Fetish art can simply depict a person dressed in fetish clothing, which includes undergarments, stockings, high heels, corsets and boots. A common fetish theme is a woman dressed as a dominatrix.
Many of the 'classic' 1940s, 1950s and 1960s-era fetish artists such as Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew began their careers at Irving Klaw's Movie Star News company (later Nutrix), creating drawings for episodic illustrated bondage stories.
In 1954 fetish artist John Coutts (aka John Willie) founded Bizarre magazine. Bizarre was published in London and widely distributed in the U.S., and was the inspiration for a number of new fetish magazines such as Bizarre Life. In 1957 English engineer John Sutcliffe founded Atomage magazine, which featured images of the rubber clothing he had made. Sutcliffe's work would inspire Dianna Rigg's leather-catsuit-wearing character in The Avengers, a TV show that "opened the floodgates for fetish-SM images".
In the 1970s and 1980s, fetish artists like Robert Bishop were published extensively in bondage magazines. In recent years, the annual SIGNY awards have been awarded to the bondage artists voted the best of that year. Many artists working in the mainstream comic book industry have included fetishistic imagery in their work, usually as a shock tactic or to denote villainy or corruption. The boost that depictions of beautiful women in tight fetish outfits give to the sales of comics to a mostly teenage male comic-buying audience may also be a factor.
In 1950s America comics with bondage or fetish themes began appearing. Around the same time, fetish artists influenced the cartoons of George Petty, Alberto Vargas and others, which featured in magazines like Playboy and Esquire. Arguably the best known example of fetish imagery in comics is the catsuit-wearing, whip-wielding Catwoman, who has been called, "an icon of fetish art".
Mainstream fine artists such as Allen Jones have included strong fetish elements in their work. An artist whose erotica transcends to mainstream collectors is found in the Shunga and Shibari style works of Hajime Sorayama. Taschen books included artist Hajime Sorayama, whom his peer artists call a cross between Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali, or an imaginative modern day Vargas. Sorayama's robotic diverse illustrative works are in the permanent collections of the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the fetish arts in the private World Erotic Art Museum Miami collection.
- Edward Shorter (2005). Written in the flesh: a history of desire. University of Toronto Press. p. 226. ISBN 0-8020-3843-3.
- Joseph W. Slade (2001). Pornography and sexual representation: a reference guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 60. ISBN 0-313-31519-1.
- Dominique Mainon, James Ursini (2006). Modern Amazons: warrior women on screen. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 119. ISBN 0-87910-327-2.
- Joseph W. Bean (2004). Soaked!: A Watersports Handbook for Men. Leather Archives & Museum. p. 148. ISBN 1-887895-39-6.