Tattoos, Art, and Narcissism

Art requires skill and is for the sake of enjoyment, for beauty, glory, and joy. Bill Edgar of Westminster Theological Seminary says that art is a “skilled symbolic representation of reality made for the purpose of opening our perception to its meaning.” Art communicates ideas and cannot be done by accident. But how should Christians understand body art, also called tattoos?

“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,” so said the art loving Oscar Wilde. Art. What is art, and can a tattoo be considered a good medium for art? In the article, Biblical Principles for Art, a criterion is set forth for how we as Christians can glorify God.

These definitions and guidelines apply no less to body art. Yet, many in our culture are rethinking tatoos, not just the health concerns that are becoming evident, but the narcissistic nature of tattoos.

We are in a great transition. Dr. Peter Gray has pointed out that narcissism is on the rise amongst young Americans in a compelling article. It is no surprise that as the culture grows more narcissistic, that same narcissism finds expression in various modes and forms of art. Unlike traditional modes of artistic expression body art:

  1. can’t pass be passed to the next generation
  2. is essentially hidden instead of exposed
  3. is worn as an identity

Each generation must find new forms of artistic expression. By no means should art stagnate. Yet, when sin and art intersect, the modes of expression will inevitably prove to be problematic. And as Christians, we know why. Perhaps Oscar Wilde’s point about wearing art is also a reason many wish to wear body ink. Perhaps the moral decay and ugliness is a desperate desire for beauty. But if so, that beauty will not be enough to satisfy.

For Further Discussion:

Robert J. McPherson on Artistic Plagiarism


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