A Closer Look at Body Art

Art has been evolving and changing for centuries, but one of the art forms that has been around for a while now is body art. What exactly is body art? What do you need to do to become a body artist? What are some of the most popular examples of this art form? Let’s find out.

What Is Body Art?

Body art is any form of art that involves a human body. There are numerous examples of this art form, and it has been around for quite a while. The most common examples of body art are tattoos and piercings. The art can manifest in any possible form, including photographs, engravings, drawings, books, movies, and many others.

This doesn’t mean that practicing body art means leaving permanent marks. While tattoos and piercings are the most common type, there are many others that aren’t permanent. Needless to say, piercings can always be removed, and the hole will heal almost completely. It mostly depends on the part of the body where it used to be.

The earliest examples of body art can be seen in scarification, tattoos, and jewelry. Numerous tribes in Africa use scarification as a rite of passage. It involves burning, etching, branding, or cutting designs and symbols into one’s body. Usually, it was done for ritual, religious, or cultural reasons.

The word tattoo comes from the Samoan word “tatau,” which means to mark or to strike.

Other common examples are ear or lip plates used by tribes and rings worn around the neck with the goal of extending one’s neck. These forms of body modifications are quite common among tribes in Africa, but they might be considered too extreme by anyone outside their culture.

Naturally, there are more traditional examples you can find that don’t involve modifications and permanent changes to the body. In essence, anything that can be done to a human body to express oneself is body art, as long as the artist is not hurting anyone and doing it with permission.

Types of Body Art

Now that we’ve covered a bit of the history behind body art, let’s see what examples you can find today. We will exclude examples that are common for a specific region, such as tribal scarification and body modifications.

Aside from tattoos and piercings, which are the most common ones, you can find body painting, permanent makeup, body play or shaping, aesthetic dentistry, nude photography, face painting, living statues, and many others.

Nude Photography

People have been obsessed with human bodies for ages. The oldest sculptures represent naked bodies, and it is one of the central figures across many religions. In the Bible, for example, it is written that humans were designed in God’s image, which many believed was what made us perfect.

This is why nude photography remained one of the most popular art forms to this day. Needless to say, there is an erotic aspect of nude photography as well, and people enjoy seeing something beautiful. Is there anything more beautiful than a naked body?

RELATED: Why Greek Statues Are Always Naked?

Body Painting

Body painting is similar to old-fashioned oil on canvas, but instead of the canvas, the artist (or painter) will use the human body. Here, the model will pose naked. They will usually remain as still as possible, and the artist will use their body as a canvas. Sometimes, they will focus on optical illusions, but the subject can be anything they imagine.

One of the things we should mention is erotic paintings in which the model will pose naked. While this is not exactly a body painting, it is related. The idea is similar to nude photography, and it was rather important during the Renaissance. Of course, painting nude figures is still common in art schools since it is an excellent way to learn more about anatomy.

One of the forms of body painting you have probably encountered is mehndi. It is a temporary decoration from ancient India, and it is usually drawn using henna.

Tattoo Art


Tattoos have had many purposes over the years. As we have mentioned, some are used as a rite of passage, to mark a rank or status, as a symbol, for protection, and so on. Today, the most common forms of tattoos are those for aesthetic purposes.

Recently, people got more into tattooing makeup like eyeliner or lip makeup. A full bodysuit or body tattoo is a tattoo that covers the majority of the body. These are all considered to be an art form, including tattoos that are not permanent. People often associate non-permanent tattoos with body painting, and they are right.

Tattoos date back to the bronze age, and it just shows that they are here to stay. Whether you like them or not, there is no doubt that tattoos are an art form. See the history of tattoos in America.

Face Painting

Face painting is a subcategory of body painting, except, of course, the artist will paint the face only. Similar to other forms of body art, it has been around for quite a while. Native Americans used face painting, and the same thing applies to Indians (even today).

An artist will use non-toxic paint, and they will paint something on the model’s face. As with other types of body paint, the art form dates back to the Paleolithic period, and it was an important part of many rituals.

Today, face painting is common among actors, artists, clowns, and others. Of course, face painting is used in the military as well, but it is not done so that soldiers are prettier. Cosplayers often paint their faces if they are dressing up as zombies, animals, etc.

Corpse paint is a type of face painting usually used by black metal bands. It uses black and white colors, and the idea behind it is to make musicians appear less human. Fun fact: one of the first musicians to use corpse paint was blues singer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Living Statues

Finally, the last form of body art we’ll mention here are living statues. Living statues are street artists that use full-body paint to make them look like a statue or a mannequin. It is not rare for these artists to fool people passing by since they often believe them to be real statues.

You are more likely to encounter living statues in popular tourist destinations and places filled with people. Usually, the “statue” will receive tips if they know how to interact with the crowd, and their creativity will determine how wealthy they will be at the end of the day.