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The contemporary western tattooist as a multifaceted practitioner

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Although tattooing has been vaguely discussed in an academic literature for over a century, it has only received serious scholarly interest in recent decades. The literature that exists is primarily within the contexts of art history, economics and dominantly, social sciences. With few exceptions, the emphasis is placed on the modified body or the recipient of the tattoo as the focus of the study, and not the process of cultural production. Tattooing from the perspective of the practitioner, and thus the methods, processes and actions of the tattooist, is yet to have gained sufficient focus. As a result, understanding of a creative medium that is a dominant form of cultural consumption is limited, largely deductive and lacking in informed internal voices. This article aims to offer insight into the multifaceted and contingent nature of the role of the contemporary western tattooist, which may be understood as a tattooist working in a western context in the twenty-first century. Conducted by a researcher who is also a professional tattooist, the article is informed by a multimethod methodology combining a contextual review with practical research and autoethnography. Drawing upon professional practice to provide elucidation, a lens for partially understanding the contingent role of the tattooist in pragmatic multiplicity of a visual artist, a designer and a craftsperson is proposed. Specific attention is paid to the notion of craft in accordance to the criteria of the supplemental, material and skill proposed by Adamson to exemplify when the tattooist can be understood as performing the action of a craftsperson. The role of the contemporary western tattooist has been either assumed, ignored or studied without the necessary resources or methodologies within conventional disciplinary approaches. In introducing an insider practitioner perspective into the current dialogue, tattooing may be better understood and researched in the avenues in which it has previously been studied, while also being introduced into the broader craft, design and arts academic discourse.
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Keywords: applied arts; craftsperson; creative industries; practice-based research; tattooing; visual arts

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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  • The aim of Craft Research is to advocate and promote current and emerging craft research, including research into materials, processes, methods, concepts, aesthetic and style. This may be in any discipline area of the applied arts and crafts, including craft education.

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