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Tattoo Culture >> Quotes About Tattoos




Show me a man with a tattoo and I'll show you a man with an interesting past. - Jack London, 1883

"As for the primitive, I hark back to it because we are still very primitive. How many thousands of years of culture, think you, have rubbed and polished at our raw edges? One probably; at the best, no more than two. And that takes us back to screaming savagery, when, gross of body and deed, we drank blood from the skulls of our enemies, and hailed as highest paradise the orgies and carnage of Valhalla." - Jack London

"The universality of tattooing is a curious subject for speculation" - Captain James Cook - 1779

"With the Haidas, however, every mark has its meaning …" - James Swan, Tattoo Marks of the Haida, 1878.

"Not one great country can be named, from the polar regions in the north to New Zealand in the south, in which the aborigines do not tattoo themselves." - Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871

"There is no perfect beauty that hath not strangeness in the proportion." - Sir Francis Bacon, London, 1639

In Tahiti, not all Europeans responded with the enthusiasm that had been exhibited by the British Admiralty's Captain James Cook, his Science Officer and Botanist, Sir Joseph Banks - who received a traditional Polynesian tattoo - and dozens of the ordinary sailors and seamen aboard Cook's ships. Missionaries who arrived in Tahiti at the end of the 18th century, turned tattooing from a standard practice into an embarrassing and punishable act of Paganism. King Pomare II was converted to Christianity in 1812 and he immediately put force behind a severe, regulated code that had been laid out by the missionaries. The death certificate for traditional tattoos was essentially signed in 1823 with the passage in the code that stated: "No one shall be tattooed and this practice should be completely abolished. This is an old and bad habit. Men or women who get tattooed will be judged and punished... The punishment for men will be work on ten measures of road for the first tattoo and 20 measures for the second tattoo... The punishment for women will be to make two big coats; one for the king and the other for the governor."

Anthropometamorphosis, Man Transformed or, the Artificial Changeling, Historically Presented, a Puritan diatribe published in 1653, railed against disfigurement of the body in pursuit of "ridiculous beauty," "filthy fineness" and "loathsome loveliness." - John Bulwer

The Greek philosopher Bion of Borysthenes (circa 300 B.C.) described the brutally tattooed face of his father, a former slave, as "a narrative of his master's harshness."

"We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935)

In 19th Century England, tattooing flourished as nowhere else in Europe, largely thanks to traveling seamen who would come back with permanent souvenirs of their travels on their arms. In 1862, it gained Royal sanction and members of the Royal family, from the Prince of Wales to King Edward VII, acquired tattoos. By 1890 the fad had spread to the US and tattoos were seen on members of the exclusive New York Racquet Club. - It is certainly the most vulgar and barbarous habit the eccentric mind of fashion ever invented. It may do for an illiterate seaman, but hardly for an aristocrat. Society men in England were the victims of circumstance when the Prince of Wales had his body tattooed. Like a flock of sheep driven by their master they had to follow suit. (Socialite of the day Ward McAllister who complained to the press about the fad) - Strange how this attitude has endured to the 21st century...

In the 19th century, Field Marshal Earl Roberts said that "every officer in the British army should be tattooed with his regimental crest. Not only does this encourage esprit de corps but also assists in the identification of casualties."

What is the origin of this usage? Religion, which has so much power over peoples and which proves so obstinate in preserving ancient customs, has certainly contributed to maintain it among the more barbarous part of our populations; we see a quasi-official proof of it at Lorette. Those who cultivate a devotion for a saint believe that by engraving his image on their flesh they will give him a proof, a clear testimony of their love. Cesare Lombroso, The Savage Origin of Tattooing, Popular Science Monthly, 1896


"The human body is always treated as an image of society." Anthropologist Mary Douglas

Vaturemba, a chief in the Tholo Hills, chuckled wickedly when questioned, and declared that physically there was the greatest difference between mating with a tattooed or an untattooed woman. The idea of marriage with an untattooed woman filled him with disgust, and he intimated that tattooing was considered as a stimulus to the sexual passion in the woman herself. - W. D. Hambly, The History of Tattooing, 1925

"A man without tattoos is invisible to the Gods." - Iban Proverb - Mingatt Anak Casa (Akai Basai), Iban Headman on the Sekerang River, Sarawak, Borneo - from The Vanishing Tattoo Documentary

"The woman must bear children and the man must be tattooed." - Polynesian Proverb

You may lose your most valuable property through misfortune in various ways. You may lose your house, your wife and other treasures. But of your moko, you cannot be deprived except by death. It will be your ornament and companion until your last day. - Netana Whakaari of Te Waimana-Kākū, Tuhoe, 1921

"An everlasting gem that you will take into your grave."
Line from a traditional Polynesian song about tattooing


"In all ages, far back into prehistory, we find human beings have painted and adorned themselves." H.G. Wells

"I'll tell you this, lad: A tattoo says more of a fellow looking at it than it can do of the man who's got it on his back." - Sarah Hall -- The Electric Michelangelo

"It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin." - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Everybody wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them.  Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

"But to become a freak one needs a strong character and unusual determination." George Burchett - Memoirs of a Tattooist, 1956

"The employment of body marks to denote class, totems, and families illustrates stages in the evolution of group consciousness and a sense of corporate existance." - W. D. Hambly, The History of Tattooing, 1925

"One out of every ten persons in the United States is, or has been, tattooed. The figures break down into one out of every five men, and one out of every fifteen women." - Needlework: Tattoo Art Traced From Egyptian Tombs to American Social Security, The Literary Digest, 1937

Traditionally, body art has served to attract the opposite sex, boost self-esteem, ward off or invoke spirits, indicate social position or marital status, identify with a particular age or gender group or mark a rite of passage, such as puberty or marriage. It's this sort of strictly prescribed, highly ritualistic decoration that Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher depict in their book, African Ceremonies. "We've tried to show how body art is relevant to every stage of development, from birth to death," says Angela Fisher.

"Primitive tribes were certainly convinced that the spirit, having escaped from the body at death, retained a replica of its earthly tenement. They therefore used tattoo marks as a means of identification in the next world and a passport to future happiness." - Ronald Scutt, Art, Sex and Symbol, 1974, p. 63

There's something really the matter with most people who wear tattoos, he says. I know from experience there's something terribly flawed about people who are tattooed above the little something Johnny had done in the Navy, even though that's also a bad sign. (Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood, interviewed more than one hundred killers over a period of ten years and says eighty percent of them have one thing in common: Tattoos)

Richard Leakey - A quote from "Origins Reconsidered - In Search of What Makes Us Human".
"Each society weaves its own culture, a complex fabric of many elements, each element giving special meaning to the others. It is often difficult for someone from outside a particular culture to understand the fabric as an entity. Differences in language, in values, and in mythology create barriers to understanding. Pluck a single thread from the fabric, and the foreigner is even less likely to comprehend its significance. The painted, engraved, and carved images of prehistory are threads from past cultures, and we are the foreigners trying to interpret their meaning. Perhaps more than anything else, art can be fully understood only in the context of the culture that produced it."

In Galatians 6:17, Saint Paul says, "From this time onward let no one trouble me; for, as for me, I bear, branded on my body, the scars of Jesus as my Master."

A quote is just a tattoo on the tongue. Poet William F. DeVault


"I wanted some decoration. See, the one on my wrist is for everybody; the one on my tit is for me and my friends. Just a little treat for the boys, like icing on the cake." - Janis Joplin

"If the body is a temple, then tattoos are its stained glass windows." - Vince Hemingson, Nov. 10, 2010

"There was one I rushed into. I got a lion on my back because I’m a Leo, and I also just love lions. But I wish I’d researched the artwork a little more. My little sister saw it and said, 'Why do you have the Lion King on your back?'" - Actor Stephan Dorff on regretable tattoos...

"Tattoos to me are are like the Walmart of rebellion. I think I was looking for some kind of outward display of anguish that I was a serious person." - Actor Ryan Reynolds

"Death could come at any time", Angelina Jolie says. The tattoo is a strong reminder to live fully in the moment and never have regrets. (About her first tattoo of the Japanese Kanji for Death) "I didn't get the tattoo for the dark reason everyone thinks."

"Usually all my tattoos came at good times. A tattoo is something permanent when you've made a self-discovery, or something you've come to a conclusion about." - Angelina Jolie - 2003

Jolie says her tiger tattoo is a favorite of her kids.  "They talk to it all the time.  They like to say hi to it and paint it with fingerpaints.  It's like a little friend."  - Angelina Jolie

"I dropped my pants in a tattoo parlor in Amsterdam. I woke up in a waterbed with this funky-looking dragon with a blue tongue on my hip. I realized I made a mistake, so a few months later I got a cross to cover it. When my pants hang low, it looks like I'm wearing a dagger!" - Angelina Jolie

"It's Aslan, the lion from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. It's a symbol of my hellish childhood. I struggled through my oppressive teenage years and when I turned 18 I escaped. Like Aslan I was finally free." - Christina Ricci

"Sometimes I bust out and do things so permanent. Like tattoos and marriage." - Drew Barrymore

"Every time I get a tattoo, my parents say they'll disown me. I have to get them airbrushed for Charmed. Witches don't have tattoos, I guess." - Alyssa Milano

"It's kind of a show-biz lizard [in a top hat]. Tattoos to me are the outward symbol of the inward change within my soul." - Nicolas Cage

"I chose a sunflower because when darkness descends they close up to regenerate. But I really wish I'd never had the tattoo in the first place. Clean, clear skin is always better." - Halle Berry

"My skin is my canvas. The artwork on it represents something that is very powerful and meaningful in my life. I look at my skin as something of a living diary because all my tattoos represent a time in my life. And I never wish to shut the door on the past, so I carry it all with me." - Dave Navarro

"I felt bad about myself because certain people were relentlessly attacking me and my reputation. My mom kept saying 'Let it go, Lauren, It doesn't matter' … [I] realized I had to stop worrying about what other people think. The next day I got a tattoo on my lower back that says 'sticks and stones', because they may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." - Lauren Conrad

"I'm planning my most ambitious tattoo yet. You can never have enough tats." - Amy Winehouse

"Giving birth was easier than having a tattoo." - Nicole Appleton

"Quirky is sexy, like scars or chipped teeth. I also like tattoos - they're rebellious." - Jennifer Aniston

"Tattoos are like stories - they're symbolic of the important moments in your life. Sitting down, talking about where you got each tattoo and what it symbolizes, is really beautiful." - Pamela Anderson

"My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist." -  Johnny Depp

"Every time I get a tattoo, it's a little fuck-you to anyone who tells me not to. It's weird to be part of Hollywood, which tries to control every aspect of people, from what they say to the color of their hair. And I like the way getting a tattoo feels. If I'm depressed, it's nice to get one and deal with the pain. I have one all the way down to my ribs. It hurt, but it felt good-like twisting a loose tooth. I'm not kidding when I say that if I ever lose a role because of my tattoos, I'll quit Hollywood and go to work at Costco."- Megan Fox

"I think I have enough tattoos for now. If I get any others, I'll probably do my kids initials." - Niki Taylor

Britney Spears in 2000 said this about her supposedly "fake" lower back tattoo, "if I was to get a fairy on my back, that would be like she's watching my back."

"I did what I could to move the muscles in my back so the tattoo could sort of stretch out. I always wished I had more muscles that could crinkle up." - Ralph Fiennes for the film, Red Dragon (2002) as Francis Dolarhyde

"I have this huge lion tattoo embossed on my arm. I was a little worried as to how we would cover it up. But my makeup man covered the tattoo with makeup. It took close to two hours." - Sanjay Dutt

"I got my first tattoo, a Playboy Bunny, because I was young, dumb and drunk..." - Anna Nicole Smith

"I don't know why I like tattoos so much. I know it's crazy. I can't defend them. I've had some of my tattoos for twenty years. I love getting them." - Cher

"For someone who likes tattoos, the most precious thing is bare skin." - Cher

"People have asked me, what about your tattoos when you're ninety? Why would it bother me then? I would still want to get tattooed even when I'm a grandmother." - Nicole Miller, noted fashion designer

"Everybody gets the tattoo they deserve." (actor David Duchovny, who has a tattoo of a compass on his ankle, [with N, S, E, West, his daughter's name] as Fox Mulder on the X-Files, a show Thomas Lockhart worked on in the famous Tattoo episode)

"I always look for a woman who has a tattoo. I see a woman with a tattoo, and I'm thinking, okay, here's a gal who's capable of making a decision she'll regret in the future." - Comedian Richard Jeni

Vince Vaughn in the film The Wedding Crashers - "Tattoo on the lower back. Might as well be a bulls-eye."

"I wouldn't care if they tattoo Festus all over. He's been good to me."
Ken Curtis - American singer and actor best known for his role as "Festus Haggen" on CBS' long-running western drama, Gunsmoke, which he portrayed from 1964 to 1975.

"Beauty is skin deep. A tattoo goes all the way to the bone." - Vince Hemingson

"A great tattoo is a statement, not a style. And getting it is a journey, not a destination." - Vince Hemingson

Former Chicago Bull Jud Buechler said Michael Jordan wanted "me and [teammate] Steve Kerr to get tattoos" after the Bulls won their first championship. "I thought about it but didn't do it because I knew my mom, wife, and mother-in-law would kill me."

"White folks are not going to come to see a bunch of guys with tattoos, with cornrows. I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks different, they're stupid." - Charles Barkley

"Sonny and another Hells Angel who was at the meeting thought they were beyond a little patch so they headed down to a local tattoo shop in Oakland and were the first to get the famous One Percent tattoos."
Chuck Zito - a member of the New York chapter of the Hells Angels, amateur boxer, martial artist, celebrity bodyguard, stuntman and actor.


"Tattoos aren't meant for everybody and they're too goddamn good for some people." - Lyle Tuttle, tattoo artist, author, and lecturer.

"There are good tattoos and bad tattoos. Some people don't give a shit what their tattoo looks like. I always felt that my whole career was going to be judged by each tattoo I did." - Lyle Tuttle

"I'm an artist. There are a lot of people in the business who aren't. It's like they've got a shoe repair shop." - Lyle Tuttle, 1977

"I'm the man who ruined everything." (Lyle Tuttle on the popularity of modern tattooing)

"You put a tattoo on yourself with the knowledge that this body is yours to have and enjoy while you're here. You have fun with it, and nobody else can control (supposedly) what you do with it. That's why tattooing is such a big thing in prison: it's an expression of freedom—one of the only expressions of freedom there. They can lock you down, control everything, but 'I've got my mind, and I can tattoo my body—alter it my way as an act of personal will.'" - Don Ed Hardy

"It's a good thing they (tattoos) hurt, otherwise every pussy in the world would have one." - Jack Rudy

"I think of myself as a craftsman who is trying to be an artist." - Cliff Raven, Tattoo Artist

"The perfect tattoo... the one I believe we are all struggling toward... is the one that turned the jackass into a zebra." - Cliff Raven

"Stewed, Screwed and Tattooed", a colourful synopsis of shore leave for many sailors after having spent many months at sea! A good port of call for men who worked at sea often earned it's reputation by the qualities - or lack thereof - of it's drinking establishments, women and tattoo artists.

Love lasts forever, but a tattoo lasts six months longer. (Anon)

Think before you Ink! (Sign often seen in tattoo shops)

Good tattoos aren't cheap and cheap tattoos aren't good. (A sign seen in many tattoo shops)

The only difference between a tattooed person and a person who isn't tattooed is that a tattooed person doesn't care if you're tattooed or not.
(Sign often seen in tattoo shops)

The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who have tattoos, and those who are afraid of people with tattoos. -- Author Unknown

Check out Finger / Knuckle Tattoos  for some great 8 letter quotes!

Tattoo Culture >> Quotes About Tattoos