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Tattoo designs - C >> Clowns

Clown tattoosClown Tattoo Design Meanings - Laughter has always been the language of the spirit. We open our mouths to laugh, and the gods of healing and good fortune find a way inside the hardest heart. Long live the clown!

By 'clown' we usually mean the comic characters known for their buffoonery and garish makeup. That clown, however, is preceded historically by other more intelligent incarnations known as jesters, minstrels, tramps, tricksters, troubadours, and mimes. For symbolic purposes, we include the entire family of clowns going back centuries, because they all live to mock the serious world we live in. Their common purpose is to induce laughter through humour. The remind us, perhaps with a smile or perhaps with a tear, that to be human is to make mistakes. Really stupid mistakes. We are all, in the eyes and actions of the clown, fallible.

In tattoo art, the circus clown - the one with the big red nose, the bigger smile, and even bigger shoes and crazy hair - is an obvious symbol of playfulness and laughter.

These classic clowns pose as 'losers'. They fail at everything they attempt. They are awkward, off balance, bumbling idiots who act out our most embarrassing shortcomings. They are just like us. When we watch a clown's pratfalls, we recognize ourselves. Their antics induce laughter not so much because they're funny, but because the human condition often appears hapless and impotent. Clowns put themselves down so that others may get a lift. That's the serious side to the clown, and it goes back centuries.

Ancestors of the clown performed in the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt and Greece. In Rome, they appeared as mimes. The point of the clown, then and now, is to represent the flip side of sanity. And clowns also have a special privilege to 'speak to power', the ability to show the human side of even the mightiest among us, kings, queens and emperors alike, as nearly every ancient court had a jester. The clown is the great equalizer.

Clowns often showed up as supporting characters to parody the actions of the more serious characters. Dutch author Henri Nouwen said it best: "Clowns are not the centre of events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we came to admire."

As the king's jester, the clown mocked authority and ridiculed the establishment. Anything generally accepted as common knowledge was fodder for the jester's ridicule. The jester was the only one who dared talk back to the king. In fact, that was his role, to think laterally, to think outside box, to abandon reason, and precisely for this reason were his ideas often incorporated into official policy. However, such insolence had better be funny, or it was off with his head.

The clown was seen as a servant to the powerful. His own potency came from knowing that all worldly power - political power especially - is an illusion. Humour, on the other hand, can, like mystical knowledge, be a vehicle for transcendence. Seen in this light, the clown is a symbol of freedom from the imprisonment of the human spirit in a conformist world. The clown is a needle in a room filled with balloon-like egos, the one who says the emperor has no clothes, the mocker of our grandest pretensions.

Clown tattoosRodeo clowns are also servants. When a contestant is thrown from a bull, their clowning around takes on a life and death purpose, distracting the bull until the cowboy is safely away. Clown as martyr or saviour. It all sounds very serious, but the truth is that comedy and tragedy are closely related. Just ask the famous pair of theatre masks, the one laughing, the other crying. They are inseparable. The yin and yang of the human condition.

The clown's whiteface goes back to early Greek theatre, where it provided a more graphic picture of the actor's features, especially when viewed from the back rows of those ancient stone amphitheatres. The white base is said to be a symbol of death and resurrection, upon which colours are added, symbolizing life. The standard 'circus' whiteface has accents which highlight the eyes and mouth, but the 'Bozo' look is more exaggerated, more zany, and less intelligent. In all cases, the makeup is meant to enhance facial features, not to hide them.

Other clowns include the divine tricksters of the Native Americans. Heyokah's laughing medicine makes people think for themselves. Iktomi has spider-like features, and the irrepressible Coyote is clever and witty, and vulgar and obscene. Kokopelli has everyone dancing to his tune, and in the morning all the women in the village are pregnant. Raven steals the sun, burns his beak and drops it, and brings light to the world.

Clown Inspiration Gallery - Click here to get inspired!All cultures are enriched by clowns because people everywhere realize - if only subconsciously - that 'the most powerful person in the world is the one who can give his power away.' And the cartoon-like features of the clown make them ideal tattoo designs. No laughing matter, that.

Get inspired by some really great images and photos in our Clown Inspiration Gallery

See also: Kokopelli, Raven, Crow, Fox, Coyote

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Tattoo designs - C >> Clowns

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