The 1980s as a decade was perhaps the most important period for tattoo as an art because it marked the transformation and connection from primitive to modern. The art has been practiced throughout the world since Neolithic times and entails temporary or permanent marking of the body. The creation reaches finalization when colored materials are input beneath the skin’s surface. There is no specific historic data that shows how the first tattoo was created. Tattoos as a subject is of personal significance because it acts as a timeline to show how the society is changing and opening up to multicultural concepts and practices. In the recent past, people used to perceive the artworks as of crude natures lacking any meaning or historic significance. Though several individuals and cultures practiced the art, common perceptions were that these groups were primitive and to some level barbaric. The 1980s lit up the artistry in tattoos transforming it from a mythological to professional trade.

Tattoo has progressed into a mainstream part of the international Western Hemispheric fashion. Progression began in the 1980s, an era characterized with intense social revolution in terms of individual rights and democracy[1]. It is in this decade that the world saw more African American liberation, acceptance and inclusion into the American society. The call for a liberal society was integrated and highlighted in major tattoo artworks. The field was common across genders, all socioeconomic classes and age groups from later adolescent years. For most Westerners, tattoos developed a different meaning when compared to traditional ones. The dramatic redefinition of the field meant that tattoos were now a modern form of expression. The advancement was not limited to social factors only as there were also technical improvements.

The discovery of novel colored inks in the field allowed the development of various tattooing techniques in terms of images, shapes and patterns[2]. Contrasting ancient body marking, an individual could have various images in divergent colors in his or her body. Final creations were highly expressive and attractive facilitating the perception transformation that the artistic turf was professional. Tattoo masters benefited from this new perception as it allowed them to experiment and explore different styles in their freedom and creative space. Tattoo artists in the Eastern world had undergone intense technical and conceptual fine art training[3]. Skill advancements meant that tattoos became so sophisticated to extents that the techniques employed to create them could be analyzed and compared to ancient artworks such as Romanesque paintings[4]. Despite the comparisons being controversial, the bad publicity only fueled the popularity of the tattoo industry. Improvement of tattoo pigments and equipments led to the industry transforming into one of high quality productions. Artists employed techniques and tools that resemble those used in medical clinics and procedures equally meaning the field advanced in terms of safety.

The rise of Pop Culture in the decade encouraged the growth of the tattoo industry. It was imperative for artists to have a certain tattoo design to express their artistic nature. Moreover, it was common for fashion or entertainment brands to hire artists with tattoos to market their products[5]. Artists such as Janis Joplin had numerous on his body making him a hot sensation for cologne and garment advertisements. Influential rock performers such as the Rolling Stones adopted the styles in tattoos and employed them to market their singles. Hip Hop affiliated rappers, singers and fans would ink brand their bodies to publicly express their city of origin to give them that ‘bad boy’ appeal[6]. Street and professional magazines alike saw an increase in use of tattooed models and publishing of articles revolving around the artistic field. It is through print media in the era that the industry was able to fashion public change from one of resistance to that of acceptance. Today, the art is common in athletes, rappers, fashion models, actors and the youth in general.

By the 1990s, tattoos were so accepted that they began to disintegrate into divergent subcultures. Each subgroup had its own characteristics passed down to its members. Two distinct classes of the field that separate into the divergent subcultures have emerged since the 1990s. The first class is one that perceives and associates the practice with a sense of urban gratification[7]. Tattoos are employed to advertise physically the ‘outlaw-ish’ characteristics of the holder. Persons who brand themselves in this form normally come from surroundings with low or null sanitary quality. Tattoos under this subculture are few, less creative and common amongst members[8]. An example of this class perception can be found in the numerous African American and Hispanic gangs present during the American Drug War. Gangs would brand their initiates with a certain tattoo to express loyalty and territorial claim. The second class that characterized the 1990s is the one that viewed tattoos as fine and individualistic. Art works under this class are of extreme quality as they come from clients who necessitate custom and fine designs[9]. All features of this field are high end and are developed through ‘by appointment’ services. This form of tattooing draws upper class clients such as fashion boutiques, antique shops and jewelry stores.

Internet technology during the 1990s connected artists and customers all around the globe giving the tattoo industry a standardized attribute in terms of growth, procedures, tools and designs. Information sharing through internet technology meant that the industry gained international recognition as a professional field. Despite not attracting everyone, the number of individuals with the body markers increased in unprecedented rates. Recent studies reveal that one out of seven individuals in America has a tattoo[10]. In addition, forty percent of adults under the age of forty have one or more tattoos[11]. Women had higher rates of ‘getting inked’ when compared to men[12]. Increased popularity though has its downside. There was an upsurge in artists meaning people could be tattooed at cheaper prices. Moreover, an increase in the number of tattoo quarks saw the industry record a decrease in its quality. Poor artworks, otherwise known as ‘scratches’ became common ion the tattoo world.

The tattoo industry is now the sixth fastest growing retail trade practice in America. The modern day society has become immensely familiar with tattoo artworks through its Pop Culture and formal interests. Governments across the globe now identify the field as both professional and artistic. Tattoo flashes in the form of visual and contemporary art exhibitions by institutions encourage growth in the industry. Several social movements such as the Feminism theory equally boost the growth of the trade. By arguing against objectification of the body, many women tattoo their bodies to give subjective messages to their respective societies. Past and present trends reveal that the tattoo industry will continue to grow economically and diversify socially. The trade will continue to open up and integrate further multicultural ideals.





Levy, Janey. Tattoos in Modern Society. New York: Rosen Pub, 2009.

Naomi, V. 10 Best Tattoos to Relieving the 1990’s. (2015).

Sanders, Clinton. Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009.

[1] Clinton Sanders. Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 30.

[2] Ibid.,31.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Janey Levy. Tattoos in Modern Society. (New York: Rosen Pub, 2009), 71.


[6] Ibid., 72.

[7] Ibid., 74.

[8] V Naomi. 10 Best Tattoos to Relieving the 1990’s. (2015).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Janey Levy. Tattoos in Modern Society. (New York: Rosen Pub, 2009), 77.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

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