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.


  1. Paul says:

    Economists have for thousands of years considered tattoo rates to be a prime macro-economic indicator of the health of a nations economy, most notably of the housing market.

    This method analyses the proportional relationship between new tattoo procurement rates and the number of foreclosed houses in sequential quarters of any given 12 month period, arriving at a “tattoo/foreclosure” (ratio) index. The theory being that as procurement of new tattoos increases in a given economy, the rate of home foreclosures proportionately increases, (which is to alternatively say, as the number of tattoos increase in a given population, home ownership decreases). Moyhst economists agree, that two consecutive quarters of 1.5% increases in tattoo ownership/foreclosure rates is a prime indicator that an economy has entered recessionary conditions.

    The origins of this method has long been associated with observations made of historical court document fragments discovered dating to first century Mongolia, where, having once enjoyed the highest levels of sustained peace time home ownership per capita, only exceeded in history by Post-World War II levels in the United States, from which its was (wrongly) surmised, as a result of a housing bubble created by several years of historically low interest rates, unsustainable appreciation in home prices, and speculative mortgage lending products, that the bubble burst, and forced millions of Mongolian citizens into foreclosure, and thus, into the street. This conclusion was further buttressed by surviving internal Mongolian government economists documents reporting a sudden increases in masses of homeless Mongolians roaming tattooed and aimlessly along the steppes, and thus was formulated the correlation between tattoo rates and home ownership as an economic indicator.

    Only recently have archeo-economists uncovered compelling evidence to dispute this correlation, if not its origin. It is now understood that Mongolians, ever cunning, combined in the form of tattooing, their love of fine art with their love of large families in order to take advantage of a widely known loop-hole in the Luxury and Per Capita Tax Code. School Districts, up until then largely funded by household these same luxury and per capita taxes, and experiencing ever diminishing revenues due to this loop-hole, successfully lobbied for a fair and uniform system of taxation not susceptible to loop-holes and abuse in the form of a property tax. It is now also understood what originally surmised to be sudden increases homeless due to mass foreclosure can actually be attributed to the Mongolians being literally taxed out of their houses.


    Mongolian Historical Revisionists have cleverly re-written this period in their country’s history as a time of a great renewal of the nomadic life due to a re-discovered sense of Manifest Destiny.

  2. Mike Walsh says:

    A more interesting question might be: what is the “overlap” between tattooing and such maladaptive coping behavior as “cutting”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *