It may sound overly grandiose, but the fact remains that human history is one deeply rooted in a culture of storytelling. The practice stretches from the cave paintings and carvings left behind by the earliest humans to the books, plays and poems of classical literature to the Hollywood blockbusters and huge video game productions we see today. As long as there are people, there will be an abundance of stories being told.
We are constantly looking for new ways to tell our stories, from books to film to games. But one of the most widely used and popular also happens to be one of the oldest. Tattooing has been around as long as we have, and despite innovative technology and new ways of communicating, it still remains a popular method for people to display and share their histories, backgrounds and ideas.
Stories under the skin
Art is a powerful medium that has been with us since the beginning. When you stop and think of tattoos as simply an art form that is expressed through a different medium, the storytelling power of body art really starts to shine through. As tattooing has exploded into cultural prominence in the West over the past couple of decades, there are those with a background in more conventional arts who have taken notice, and have expressed an interest in uncovering the implications behind the ink.
One duo of people comprises Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton. The owner of a literary website and an illustrator, respectively, the pair have spent the past few years compiling their unique book "Pen and Ink," chronicling their encounters with tattooed individuals and the stories they share behind their unique choices of body art. What the pair is finding – and what they hope to share with the world once their book is published in the fall of 2014 – is that almost all ink, even the bad tattoos we see peeking out of people's shirt sleeves, can often hold special significance or tell a story.
Of course, these personal narratives vary wildly in scope and tone. Many go under the needle to commemorate a dead relative or pet, or mark the birth of a child or to otherwise memorialize an important life event. Of course, some are far less grave in their motivation, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex the pair told Mother Jones a lady tattooed onto her ribcage as a reminder to not take herself so seriously.
Overcoming the culture shock
The main aversion many Westerners still have to the idea of tattooing is the fear of tattoo regret – that a design that seems like a good idea today will seem silly, outdated or insignificant 10 or 20 years down the road. The near-permanence of the form gives many pause, but for some more enthusiastic inksters, it's exactly what draws them to body art in the first place.
Local Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area publication the Marquette Wire reported the personal stories of several students who designed and received tattoos for commemorative purposes. The source noted students who have gone under the needle for everything ranging from memorializing family members to inscribing future life goals. To some, the practice may seem extreme. But through both the significance of the design itself and the commitment required to go through the extensive tattoo process, body art is becoming an increasingly popular way to celebrate, mourn and aspire. In fact, receiving a tattoo can create and strengthen personal relationships in unexpected ways.
"When you're getting a tattoo, you get kinda close with that person because you're sitting and laying there for X amount of hours," Juan Chacon, student and tattoo recipient, told the Marquette Wire.