Body Art : Body Modification as Artistic Practice
This thesis is an investigation into the legitimacy and limits of the term "body art" in
its vernacular sense, wherein it refers to methods of decorating or ornamenting the
body, such as tattooing or piercing. Though the term is widely used and widely
understood, it has rarely appeared in any writing which takes an explicitly arthistorical
or art-critical approach, and has never been subjected to any sustained
analysis which uses the methodologies deployed by specialists when engaging with
other forms of art. If tattooing and its coincident technologies are "body art", they
have not as yet been understood as such by art historians.
The arguments made over the course of this work thus amount to a case for the
applicability of art-historical and art-theoretical methodologies to body modification
practice. The thesis first establishes the existence of a rhetorical yet broadly
undefended case for the artistic status of practices which alter the form of the body.
This claim is to be found amongst both the contemporary subcultural body
modification community and amongst plastic surgeons. With particular reference to
theories of art and aesthetics by John Dewey, Richard Shusterman, and Gilles
Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the work investigates whether such claims are tenable. In
light of these investigations, the thesis then presents a number of problems which
immediately arise from such a claim - problems of authorship, ownership,
objectivity and value - and attempts to resolve them through detailed analysis of a
number of case-studies.