Expert longs for the time when tattoos really meant something

17th International Tattoo Convention
REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz
A visitor to the 17th International Tattoo Convention in Berlin last month is really into tattoos.

Daniel T. Lowell is grieving the era when tattoos went to the gutsy, not the trendy.

Minnesotans used to put a lot of earnest thought into their body art, says Lowell, who works at The Ink Lab in Minneapolis. Their tattoos were unusual and meaningful.

Now a growing number of Minnesotans rip their ink images off the pages of celebrity magazines and the ankles of friends. “They say they’ve put thought into their tattoos, but they haven’t,” Lowell said. “I can tell. They come in asking their friends what they think.”

The fringe art has hit the mainstream, where it’s being forsaken by “Tazmanian Devils and Tinker Bells,” Lowell said. Tattoos used to be for rebels; now they’re for PTA moms.

Lowell calls the trend “the gentrification of the tattoo industry.” He’s torn about what to make of it. “I’m of a double mind: It’s good for my pocketbook, but bad for the imagery.”

Lowell cares deeply about the imagery. For more than two decades, he’s been designing tattoos, which he considers a unique art form. His models come from 17th-century Japan, so he can’t help but cringe when his customers are inspired by Victoria Beckham’s.

“Tattooing is a really old human practice,” he said, “not a glib fashion statement.”

Sixteen percent of adults have at least one tattoo, according to a 2003 Harris Poll that surveyed 2,215 Americans. Among 25- to 29-year-olds, the number jumps to 36 percent.

Democrats are more likely to have tattoos (18 percent) than Republicans (14 percent) or Independents (12 percent), the poll found.

Regret for getting a tattoo was highest among Republicans (24 percent) and those living in the South (21 percent). The reason cited most often for remorse was “because of the person’s name in the tattoo.” (Picture a Texan whose back bears the tattoo “George W. Bush.”)

That’s not to say Minnesotans have avoided artistic mistakes, although the number of tattoo removals in the Twin Cities is actually down, according to Minneapolis Plastic Surgery Ltd., which performs laser tattoo removal. About 90 people had tattoos removed there in 2007, about half as many who did in 2002.

Want to make Daniel Lowell proud? Avoid these top tattoos of 2007.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Blaine Fridley on 01/03/2008 - 06:29 pm.

    oye, tatoo snobbery(and i guess snobbery in general), i can’t take it. if a soccer mom sees her tinkerbell tatoo as a little act of impulse in a dull, structured life – so be it.
    Life is ridiculous. Read about it here.
    Voted one of the funniest new sites on the ‘net!

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