them feel safe,” Bailey said. “The way you treat their skin and them is really really important.”

The ability for us to learn from artists like Bailey is the first step to understanding the depth of this art form. The permanence of a tattoo is many peoples’ arguments against its beauty. But for Bailey, that is what makes the art more impactful.

This is a profession that should be respected. Tattoos are a form of expression that is not likely to disappear any time soon. Just like music and fashion, it will only evolve again and again as we do. We should learn to appreciate its role in our society because it clearly has an important one.