Thursday, 28 June 2012

My Minimalism: Drivel

[So belated, omg, how dare paralysing laziness life interfere with blogging schedule etc. etc. Anyway:]

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 repudiationBecause 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
With a standard black wing, coupled with the rounded warm lip and bare lower lashline, this look tips too easily into 'retro'. But because it conforms so exactly to those conventions, except for the total reversal of black into white, it ends up saying such a specific 'no' to that expectation that it becomes minimalist in my books. If the white liner wasn't a wing but an undefined squiggle, it probably would still be minimalist, but a weaker form, because it doesn't invoke something to refuse it as decisively.

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:
Blue isn't the opposite of black in the same way as white (though the brightness of this cobalt helps -- a dark navy liner would be even harder to spin into minimalism), so it needs more of a 'bare' lip to work. The dot helps rather than hinders because it also draws us further from any 'retro' wing connotations, but mainly because it makes the look overall refuse the usual aims of makeup to either make one look 'grown up/polished' or 'younger/fresher'.

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:
monotonal minimalism
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. 

Sorry, wax purple much? See, I think the real reason the Shiseido image isn't minimalist to me is because I can't not-see the artistry in it -- the rarest kind, that makes a definite colour look seem natural. We've come full circle -- as I said at the beginning, naturalism (the pretty, flattering, enhancing, invisible-to-muggles school of makeup) is the opposite to my kind of minimalism:

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.


  1. Once again, amazing post! Ι do agree with minimalism as an effect, I like it as an effect but every time I try to be minimal, I remember I can't live without my black eyeliner and I kind of spoil it like that. The look you did is beautiful. Sometimes we do things months in advance of the realization of why whe did it and what attracted us to it happens. We gravitate towards certain things even if we don't know the name/style to describe them yet!

    1. Thank you so much, Odyssey!
      Curling my lashes is so instinctive for me, but looking back I think it lessens the impact of many of these looks. Minimalism does NOT come naturally to me at all, which is why I was surprised I stumbled upon it ;)

  2. You make think with this post : ) I always thought about minimalism as having less things therefore using less things, this is a new approach to me. I have gone though so many stages with makeup in my live, from a total maximalist to the bare minimum, now at nearly forty I am re-starting with the basics (read beauty base zero). Our style evolves even before we know it, it will be minimalist my next stage?

    1. lunaday, I need reminding sometimes that style DOES evolve and this hobby waxes and wanes naturally. I hope I'll continued to be inspired by makeup for many decades to come, it brings me a lot of pleasure to play with and think about this stuff.

  3. I love your post! It's so inspiring, I think you got me out of my MU rut. I've been doing too many naturalist looks and not enough minimalist. Now where to find red mascara!

    1. <3 Now your turn to post FOTDs that inspire me in turn on MUA. That's how it works :D

  4. Love your definition of minimalism, I can be at peace with that idea now :)

    And also: thinking gives you wrinkles. Hahaha, very right.

    1. :*
      Also, thinking about minimalism makes you poor. I've been hauling to compensate, lol

  5. I must be a zombie because I find myself wanting more of your delicious brain sploodge.

  6. This is so interesting, and beautifully done. You are right, I think, deliberate repudiation is the core of minimalism. I love how you've clarified and distilled these ideas in this marvelous post.

    Possibly minimalism in makeup also rejects traditional chiaroscuro (the often abused "contouring") to interpret light on the face with bold color, the way the Impressionists, Symbolists and those who followed them sought to do. Some of the beautiful photo examples you offer seem to indicate this - I'm not sure.

    Your blog is so witty and interesting. I am too shy to comment much, but always read, laugh out loud, and marvel at your fresh, acute perspective, and stunning makeup looks.

    1. Dear Mattie, thanks so much for your kindness.

      I think you're right about chiaroscuro -- on a meta level I think minimalism has affinities with comedy: it relies on levelling for much of its effect, whereas chiaroscuro is a nuancing, complicating thing.

      I think the 'architectural' red highlighting in the painterly picture we discussed before reads so strongly as minimalist -- it tackles and rejects the use of chiaroscuro-to-create-illusion-of-depth-while-making-its-own-workings-invisible.

  7. Lovely post, it's rare to find such a good read about makeup and art at the same time.

    1. It helps that I don't know much about either which is quite liberating :)

  8. I just discovered your blog, and I have to compliment you on how well-thought out your posts are. I've not seen anyone else talk so much about the artistic effect of a look, and it gives the reader a lot to think about - much more than your average "this is what I did to my face" posts. Those can be good, too, but it's rarer to see advice I can really take and make my own.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Emily :)
      I am a geek through and through; hard not to think of makeup as a language like any other.

  9. Amazing post! I know I'll be re-reading it in days and weeks to come.
    Your looks falls into the naturalist category for me. It may feel minimal to you but, it's too pretty in my opinion.

    1. Thanks so much Neena!

      For me, minimalism doesn't really have much to do with pretty either way -- this is something I wasn't very clear about in the post. Naturalistic makeup makes the WEARER look pretty-without-makeup (or what is conventionally recognised as the 'appropriate amount' of makeup). In all my looks the makeup MAY be pretty depending on tastes, but it DEFINITELY is visible.

      To say that minimalistic makeup CAN'T be pretty would seem to me to lead to the unsittable chair / unwearable dress / illegible book school of minimalist excess.

  10. This is such an excellent, thought-provoking post. I guess I've never really pondered the difference between naturalism and minimalism, but your distinction-particularly the "refusal" of minimalism- makes a great deal of sense. And I love the helpful visuals...especially the last one (Rude on your eyes- amazing).

    1. <3 I'm so glad it makes sense to somebody.

      And the Illa cream blushes are wonderful as eyeshadow -- much better than their actual cream e/s or pigments.

  11. I'm so glad you've go on to make your thoughts about minimalism in makeup more explicit - there's nothing like expressing a thought to make it more concrete. Unsurprisingly all these minimalist thoughts have been floating around my head as well, so this comment might be a little long.

    I am definitely feeling what you've said about the deliberate repudiation of expectation/convention being an element of minimalism. Whether this is achieved through a focus on the exclusion or over-throw of an expected element or the inclusion of the unexpected, that *statement* needs to be there to fit the classification.
    (This has lead to me wondering if there have been any makeup trends which could be considered "minimalist". I think the "no mascara" trend could qualify in spirit, but of course it all depends on execution ... besides, on its own, the absence of mascara isn't going to be enough of a statement. Similarly "red lipstick and nothing else" -- is it too loved by convention to qualify as minimal, or is it simply The Most Popular Minimalist Makeup Look? Has its popularity robbed it of a claim on minimalism because it can never be truly unexpected?)

    I think since we're talking about an art which happens On Your Face, minimalist makeup (at least for amateur makeup enthusiasts aiming for a wearable look) will always be a compromise. I am thinking this is because the face is organic, and the base on which we build our look is (mostly) beyond our control. (i.e. there is only so much that we can remove in the attempt to only include necessary elements, and even if we can capture minimalist makeup in a photograph, a living, breathing, lasts-all-day version of this will never be as 'strong'.)

    Other minimalist thoughts I've been having --
    - it's NOT about achieving the most beautiful possible finished effect - that weakens the strength of the statement in favor of beauty. The beauty is more likely to be an off-beat sort, not 'perfected'. The role of the beauty base zero in minimalism is less to beautify and more to remove unnecessary distractions.

    - there is tension in a successful minimalist look - the visible restraint is part of the finished look, but the finished look does NOT look "unfinished". This is part of what makes it so hard to do well.

    - what about an unconventional statement which is a part of one's daily look or even identity? Can this type of statement qualify as minimalism, or is it something else entirely?
    For example, this girl who I know nothing about:
    Or Amanda Palmer's eyebrows (probably considered in the absence of other makeup):

    - I think sometimes hair, and even clothing etc. can become part of minimalism, and perhaps either make it or break it.
    For example, Bjork showing that hair can probably be part of the look:
    But this girl (who I know nothing about) shows that unconventional hair alone probably does not make for minimalism (though I think she's adorable, and the nail-polish is helping):
    And this last one doesn't look minimal to me, but minus the careful/perfect hair and the giant bow, maybe it could:

    - Lots of makeup advice suggests not focusing on more than one feature (eyes OR lips). I am thinking that successful minimalist makeup has something to do with focusing on one *makeup* element, rather than one part of the *face*.

    Wow, that was long. Also, sorry about all the Into the Gloss and randomly-googled-image examples!
    Please don't feel any need to reply, I'm wondering if all this minimalism is going to have an interesting counter-reaction/backlash?

  12. In a sea of sycophants, it is refreshing to see a thoughtful viewpoint about concepts beyond look-what-I-bought-ain't-it-purdy! Thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Thank you, dearest.
      SPOILER: You may want to tune out for the next month or so. I have a lot of Haul Squee! due ;)

  13. You are far too intelligent for me to leave any witty/contributory remarks, but I wanted to comment nonetheless if only to say that I really loved this post! I never thought about any of this before - I admit that lately makeup hasn't inspired much 'out of the box' thinking for me - but it really got my brain going, and kind of made me excited to think about beauty in a different way. Drivel well received!

  14. I should have written about makeup for my thesis. drat :P