The tattoos we deserve: Producing culture and constructing elitism

Date of Completion

January 2000


Sociology, General




Recently, the social meanings attached to tattoos have been undergoing profound changes. The increasing presence and visibility of art-school trained, “fine art” or “custom” tattoo artists has contributed to a dramatically expanding repertoire of images and iconographies that many define as artistic products, not “just tattoos.” In this dissertation, I examine how the social world surrounding fine art tattooing is organized, enacted, produced, and experienced. Underlying this discussion of the production of culture is an analysis of how people produce and construct systems of elitism. I examine this production of culture and construction of elitism in three primary analytic spaces by addressing three fundamental research questions: first, how do artists and collectors work together to produce culture and construct elitism; second, how do artists use systems of apprenticeship as gatekeeping devices in the production of the culture of fine art tattooing; and finally, how do tattoo collectors negotiate the meanings of tattoos as art? ^