What Tattoos Can Teach Us About Art & Writing

The Philosophical Functionality of the Tattoo: A Philosophy of ArtTen years ago, the two words that most accurately described my identity were “philosophy” and “tattoos.”

Philosophy consumed my life as an undergraduate student, and tattoos were my favorite hobby—one that I incorporated into my studies as much as possible.

When it came time to pick a topic for my honors thesis before my senior year, the decision was a no-brainer.

Justifying my topic to the faculty in the philosophy department at my college was another story.

Since anthropology was one of my minors (studio art was the other), the philosophy professors were quick to dismiss my idea of using tattoos as a focus for a philosophical examination of art.

Luckily, my faculty advisor saw potential in my perspective and convinced his peers to hear more about my paper in a meeting.

The objections that I faced stated the obvious:

A study of tattoos is only appropriate for a sociology or anthropology paper.

Exploring the implications of tattoos analyzes culture.

Tattoos have no place in philosophy.

I’ve never been a fan of the obvious, so I had my counter-argument carefully planned out.

I explained that the paper I wanted to write did not examine any aspect of cultural practices.

I was strictly interested in the ontology of art. If an object is labeled “art,” why? If not, why not?

“That is philosophy of art,” The Tribunal continued. “What does that have to do with tattoos?”

“Traditional visual art mediums are paper, canvas, or clay—inanimate objects,” I said.

They nodded in agreement.

“Well, a tattoo is on a medium that can talk. What can we learn about art if the medium that houses the creation can converse about it?”

The Ph.D’s were speechless.

They couldn’t argue with my legitimate philosophical inquiry, so they approved my topic:

The Philosophical Functionality of the Tattoo: A Philosophy of Art.

How does this apply to you and your crazy ideas?

Stump them.

After that, you get to do whatever you want.

The Philosophical Functionality of the Tattoo: A Philosophy of ArtStefanie Flaxman is the creator of Revision Fairy and author of a new book about heartbreak.

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