Before we start, some totally idiosyncratic&arbitrary ground rules:
Because in my experience of minimalism (or maybe just minimalists :P) in other fields, it very easily leads to over-serious emperors-new-clothes pretension and pomposity, and a humourless 'whose less is the most more' aesthetic wank-off. Makeup is an applied art, and I'm using 'minimalism' to describe a style of makeup as worn, not a style of makeup ownership or curation. It is not about what you own (or even really what you use -- depending on skills, needs, cultural norms and many other things Beauty Base Zero in particular can take zero products or ten), it's about complete makeup looks.
More on the applied art needs to be applied and applicable thing: I'm not sure what the makeup equivalent is of those elegant minimalist chairs whose faultlessly clean lines repel any human arse that attempts to sit in them -- but we'll have none of that either. To expand my ground-rule a bit: minimalism describes the overall effect of the makeup look on the face it's, well, on.
After all, minimalism, unlike minimal or 'the bare minimum' [beauty base zero] or plain simple makeup, is an exercise in deliberate restraint. The face (bone structure, colouring, vibe) sets the most fundamental restraints (but only the most fundamental ones -- we're not talking Colour Me Beautiful dictates or deepset-eyes-must-stick-to-shimmery-pale-shades stuff here); beyond that it's a matter of judgement and choice of the colours, textures and shapes of the products applied.
So far so duh, right?
Minimalism is also, for me, a statement of active repudiation. Because my minimalism is pretty much the opposite of naturalism; at its extreme naturalistic makeup aims to be totally invisible whereas minimalistic makeup foregrounds itself: "O hai, I'm makeup, minimalistic makeup." [Roger Moore voice optional.] That's the statement part. By 'active repudiation' I mean that minimalism is a negative art -- it's not just 'I happened not to use three different shades of eyeshadow today', it has to signal a deliberate refusal of some kind, a pronounced absence of complex eyeshadow, or careful placement, or another existing style of makeup etc.
This doesn't mean a ban on bright or 'unnatural' colour; in fact one of the easiest ways to create a makeup negative is to use a very strong positive for contrast:
|one bold element emphasises the bareness of the rest of the face: negative space|
Those are examples of strong minimalism to me: they use makeup to say 'no' to makeup itself as a carefully balanced creation that enhances. As it's a spectrum not an absolute, my minimalism also encompasses weaker versions, which may incorporate more than just one element of strong makeup at a time. (Probably clearest to think of music here, where minimalism doesn't mean 'one note' either. literally.)
These weaker versions tend to be more careful exercises in restraint, to repudiate specific aspects of makeup: a more qualified 'no'. Examples:
|white replaces black: a neat total negative|
Remember the Pat McGrath/Anna Sui look I copied for my minimalist looks post? It still qualifies as minimalist to me but less so than the white liner look:
To reinforce the my-minimalism-sets-no-limit-on-colour thing, here are some more bright blue looks, which are not minimalist // probably minimalist // definitely minimalist to me:
Genres are a language, they have to be relational: this is X which means not-Y and not-Z. 'Minmalism', like any style, couldn't exist if it was the only style. It's not an attempted refusal of 'style' (or any form of coherent composition) as such -- that is what the leftmost image (Beth Ditto for MAC) shoots for, and why it is not minimalist. It works too hard at dissonance.
The middle image (from a So-En editorial) sits closer to my idea of minimalism but the rightmost makeup by Linda Cantello is the most minimalist to me because of its unity in shape, tone and effect which make its clean lines, blocky shapes and high-contrast colour (as opposed to the MAC promo) work in easy coherence.
A degree of coherence is needed because one of my ground rules was that minimalism describes a whole look -- it says 'no' but it has to be a coherent 'no', e.g. the bolder the use of just one colour, the stronger a 'no' it says to all other colours:
By colour I mean finish and undertone as well as shade: I realised after a while that all the pictures going into the minimalism folder used mattes, creams and glosses -- smooth, unified textures -- absolutely no glitter or shimmer, or duochrome or iridescence (okay last two technically colour effects, I know, but). [This is why one of the no-brainer products in my personal minimalist palette was the Rouge Bunny Rouge Eye Gloss -- such a clever ready made yes-no statement: all texture, no colour -- and why I sacrificed my usual beloved sparklies.]
But the coherence also has to be easy (or at least give that effect) in order to constitute a minimalist look. Too much tying together and balancing of elements starts looking a bit too careful, a bit too perfectly harmonious, a bit too much like work:
Based on an informal makeupalley poll, most people seem to find the last image in this set (right) closer to their idea of minimalism than the first image in the last set (left):
To me they're reversed, because even without the falsies and gold on the lower lashline, the image on the right looks too calculated -- if only just. It would probably strike me as minimalist without the nails; it's a balancing act, this avoiding too much balance thing :P The left is more minimalist to me, not despite of but because there's more visible product on the face, because its visibility is heightened by the slapdash unblendedness and the organic placement, it forms a stronger refusal of the usual makeup conventions (in placement as well as balanced colour).
Ah, placement and shape. One final line to be drawn between non-/minimalist, and then we can draw a line under all this drivel. I promise. Organic/imprecise shapes don't always add up to a minimalist look, just as graphic/bold ones don't:
|organic eyeshadow washes and monotonal looks -- one minimalist, the other elegant|
The Dick Page Shiseido creation (right) is elegant rather than minimalistic. The old Chanel chestnut has it that elegance is refusal, but what the Shiseido look does is less negative and far subtler. Its pinks don't say 'no' to other colours the way the blacks do in the Ksenia Komleva test (left -- okay, it helps that she's practising her 'no' sneer too); its hazy shapes don't refuse precision so much as make it irrelevant: overall this look seems to evoke the organic inevitability of vivid pink petals blooming overnight.
Totally the result of spending way too much time looking at pictures of makeup, but I can't not-see the effort that went into looks like this: they read as more laboured and less minimalistic than any of the other looks I posted above.
Obviously, throughout I've been talking about the effect of effort these (professional) images convey to me, not how much ackshual work/thought/art/blah went into them. Or even product -- they're are built on perfected but passably 'bare' skin to my eyes in 2012, but the 'natural' contour techniques and browned lips of the 90s looked genuinely, admirably 'invisible' to me back then too -- it's a mistake to think that colour makeup dates but beauty base zero endures.
In practice, on my face and with my nowhere-near-professional skills, I do need to limit the brute number of products used to keep a look minimalist. (Specifically, three or fewer colour products, and no more than one of each kind.)
Also in practice, this amount of wankery is totally unnecessary and often actively unhelpful, so I'll leave you with a look from a few months ago, when 'minimalism' wasn't a concept that remotely attracted me, and I trashed this as a failure of an attempt at organic colourblocking. Of course, it turns out to fit my idea of minimalism exactly, without any deliberation at all.
|eyes: Illamasqua Rude cream blush // cheeks: RBR Sea of Clouds, Becca Rosebud cream blush // lips: NARS Pop Life|
In conclusion: thinking gives you wrinkles. We'll have no more of that.
Thanks for bearing with my brain sploodge, please step carefully to avoid getting it on your shoes. In particular, I'd like to give a shout-out to all the wise and wonderful people who've left comments, sent me emails and chatted with me on makeupalley as I was refining(ha!) my babble. In particular, to J., Rose, Jeanine, MattieB, roxina and proximity: this post would've been even messier without you.