Tattoo Ideas: Famous Works of Art

Updated on March 4, 2013

It's no secret that most artists are insane, or that brilliance borders madness. Some of the ingenious people I've met have been completely off their rocker, and yet more often than not it tends to be these people who produce the most amazing works of art and inspiring volumes of fiction. Virginia Woolf, who created literary works like "Mrs. Dalloway" and Sylvia Plath, who deftly crafted poem after poem both suffered from a debilitating depression that would eventually lead to their untimely deaths. Woolf placed heavy rocks in her apron pockets and drowned herself not far from her home. Sylvia Plath stuck her head in the oven and turned on the gas. Ernest Hemingway, author of "The Old Man and the Sea" and "A Farewell to Arms" shot himself in the head with a double-barreled shotgun after a number of failed electroconvulsive shock therapy treatments. Painters have a track record that does not fare much better than writers. Picasso cut off his own ear during his "blue" period, and Vincent Van Gogh, who painted the infamous "Starry Night" died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

What is it about creators that makes them so prone to sadness? I have long thought that the minds of artists must be spread wide open in order to absorb, and thus recreate, their surroundings. Authors are often told to "write about what you know," be aware of your setting, take in every detail, study every nuance and then record, record, record. But you can't open yourself up to the beauty in the world without also opening to the inherent sadness, the crime and degradation and brutality and if you're not careful it will seep into your soul.

In exchange for their extreme sensitivity and desperation, we received paintings and sculptures and books of unparalleled value. But at what cost to their creators? Many drowned themselves in alcohol, drugs or promiscuity and in the 1800's and 1900s there was not medical nor psychiatric help available like there is today. We are left instead with their artistic remains, remnants of paintings done in the 19th century, beautiful and haunting images that still resonate today. And I am always thrilled beyond explanation when I see a famous work of art replicated in tattoo form on the body of a teenager; because I know that if the integrity of the painting has been preserved this long, and if a young man or woman in the 21st century can look at Van Gogh's "Starry Night" or Dali's melting clocks and still stare in awe, then the art they left behind will continue to leave a lasting effect on the world hundreds of years from now.

TATTOO Photo Gallery

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali
From Dali's "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening"
From Dali's "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening"
From Rene Magritte's "The Large Family"
From Rene Magritte's "The Large Family"
Pablo Picasso's peace dove
Pablo Picasso's peace dove
"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso
"The Old Guitarist" by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
From Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
From Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
"Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh
"Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent VanGogh
Vincent VanGogh
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        carmen 

        4 years ago

        who did the the sistine chapel tattoo?

      • profile image

        doina 

        5 years ago

        aezaa ttato please phone number

      • profile image

        Rusty Dubberly 

        5 years ago

      • profile image

        mark 

        6 years ago

        Wow a lot of shitty tattoos!

      • profile image

        josh 

        7 years ago

        I'm about to get Hieronymus Bosch's "Hell" as a back piece

      • profile image

        yesenia 

        7 years ago

        you guys SWEAR you are sooooooooooooo deep.

      • profile image

        anne 

        7 years ago

        the melting clocks piece is actually called persistance of memory.

      • profile image

        UK Dave 

        7 years ago

        A painting I've liked for years (though was briefly put off by the Hollywood movie of the same name a few years back! - I got over it ;-) was the inspiration for this; my first tattoo!

      • profile image

        Mark 

        8 years ago

        yeah, van gogh cut his ear off, not picasso, and he had shot himself in the chest, but later died in bed. altho the double barrel shotgun does sound more epic. I love Dali's elephants. I discovered them a couple days ago while looking up some of his work (which for some reason I hadn't done till recently). I really like the two elephants on the legs. makes me wish I had thought of putting them there! haha but i do want to get one tattooed on me

      • profile image

        starryeyed.  

        8 years ago

        whoever wrote this knows nothing about art. Picasso did not cut off his ear, that was vangogh. and vangogh died of a drug overdose, he loved absinthe. do your research before you write an article.

      • profile image

        you 

        8 years ago

        the salvador dali one with the clocks is called the persistence of time.

      • profile image

        Paulie 

        8 years ago

        i have warhol's "campbell's tomato soup" on my interior left hand. i just changed the tomato sign into fish soup cause i have in my upper left hand a koi fish. i think it's great to make pop-art tattoo because they are simple but very beautiful.

      • profile image

        Paddy 

        8 years ago

        Good grief. Great art is a joy in its context. But stretching it across the human's largest organ makes it grotesque. And for who's appreciation? Another misguided attempt for attention masquerading as self-expression.

      • profile image

        Darkin 

        8 years ago

        I don't like Tattoo. I think bodyart is better)

      • profile image

        doogy 

        8 years ago

        I think that if someone feels a connection with the art or artist then of course get it done. I have dali's rose van goh smoking skeleton and dalis exploding clock all on my shoulder and am planning a sleeve of all my favorite classical art. Being pretentious is putting someones name or a butterflly or something off the wall at the shop.

      • profile image

        sel 

        9 years ago

        Correction on Van Gogh's ear: Many art historians now believe that it was Gauguin who cut off Van Gogh's ear after a heated argument. Gauguin was skilled in fencing. Van Gogh is said to have wrapped his ear in newspaper and taken it to a brothel to a prostitute named Rachel. Others say it was a result of a seizure. There are different accounts as to what exactly happened. Schizophrenia seems to be the leading cause of his mental illness, but bipolar is not far behind. There are numerious diagnosis out there. It is correct, however, that Van Gogh did shot himself in the check with a revolver. He died two days later in bed.

      • profile image

        ed 

        9 years ago

        I have composition in Red Blue Grey and yellow by Piet Mondrian. Next Tattoo will be Frank Lloyd Wright's stained glass windows from The Clooney House.

      • Cellar Door profile image

        Cellar Door 

        9 years ago from South East UK

        i was looking for inspiration for my piece that ive been planning, i found it, thanks man!

        picasso modernist, mainly blue one is one of my faves i think

        CD

      • thesirenwakes profile image

        Grace Roselynn 

        9 years ago

        Wow these are really amazing!

      • profile image

        Julie 

        9 years ago

        Do you know how much the second "Elephants" tattoo costed?

      • profile image

        Rebecca Goldfinch 

        9 years ago

        i'm getting the pablo picaso peace dove tattooed on my back on tuesday and it's because i saw this tattoo that i thought screw it im gunna do it,

        so thanks

      • profile image

        jEssica 

        9 years ago

        that was a great article.... and i thought you wrote it very well.... and i've been looking for a peace tattoo i just dont know what really fits. i love old art and this picture of picasso's peace dove looks like the perfect match =]

      • profile image

        DePonay 

        9 years ago

        Just a correction though....Picasso didn't cut off his own ear. that was van gogh, a paranoid schizophrenic..he cut off his hear to try and stop the voices in his head.

        I have heard a number of people say that they feel that art tattoos are "pretentious" and I am not really sure why that is. Yes, I suppose you are taking someone else's work and putting it on your body without their permission. But artists borrow each other's ideas all of the time. Many artists used to hate when Picasso came around their studios because his memory was so photographic, he could go home and create the exact work..if not perfect it.

        If you have a deep appreciation for the art and the artist I don't think it could be pretentious. If nothing else, I think it shows reverence for that artist's work and talent. I am an artist and an art teacher, Art is my life..it would make sense for my tattoos to reflect my passion for art.

        ill get off my soap box now.

      • profile image

        Salem 

        9 years ago

        I don't think any "art tattoo" is tacky at all - so long as the person wearing it appreciates the artistry - "because it's cool" irks me but i happen to have some pieces by Picasso and Dali on me and it's because I have a great love for the works and the artists. Right now I only have Picasso's rendition of Don Quixote and one of the horses from Dali's Temptation of St. Anthony. But I'll be finishing off the other sides with colored works - likely a part of Dali's Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomengranate a Second Before Awakening and Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror...

        To the author of this post - thanks for sharing I very much enjoyed the read as well as the featured pictures!

      • profile image

        CaroWe 

        10 years ago

        I wanted the The Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of Man (by dali--check it out, it's awesome), but then I thought maybe not, as art tattoos are kind of tacky. The Picasso ones more so, but any famous work by any renowned artist would be tacky and cliché on skin...

      • profile image

        10 years ago

        Justin Bolonski did the Starry Night/stained glass sleeve. http://www.justinbtattoos.com http://www.myspace.com/integritytat2

      • profile image

        Christine 

        10 years ago

        What artist did the starrynight tattop?

      • Sadie_H profile image

        Sadie_H 

        10 years ago

        I have a Georgia O'Keefe backpiece planned, and I'm thinking about getting a Kahlo sleeve in the future. Thanks for another great set of pictures!

      • syaiful majid profile image

        syaiful majid 

        10 years ago from Jogjakarta

        Good creation of tattoo,but unfortunately my religion does not allow to make it.., because it resists the water to go in through your skin while taking a water before praying.

      • profile image

        Sarah Knapp 

        10 years ago

        To be more specific...it is the small sketch that she did of the black pair of shoes. It has the little SP where she signed her name. It's on my ankle. I'm pretty happy about it. :)

        Has anybody got to see the '07 book "Eye Rhymes"? It's full of her artwork. I only got to see one picture from it, and it was an awesome full color cubist piece by Sylvia.

        Does anyone know how to buy the limited edition books?

      • profile image

        Sarah Knapp 

        10 years ago

      • profile image

        Sarah Knapp 

        10 years ago

        I got a Sylvia Plath tattoo last night!

      • profile image

        Sam 

        10 years ago

        I LOVE the starry night one and the Picasso ones a lot. Interesting article, too. Thanks for posting this!

      • profile image

        abigail 

        10 years ago

        I wanted to thank you for putting up all these wonderful, interesting posts about various forms of body decoration :) they were a delight to read and look at!

      • profile image

        Shallapope 

        10 years ago

        Great art makes great tattoos. Loved the Kandinsky

      • GreatTattoosNow profile image

        GreatTattoosNow 

        11 years ago from San Jose

        Another great hub. The Salvidor Dali paintings make such great tattoo subjects. His surrealism is perfect for a tattoo. The Stary Night tattoo is wonderfull done also.

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