Body art is created on the human body. This can mean permanently or temporarily. The most well known type of body art is, of course, tattoo! Other types of body art are body painting, piercings, henna, body airbrushing and temporary tattoos. More taboo kinds are body modification like scarification, subdermal implants, ear punching, saline injection, branding, suspension hooks, just to name a few. The former category are considered taboo because they are less socially accepted and are more unusual. They are kept mainly to a subculture of people who have like interests. There is also the higher risk factor involved in these taboo body modification as often they are less safe and even very dangerous as well as harder to keep from infection.
No matter what kind of body art you gravitate to, it is all about expression. Temporary mediums are a more fleeting type but still is truly a mode of expression. These temporary artworks are often more about the artist than the wearer. A body paint artist will use humans as canvases for their expression with paint or airbrushing. Permanent tattoos, on the other hand, are usually more about the wearer. Because tattoo is permanent, it's an expression that the wearer chooses or has custom designed, to represent themselves, forever! It's a message to the world about who they are and what they are about - good or bad.
What's the difference between body art and fine art?
The biggest difference is the canvas itself. Most fine artists create work with the idea in mind that it will last for generations or even centuries. They're canvases are static and not alive. Tattoo artists understand that they're art is most likely not going to hang on the wall of a museum, or show up in an art history book for later generations to study. However, there is talk about Johnny Depp making his tattoos into hangable artwork for people to see after he dies. That is a bold and creative, as well as slightly morbid, idea! But the average tattoo collector is going to buried along with his tattoos, and no one truly knows how long they will live, so there is no clear cut timeframe for the tattoo art itself. The tattoo canvas is alive, moving, changing, growing, aging. Even after the tattoo is finished, the progression of the art and canvas never ends, even after death, as it eventually decomposes (taking longer with today's modern embalming methods).
Another difference is the status quo in society. A large abstract painting that does not look like much to the average viewer can be worth millions if it's by a famous artist. Because of this fame and the name, it is part of a certain hierarchy in the contemporary fine art world. While there are some big names in tattoo and some famous tattoo artists, especially with the rising popularity of tattoo studio based reality television shows, it's still a very different type of hierarchy. Tattoo art is much more accessible to the masses, and interest keeps gaining because of this. While there are many different types of art, there is a certain idea one gets when the phrase "fine art" is mentioned, and it usually does not involve tattoo. This is not to say that many tattoo artists are just as talented or even more so, than a fine artist.
Stereotypes and taboos associated with body art is also a factor, but this is becoming less and less in modern society. Tattoos are seen and even becoming common among generations, races, backgrounds, financial classes. It's not a scandal to see a woman with a full sleeve tattoo any more. People are genuinely intrigued by tattoo art these days. The industry and the craft continues to evolve and become more creative. The growing level of acceptance for tattoo shows a progressive society. Perhaps one day tattoo art WILL be seen as a fine art!