Body Art
Characteristics, History, Types.
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Body artist Marina Abramovic after
performing "Rhythm 0" (1974)

Body Art (1960s onwards)

Contents

What is Body Art?
Origins and History
Types
Performance-Related Body Art
Body Painting
Tattoo Art
Face-Painting (including Make-up)
Mime and Living Statues
Nail Art
Human Nude-scape Photography



Postmodernist body art.
Joanne Gair's nude portrait of
actress Demi Moore, front cover
of Vanity Fair, Aug 1992.


Modern body art.
An example of body painting by
Japanese artist Choo-san (b.1994),
who developed her skill by drawing
eyes on the back of her hand during
study breaks at school.

What is Body Art? Characteristics

The term "Body art" describes a type of contemporary art, in which the artist's own body becomes the "canvas" or "artwork". Although closely related to conceptual art and performance art, Body art embraces a wide range of disciplines, including: Body-Painting; Tattoo art; Face-Painting; Nail art; Piercings; Make-up; Mime and Living Statues; and Photography. Sometimes it is made in private and then displayed in photos or video recordings; sometimes it is created 'live' in front of an audience. A number of performance-based contemporary artists (like Chris Burden, Gina Pane and Benjamin Vautier) have achieved fame by causing themselves pain or by shocking the audience with extreme forms of behaviour, including drug-taking, self-mutilation, eroticism and masochism. Showcased at some of the best contemporary art festivals - including specialist events like Body Painting festivals - as well as several of the best galleries of contemporary art, these body-related disciplines exemplify the postmodernist tendency to expand the definition of art far beyond the traditionalist sphere of drawing, painting and sculpture. Some art critics, however, take a narrower view, preferring to classify performance-related body art as entertainment, rather than an independent form of visual art.

Origins and History

Body art - at least in the form of body painting - dates back to the era of prehistoric art and the use of colour pigments, like red ochre, for cultural purposes. Face painting and tattooing, also derive from ancient art as practised around the world, from North America to New Zealand, while mime dates back to dramatic gestural art forms of Ancient Greece. The most modern forms include body statues (a form of street art), nail art, and performance body art. The latter first emerged during the mid-60s and, after something of a decline, reappeared in the 1990s.

Types

The main forms of body art include the following:

Performance-Related Body Art

This form (known as "art corporel" in France) is exemplified by the Serbian artist Marina Abramovic (b.1946), whose most famous performance - "Rhythm 0", first performed in 1974 - involved her passively enduring a range of acts performed upon her by the audience, whose members cut her, pricked her with thorns, tickled her with feathers, took off her clothes and even pressed a loaded gun to her head. Other famous postmodernist artists involved in body performance art include Michel Journiac (1935-1995); Benjamin Vautier (b.1935); Ketty La Rocca (1938-76); Gina Pane (1939-90); Vito Acconci (b.1940); Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen) (b.1943); Rebecca Horn (b.1944) best-known for her performance "Einhorn"; Chris Burden (1946-2015); and Stelarc (Stelios Arcadiou) (b.1946). Body-related performances have also been associated with feminist art: see for example "Interior Scroll" (1975) by Carolee Schneemann (b.1939).

Body Painting

First practised during the Stone Age, body painting has become a distinctive feature of late 20th century postmodernist art, as illustrated by the trompe-l'oeil painting of New Zealander Joanne Gair (b.1958), notably her creation of "Demi Moore's Birthday Suit" - photographed by Annie Leibovitz - which appeared on the front cover of Vanity Fair magazine in August 1992. Body Art Festivals - like the World Bodypainting Festival (Seeboden, Austria) and the Sydney Body Art Ride - are also growing in popularity.

Tattoo Art

A Tattoo is a permanent mark or design on the body made by introducing indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin. Tattooing has been a popular form of bodily decoration since the era of Neolithic art: the oldest known example of tattooed skin belongs to a mummified man of the Chilean Chinchorro culture (c.6000 BCE), while the oldest European tattoo is on the body of "Otzi the Iceman" (c.3100 BCE, South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, Bolzano). Modern tattoo art dates from the mid-18th century when explorers came into contact with tattooed Indians and Pacific islanders - the word tatto actually derives from the Polynesian word "tatau".

Face-Painting (including Make-up)

Face painting also dates from the era of Paleolithic art and culture, and was first employed as a means of identifying key individuals such as shamans and tribal chiefs. Later it became a common feature of tribal art, where it had several uses including that of "war paint" - see, for instance, American Indian art. Paints used included: ochre, henna, charcoal, woad, or annatto. Modern face painting - commonly referred to as "cosmetic makeup" - is seen in the theatrical, television, film and fashion industries. Varieties include "fashion makeup" (to create a "look"), "stage makeup" (to offset the effects of stage lighting) and "prosthetic makeup" (to create special facial effects). There is even an Oscar Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Mime and Living Statues

Mime (from the Greek word "mimos" meaning "actor") is the art of conveying action, emotion and/or character, solely by using bodily gestures or movements. Dating back to Classical Antiquity, it was also inspired by cultural forms like the Japanese Noh theatre (14th century) and the Italian Commedia dell'arte (16th century). Modern mime, which emerged in Paris during the late 19th century, has been dominated by mime artists such as Jacques Copeau (1879-1949), Etienne Decroux (1898-1991), Jacques Tati (Jacques Tatischeff) (1907-82), and Marcel Marceau (1923-2007).

In contrast, the term "Living statue" is commonly used to describe a street artist who stands completely still - just like a statue or mannequin - typically for hours at a time. The World Championship of Living Statues is held every year at Arnhem in the Netherlands. See also: Gilbert and George, the living sculptures.

Nail Art

The latest type of body art to hit the beauty salons and catwalks, nail art includes any form of decorative art applied to fingernails and toenails. It includes nail polish, UV gel, hybrid coatings like Shellac, processes like water marbling and stencilling, as well as artificial extensions. Although a reflection of developments in the beauty and pharmaceutical industries, nail art dates as far back as Ancient Babylonia, around 3200 BCE. For other hypermodern art forms, see: Contemporary Art Movements (from 1970).

Human Nude-scape Photography

Related to installation art, this type of body art is exemplified by the work of American photographer Spencer Tunick (b.1967), who is famous for his surrealistic photography of large numbers of female nudes, positioned in unlikely public locations.

Another exponent of "body-photography" is the German-born camera artist Helmut Newton (1920-2004), whose dramatic black-and-white photos attained near-permanent status on the covers of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazine during the 1980s and 1990s.

Art Appreciation Resources

- Art Evaluation
- How to Appreciate Paintings
- How to Appreciate Sculpture
- How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture

 

• For more about postmodernist art, see: Homepage.


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