Arts and Humanities


Dr. J. Cataldo


In a culture today that seems to be increasingly more accepting of tattoos, it is important to ask why people feel the need, and have felt this need for centuries, to mark their bodies with art. The history of the practice of tattooing extends further into the past than many people may realize, having ancient origins in some cultures. Tattoos have been present throughout much of history, and are still very relevant today, some might say even more so. Tattoos have played their part throughout most of the twentieth century of modern American history, continuing on to present culture, and attitudes about tattoos seem to have evolved and changed over time. What were the purposes, motivations, values, and perceptions surrounding tattoos at their time of origin, and during their ancient history? How do those values compare to what motivates us to tattoo today? Has the human desire to tattoo evolved and changed over time, or are modern humans still motivated to tattoo for the same reasons the ancients did?

Through exploration and research, we will discover what tattoos were in the beginnings of the practice, how they were seen throughout history, and what they have come to mean in current American culture and society. My argument is that the themes, reasons, and motivations for tattooing have remained consistent throughout time and cultures. The motivations that seem to stand the test of time encompass themes of spiritual, cultural, therapeutic and healing purposes, as well as to establish identity, or simply to modify the appearance.