Time/Clock Tattoos: Meaning and Symbolism

Time, it is the one thing that we are bound by yet cannot control. Despotic regimes, expansive empires, corrupted politicians, and cultural revolutions all collapse in time.

In time, nothing truly matters. It levels us all and we swim inside it as if we were goldfish in a bowl. But what does time mean to you?

Living by the Clock

Just think for a moment about how life was before we had the clock. What was life like before we divided the day up into seconds, minutes, and hours?

The fact is that we live by the clock every second of the day. We are subject to it. It gives us some sense of control and yet we can do nothing to stop the forward march of time.

Science calls it Time’s Arrow. This is the concept that time only moves in one direction. It moves inexorably and relentlessly forward. It unfolds before us and we are trapped within time’s many folds as our lives move on and on and on.

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But time was not always so divided and we were not always trapped by the minutes. Before the clock, our ancestors had a different concept of time. Without clocks to divide it up, time simply unfolded like a blanket between sunrise and sunset. We had a much more abstract notion of time.

Imagine that kind of life with no clock to tell you when to get up. No alarm to wake you up for work. No clocks to live your life by. Without even knowing it, time is central to our lives.

Every single second of it is governed by the clock and by divided time so that we can have efficient cities, efficient offices, and efficient lives.

What Does Time Mean to You?

The clock tattoo is not very common although clocks may make their way into many tattoo designs as secondary images. If you want a tattoo that represents time, then having a larger tattoo with lots of detail is a great way to catch the eye.

So what does time mean to you? What would a clock tattoo represent? Here are some of the most common meanings of clock and time tattoos:

  • Life and Death
  • Our Mortality
  • The Marker of a Special Event in One’s Life or an Occasion
  • Reality and Existence
  • The Concept of Infinity
  • Love that is Forever

Seize the Day

We live our daily lives without thinking about the endlessness of time. We might look at the clock so that we catch the bus on time but how often do we think of what time really is and what it means to us?

The clock is a symbol of life and death. Countless human lives have come and gone as the arrow of time marches on. And it will continue to march every forward even when our species is long gone and all our works are dust in the wind.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, we are confronted by the idea of carpe diem, or seize the day. It’s the notion that we must all make the most of our time because our time is limited. We have one life to live as far as we know and to truly live life, we must seize each and every opportunity that comes our way.

In this sense, we try to rebel against time by living life to the fullest but with the knowledge that we can never really beat time anyway. So the most that we can ever do is live our best lives and do what we need to do so that we pack in as much as we can.

We never know what is around the corner so we must seize each and every day and each moment as it comes along.

A clock tattoo can symbolize your desire to seize each and every moment. It can symbolize your understanding that a person’s life is limited and so it’s important to take each moment and make the most of it.

In this context, a clock can also symbolize the endless cycle of life and death. Nothing matters in the face of time. When combined with the image of a flower or other living thing, the meaning of life and death becomes even more pronounced.

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A Symbol of Personal Freedom

Even though we are trapped by time and within time, a clock tattoo can also represent freedom. When we understand that we can never escape the boundaries of time, we also experience a certain sense of freedom and personal liberation.

Breaking free of the daily work routine and the human concept of time can mean the sort of personal liberation that results in a better life.

Just imagine that you have full knowledge that your life is limited by time. All things have a beginning and an end, including your own life and those of family and friends.

Understanding this allows you to rise above the daily march of time and observe a greater slice of life. It allows you to understand that every action you make and every decision you take is important.

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The Endless Cycle

In the Buddhist religion, there exists a concept called the Wheel of Dharma. This eight-spoked wheel represents the eightfold teachings of Buddha and also the spiritual changes that happen when the path of Buddha is followed.

The Wheel of Dharma also symbolizes the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It represents human life within the passage of time and spiritual time.

One might have a Wheel of Dharma tattoo inked instead of a clock in order to connect with Buddhist spiritual teaching and represent the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

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Should You Get a Time/Clock Tattoo?

The clock is one of those universal symbols that symbolizes our understanding of what time is. And even though science does not completely understand the workings of time, it hasn’t stopped us from exploring it in great detail and philosophizing about it endlessly.

We fantasize about what it would be like to go back in time and correct our own mistakes. We even imagine how life might be in the future.

A time or clock tattoo is for everyone simply because we are all within the grasp of time. We are all subject to the arrow of time. We can see time as a tyrant slowly destroying our days or we can see it as a liberator that allows us to enjoy each and every moment as much as we can.

So What Type of Time/Clock Tattoo Should You Have?

Here are some ideas:

  • A dark clock combined with a skull may represent an understanding of human mortality and frailty.

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  • An old grandfather clock is a classic design that represents the importance of tradition and can also relate to a personal connection with time’s swinging pendulum.
  • The warped clock is often seen in tattoos that are about surrealism, especially inspired by Salvador Dali, and can be a more unique approach to the clock tattoo.

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Time is universal no matter who we are. It governs all things and we each have our own personal relationship to it. No matter whether we are liberated by our knowledge of time or relate to the darker aspects of our own mortality, a clock tattoo can be a powerful symbol.

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