Body Art: Connecting Past and Future

By Rosko, Keith A. | School Arts, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Body Art: Connecting Past and Future


Rosko, Keith A., School Arts


Everywhere you turn, young people are using the human body as a canvas. What they fail to realize is that they are participating in a form of artistic expression that is nearly as old as human existence.

Addressing a Need

Observing my students' fascinations with tattoo and henna, I decided body art might make an excellent topic for study, guaranteed to keep students' attention. The topic was interdisciplinary and gave me the opportunity to educate students about health and safety issues.

Defining Terms

Body Art: any form of art or expression that uses the human body as a canvas or medium.

Skin Art: any form of decoration to the skin, permanent, or temporary

Body Modification: the altering of the appearance of the human body by adding or taking something away.

Body Sculpting: the altering of the appearance of the human body by changing its size and/or shape.

Making Connections

I showed students a slide presentation highlighting the methods people have used to modify themselves over the years. We looked at such cultural "norms" as scarification from Africa, piercing among the Inuit, as well as in Africa and Indonesia, the use of lip plates and plugs by many cultures, neck stretching from Myanmar, head shape alteration in South America and Egypt, and foot binding in Asia.

We discussed how different cultures have used very similar methods of body decoration, many for very similar reasons, and how different cultures view beauty.

We drew parallels to many things people do today, things that are not normally thought of as body art such as tanning, plastic surgery, bodybuilding, aerobic training, exercise, and even diet, all of which alter or change the color, shape, and form of the human body to make it more "attractive" to the eye.

Narrowing the Focus

Focusing on skin art, we looked at the long history of painting and staining the human skin. …

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