I'm a little late promoting this year's 'Skin' themed Pasadena Art & Ideas Festival, but many of the related shows are still up, and you can still get the catalog containing the rest of this essay.
From it’s origins in Otzi the Iceman’s elegant geometric inkage and the Paleolithic inverse spray-paint hand-prints of Chauvet Cave (not to mention the Venus of Willendorf - if only for square footage! Va-va-Voom!) art has been inextricably intermingled with the 5 layers of the upper integument. Underlying this seemingly fundamental use of epidermis as canvas is a radical semiotic event: skin inversely branded onto symbol, what “thought-stylist” R. Gros-Tumore has referred to as “OOTAT culture.” “The decision to deliberately mark the body,” claims Gros-Tumore “is the very Genesis-spot of Art, the point where abstraction of and alienation from the totally physiomatic Self is first materially recorded, to the best of our knowledge. It is, in fact, the opposite of branding; it is the ground zero of individuation.”
Whether or not the very origins of artmaking are to be found in this prehistoric moment of self-objectification, skin -- as a subject, metaphor, and even medium – has undeniably been a major recurring theme throughout art history. Along with three-point linear perspective and anatomical verisimilitude, the convincing depiction of skin was (and remains) one of the holy grails of pictorial illusionism, the dominant criterion of significant and successful art until the Modern era. Nor would this be a concern were it not for the peculiar exception granted the Fine Arts from various codes of prudery over the centuries, resulting both in countless Renaissance Classicist and Neoclassical depictions of nude Greek goddesses and equally abundant early 20th century mail-order pulp booklets of “Nude artist’s model” photography.