Art for the Amateurs
“My body is not decorated by needles or ink… This child is my tattoo…
She is the story of my skin and my heart, written all over me, for anyone, who is able, to read”
A robust, bearded man who does not seem acquainted with any other colors than black takes gargantuan steps besides his undersized, flamboyantly dressed girlfriend. Their only common feature: noticeable tattoos. However increasingly diverse tattooed individuals have become or how much more accepted it is, in the public spectrum they are accustomed to the mixed reactions toward their body art. From a gentle, respectful nod to a disgustingly, disapproving scan, mixed feelings continue to exist about their acceptance, and the significance of a tattoo has yet to reach an overall consensus. Therefore, published writings such as Tim Keel’s “Tattooed” and Deborah Shouse’s “Mark Her Words” attempt to alter the negative perceptions of tattoos to those of more insight, acceptance and support. Shouse and Keel share this goal, but their structure and centralized focus on ethos (authority), pathos (emotion) or logos (logic) distinguishes which writer conducts the more effective argument.
In “Tattooed,” Keel provides factual evidence, statistics and the experiences of others to explain tattoos’ growing popularity and their manner of personal expression. He begins with an introduction about Kobsantsev, the owner of a Kansas City tattoo parlor, who witnesses both an unexpected metamorphosis in his familiar customers, such as university professors, and a flourish in the number of tattoo shops in the area (18). Introducing Kobsantsev’s observation instead of plain explanations efficiently illustrates the growing acceptance of tattoos. The use of a knowledgeable source gives the idea more depth and Keel an authoritative stance from the audience’s perspective. Further strengthening his authority, Keel uses statistical evidence from reputable sources, like the American Society of Dermatological Surgery, to demonstrate the growing percentage of Americans with at least one tattoo within a four year range (18). Placing statistics after the introduction improves Keel’s reliability of information and increases the claim’s validity more than if he solely relied on an individual’s account.
Contrarily, in “Mark Her Words,” Shouse directs an authoritative position which lacks statistical evidence but utilizes her personal experience. She narrates about being a concerned mother to a daughter who believes tattoos possess significance and beauty. In the opening, the use of dialogue and thoughts reveals the skepticism she first feels toward the art. ‘Hilee’s got a tattoo [,]’ Shouse expresses to her other daughter Sarah. ‘Really?’ She reaches for the phone. … I listen to Sarah’s excitement and I tell myself, ‘That is how I want to act next time.’ Then I worry, what if there is a next time?” (708).The feelings expressed set a tone and personality for Shouse as a concerned, yet supportive adult with a different perspective from the younger generation. The conflicting views thus create an element of mystery in the article which the interested audience will continue reading for the solution. Although it also includes a sense of mystery, Keel’s article lacks the suspenseful appeal evident in Shouse’s content and contains rather an explanation about why unfamiliar customers are getting tattooed. Therefore, Shouse strives to reveal the effect — unlike Keel who depends on the causes.
Although both writers take a different approach, logic becomes especially important in providing insight and reasons to support their arguments. Shouse’s use of logic resolves the introduced conflict by favoring one of the contrasting views from the previous telephone conversation. She continues her anecdote with another telephone conversation that occurs the following day. During the call, Hilee asks her mother what scares her most, ‘[v]isible tattoos, face piercing, or scars [.]’ Shouse admits scars frighten her most followed by tattoos and face piercing. Before acknowledging Hilee’s explanation about the significance of tattoos, Shouse digresses into a painful background about her daughter being sexually abused as a child and the self-mutilation she endured to resist suicide. “Her scars are symbols that she was strong enough to stay alive,” indicates Shouse. Happy to have her daughter well, Shouse says, “I look at the marks and I am grateful she knew how to keep herself alive” (708). The statement, as well as her daughter’s background, reveals that Shouse understands Hilee’s actions and gradually begins to trust her explanations.
Shouse then provides Hilee’s meaning of tattoos: “‘I was in pain before and had only misery [self-mutilation] to show for it,’ … ‘Now I choose the pain and have something beautiful and meaningful [tattoo]. … I’m thinking of tattooing ‘Survivor’ in Hebrew around my wrist. That way, I know I will never try to kill myself’” (Shouse 709). Hilee’s comparison of two different mediums of pain clarifies the reason Shouse begins to accept tattoos. She utilizes Hilee’s experience and interpretation of tattoos to show the audience the personal meaning and importance they possess and to dismiss their negative assumptions.
On the other hand, following the evidence and statistics, logic becomes Keel’s central rhetorical technique to provide the causes for the growing popularity and acceptance of tattoos. To capture the audience’s attention preceding his support, he applies a powerful question mainly pertaining to the opposition: “[w]hat motivates a person to go through the painful experience of getting tattooed?” (18).The question helps Keel form an empathetic connection with those who do not understand the purpose of tattoos, and now the audience expects the question to be answered with explanations.
Keel then depends on Kobsantsev’s views to support the significant reasons for getting tattooed. “[T]attoos function in … substantial ways– as a means of remembering or commemorating something significant or transformative in one’s life; as a sort of talisman to gain power; as a way of exercising and expressing control over one’s body after suffering some kind of assault or trauma; or even as a kind of visual timeline charting significant events [,]” Keel defends (19). Presenting various reasons may broaden the audience’s outlook about the meaning of tattoos; however, their appearance in the article is not compelling and functions like a grocery list (The function of a grocery list is to refer back to the items not immediately remembered in an individual’s mind. Usually the forgetfulness derives from the items not having any relation to one another or particular emphasis, thus making a list necessary). Therefore, the numerous reasons and their lack of emphasis are disadvantageous in convincing the reader to accept tattoos. Conversely, Shouse’s reasons focus on one central idea which remains in the mind of the reader throughout the entire passage. Retaining the information helps the audience arrive at a decision that benefits the writer, and this tool is effective in Shouse’s logical approach.
To strengthen the effect of their arguments, the writers focus toward emotional appeal. In “Tattooed,” Keel gathers facts from the World War I and World War II eras about tattoos as an initiation for soldiers. He also presents various examples of individuals who describe the significance of their tattoos (Keel 20). The examples and explanations try gaining sentiment from the audience, however lack strength emotionally. Although the reasons are genuine, they have an unavailing presence in the article. By stating one after the other, Keel does not use pathos as effectively as Shouse. In addition, strictly relying on the opinions of tattooed individuals, who will obviously discuss the positive aspects, gives the article a biased context; consequently, the audience may lose trust in the argument, and the writer may lose credibility. On the other hand, “Mark Her Words” is concentrated on the persuasive approach of emotion. Shouse strengthens the emotional appeal and captures the sympathy of the audience with the feelings of anguish, doubt, fear, pride, and the mother-daughter relationship apparent throughout the passage. Particularly, Shouse’s skepticism represents the negative perceptions that coexist with tattoos. Presenting the opposing views fairly creates a reliable and strong connection with a supporting and opposing audience.
Before the growing popularity of tattoos reached society, the majority of individuals expressing themselves on a personal and creative level was limited. Artists, musicians, or writers, who require further and professional talent, predominantly occupied the instrument for self-expression until the new medium of tattoos entered the spectrum. In “Mark Her Words,” Shouse evolves into an understanding of this medium because her narrative provides an example of the personal significance of tattoos. The logic applied in explaining the meaning of her daughter’s tattoos, as well as the emotional affect it contains, creates an appealing and insightful outlook and eliminates negative perceptions toward tattooed individuals. On the contrary, in “Tattooed,” Keel’s expository approach supports a broad idea that includes biased context and lacks structural unity. The plethora of accounts and evidence appear as an excessive effort by the writer to persuade his audience. Therefore, it is easier and more memorable for the audience to become attached to one centralized and appealing account rather than general information.
Furthermore, Shouse encourages the wide acceptance and significance of tattoos with a metaphor embracing the various forms of self-expression. “My body is not decorated by needles or ink,” affirms Shouse. “This child is my tattoo … She is the story of my skin and my heart, written all over me, for anyone, who is able, to read” (709). The powerful statement captures the overall theme of tattoos, eliminates prejudices and false assumptions, and promotes empathy and individualism. Tattooed individuals are not different; every person has feelings and something worth expressing, but the difference derives in their manner of expression. Whether it is the brand of clothes we wear, the car we drive, or the music we listen to, self-expression appears in every aspect of our lives; tattoos simply offer another opportunity to accomplish it. Without talent or professionalism, the only requirement is the essence of being an individual. In other words, it is the art for the amateurs. With that understanding, professional art forms and materialistic items gain acclaim globally, but what separates tattoos from these mediums? They all share the same purpose; therefore their perceptions should be equally alike.
Keel, Tim. “Tattooed.” The Christian Century.
15 May 2007: 124.10. 18-20
Tim Keel’s article explains the growing acceptance and diversity of tattoos by using statistics, factual evidence and individual’s experiences. Keel takes an expository approach in supporting his claim with an emphasis on authority and logic more than emotion.
Shouse, Deborah. “Mark Her Words.” Dynamic Argument. Ed. Robert Lamm and Justin
Everett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996. 708-9.
Deborah Shouse’s article is a narrative about being a mother to a daughter who has recently gotten a tattoo. Clashing perceptions arise between the different generations and the narrative serves to show Shouse arriving at a better understanding and appreciation of tattoos. With a strong use of ethos, logos and pathos, she shares her experience hoping that her audience will change their perception of tattoos, as she did, to one of insight and acceptance.
28 November 2007