The Philosophical Functionality of the Tattoo

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My research explores the philosophical questions that the concept of permanent tattooing gives rise to. It is my position that a tattoo can be art work, but that not all tattoos are indeed works of art. In my final paper I argue that the creation and existence of tattoo art has distinct properties from other art forms. I claim that a tattoo art concept is created by a living, conscious human being to be manifested on that same living, conscious human being. Whether the tattoo in question is a work of art lies in the circumstances under which the tattoo comes into existence. Although tattooing has served different functions cross culturally as far back in time as 3300 BC and continues to operate as a cultural practice throughout the world, a specific cultural function is not the subject of my research. Just as a style of painting does not need to be located regionally or culturally, in order to philosophically examine the concept of painting, the concept of tattooing can also be studied independently from its socio-cultural placement. A unique quality about tattoo art is that it is created on a medium, human skin, that is associated with having subjective, qualitative experiences (such as pain), whereas conventional art work is created on or from inanimate materials.


Saul Traiger




Ford Research Fellowship

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