Dear Dr. Boli: Why are tattoos so popular today among ordinary middle-class citizens? Do you have any explanation for the phenomenon in sociological, psychological, historical, or artistic terms? And are they merely a fad, or are tattoos a permanent addition to our culture? —Sincerely, a Student of Art History, with Minors in Psychology and Sociology.
Dear Sir or Madam: The popularity of tattoos today is merely an expression of the universal artistic impulse. Tattoos are one of the two last refuges of representational art. There was a time when an ordinary middle-class citizen, seized by a desire to surround himself with original art, could go buy a picture of the Battle of Camifex Ferry done in oils by a reputable artist. Now that the reputable artists can barely draw stick figures, the ordinary citizen finds that the only nearby artist who can draw a picture of something he can recognize uses human skin for a medium.
As for your second question, tattoos are likely to go the way of other forms of art within a generation or so. As their popularity increases, they will necessarily breed an elite class of intellectual tattoo artists who consider representational art beneath them. The lesser tattooists will naturally imitate the leaders in their field, and the ordinary citizen will soon find that there is hardly a tattooist left on the continent who can draw even a rudimentary skull. Then tattoos will cease to appeal to the ordinary middle-class citizen, and will become the exclusive domain of snobbish intellectuals.
Dr. Boli mentioned earlier that tattoos were one of the two last refuges of representational art. The other one, of course, is the comic book; and it is no coincidence that there is a considerable overlap between collectors of comic books and collectors of tattoos.