The Art and Culture of TattooingClinton R. Sanders and D. Angus Vail
"After looking at the sizeable collection of tattoo memorabilia, I entered the tattoo studio adjacent to the museum and, like many first-time visitors to tattoo establishments, impulsively decided to join the ranks of the tattooed. After choosing a small scarab design from the wall ‘flash,’ I submitted to the unexpectedly painful tattoo experience." So began sociologist Clinton Sanders’ seven-year involvement in the world of tattoo culture.
Customizing the Body discusses tattooing as a highly social act—as a manipulation of self-image, as a symbolically meaningful form of body alteration in contemporary society. A tattoo changes "how the person experiences his or her self and, in turn, how he or she will be defined and treated by others." Tattoos continue to be a mark of alienation from the mainstream, but they also have an affiliative effect, identifying one as a member of a select group. Common wisdom associates tattoos with life-long regret, but Sanders introduces passionate collectors—those who cannot resist the desire to "get more ink"—and tattooees who are very content with modest coverage. "(In the future) when I’m sitting around and bored with my life and I wonder if I was ever young once and did exciting things, I can look at the tattoo and remember."
Sanders’ immersion in this hidden social world—his years of hanging out in tattoo parlors and participating in conventions of enthusiasts—enable him to draw compelling portraits of tattoo collectors and artists. His interviews and observations reveal the ways in which artists are drawn into the work, their concerns in building their careers, and the nature of commercial exchange in tattoo studios. He juxtaposes an institutional view of art with the work done by highly skilled tattoo artists who are dedicated to erasing the negative stereotypes of their production and earning recognition for this marginally accepted form of body decoration.
"(U)nequalled insight into the world of tattooing.... Sanders concerns himself with comparing tattooing with things like pottery, computer graphics and graffiti, which have recently moved closer to acceptance within the 'art world.'"
"This is the most intelligent book available to date on the modern aspects of an increasingly popular form of body decoration."
"The author, tattooed himself, knowledgeably discusses both the symbolic and social meanings of tattooing…(Customizing the Body ) will give even those who think they know all about tattooing a fresh look at many aspects of the art and the people involved, as well as the relationship between practitioners and clients. Sanders' book is both intelligent and entertaining."
"A fascinating and well-written study, one that finely sharpens the distinction between deviance and respectability."
"The book's comprehensive treatment—involving both historical and cross-cultural analysis, both tattooists and tattooees as subjects, and parlor, convention, and gallery settings—ought to inform communications research on topics ranging from symbolization of deviance to clothing, fashion, and art."