Makeup is an underrated, cultural art form. Even if it is seen as art, it isn’t given the credit it deserves as an art that affects culture.
The proof is in history; makeup has affected both culture and pop culture, but if that isn’t proof enough, the competitive show, Face Off, takes it a step further as it pushes contestants to create characters that surpass the idea of makeup only being used for beauty.
To prove makeup affects pop culture, we look to history; in 10000 to 4000 BC, Egyptian men and women were known to wear different brightly colored lipsticks to show their social status. Starting in 3000 to 500 BC, makeup became an even more predominant way for the social elite to show off. During the Middle Ages, being pale was the desired look; it was a sign of wealth. In 1960, the model Twiggy made the “mod” look popular, placing emphasis on the eyes. Makeup has always been around and has always made an impact on society. Today, we see this more visibly through TV shows and movies, but Face Off is the show that paints the way.
It is the show to transform how people view the way makeup can be used today. Special effects makeup artists compete in this elimination series for a grand prize and to be named the next major special effects artist of Hollywood. In the competition, the artists must complete a challenge in which they are given a concept/theme (i.e. intergalactic congress members in season 11 episode 11) and create a unique character using paint, clay, makeup, and whatever else they need in order to make their character come to life. They are judged based on their technique and ability to adhere to the storyline.
It’s clear that makeup has been and will always be part of culture, it’s just that it took a show to pave the way of linking the two together. In the past, makeup was never really the focus of anything unless it was commercials that were trying to sell its viewers a product. The show isn’t trying to sell anything, but rather introduce this new art form which needs to be appreciated for the work that goes into it and recognized as an art that affects culture. Makeup is not just an extra something for people to put on to accent parts of their faces, but it’s instrumental in its use of making a person transform and look like an entirely different creature. Art can be expressed in many different ways, and a lot of times, those ways reflect the artist or the story that is being told. By being able to transform a person entirely, the makeup artist is telling a story which is best translated through a walking masterpiece; a painting come to life. Although different materials may be used in comparison to the traditional thinking of what is used for art, it is still art. For example, dance doesn’t use any paint or drawings at all; it’s a visual art. Makeup, in a similar way, can and should be considered a visual, communicative, and physical art.
For a while now, competition-based shows have become increasingly popular. For example, The Biggest Loser, Cupcake Wars, and many others. Face Off does have similar aspects of these kinds of shows, such as an inclusion of stress, teamwork, time limits, and creativity. But what makes it stand out from the rest is that it’s the first of its kind. There are already many renditions of cooking contests, dance competitions, and singing competitions. Face Off puts makeup on the grid and shows the versatility of makeup. The show displays a before and after photo of the models once they’ve undergone their transformation. The challenges themselves are entertaining, but they’re also informative. For example, in season 11 episode 7, the contestants were required to create puppets out of certain material. One team had the “tailor” theme and created a marionette ballerina. One contestant decided on the spot to use shaved moleskin, brushing it off with a chip brush before applying it to the face to give the marionette a more textured and to resemble fabric. The judges themselves were impressed at this resourceful technique.
The show is pure entertainment, but by having the contestants explain each step they take, the directors of the show successfully intrigue members of their audience as to why the final look looks as it does—why and how a model can go from looking normal, to looking like a witch stricken with disease (season 11 episode 10).
There is an increase in appreciation for the art which, again, can be seen in various people’s hobbies such as cosplaying and YouTubers. Specifically with YouTube, there are more than just everyday makeup tutorials, but now there’s work being done that could actually be used on the set of a film.
Face Off shows that not only is there a desire for people to become special effects artists, but there are people out there who are already in the profession and have been for a long time. For example, Neill worked on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire, which was a film that came out back in 1993. But I doubt people were focused on the value of the makeup (even though the whole movie was basically about a man physically transforming into someone else—being a totally different character).
The definition of art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Let’s take The Walking Dead for example. Not only are the zombies themselves terrifying, but also the injuries the main characters sustain are even more convincing thanks to the work of the makeup artists. The audience is exposed to bulging eyes, skulls caved in, and other morbid ways of deforming a human body. The thought is already morbid enough, but thanks to the creativity of the artists and their willingness to push boundaries, we get to see the frightening gore and explore/play with the idea of how the work was done and how the desired look was achieved. Academy Award-winner Matthew Mungle, stated in a CBS interview “being a special effects makeup artist is like being a painter, except on an often star-studded and moveable canvas.”
It should already be clear through all the movies, awards, shows, and YouTube channels that makeup really is more than just Kylie Lip Kits and Becca highlights. However, if it’s not it should be now with Face Off being the show that reveals the artistry that goes into making a person look like a monster or god. Each piece takes hours. Sometimes the behind the scenes work isn’t fully appreciated because whatever is being shown in a movie, for example, is sometimes only shown for a few seconds or minutes. Because it’s so convincing, people tend to not even take a second look at the fake cadaver on a table. Imagine how long it would take for someone to construct the entire human body artificially, yet make it look completely authentic. Face Off gives that inside look so one can appreciate the art for its elegance and seamlessness. Although the structure of each episode does get repetitive, there are always different challenges the contestants need to complete, and are expected to do so perfectly. When the judges critique each piece, they are looking for finesse, creativity, and want to be convinced of the story behind the character. When a contestant does meet all the requirements, the end result is jaw-dropping. For example, in season 11 episode 4, the contestants Emily and Tyler were teamed together and were told that their snow queen was so good that “she could step right onto a movie set; she is exquisite.”
With each challenge, the contestants are required to have a story background for each of their creations. By having a story, it makes the character more convincing. In season 11 episode 4, the challenge was to create a snow queen inspired by a unique snow flake, all within two days when usually it should take about a week. As they get to work, each contestant explains exactly what they’re doing—how they make certain materials, what they’re sculpting and the technique they’re using, and how they’re making the costumes too. While all that is going on, a professional comes in to guide them if there are any questions or needed suggestions. With him coming in, the audience once again sees how with each material used, it serves a specific purpose that will either create or ruin the desired look. Although the stakes and stress are high, the audience gets to see the contestants still having fun while they’re working. I found myself wanting to get to know the contestants personally, therefore appreciating more the hard work that they were putting into each of their pieces. And most importantly, they all have respect for each other’s work because they all have respect for the art itself (which can be seen in their compliments towards one another’s creativity).
Also, it isn’t just myself, the viewer, who views the work as an art form. The panel of judges are professionals who study each figure down to the tiniest of details, understanding the intricacy that comes with each challenge: Vei Neill (won three Academy Awards and was nominated for eight Oscars), Glenn Hetrick (worked on the set of The Hunger Games, The Prestige, and Legion), and Neville Page (was a concept designer for movies such as Avatar, Star Trek, and Watchmen). Along with them, there is usually a guest judge who inspires the artists and critiques their work. These judges are all people who are practicing artists and are respected nationally in their fields, which gives the show more legitimacy.
To say that makeup does not have an effect on culture would be incorrect, but if there must be a show to prove otherwise, Face Off does so perfectly for the previously listed reasons. The chain reaction it causes for people to explore the occupation gives the art the credit it deserves and the artists the recognition they deserve as well. A lot of times, the work is usually at its best when you don’t notice it’s there at all. For example, aging Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, and the rest of the cast (for the most part) in the movie The Butler. While in Face Off the audience sees the extreme part of a transformation, a lot of times one has to scrutinize the subtle parts of makeup to see how the whole piece has come together. Similar to The Butler, there are subtle uses of brush strokes and subtle shades of makeup used in order to age the characters in the movie.
Because of how in depth and fun the show is as a whole, it’s not only the stories that one may get attached to, but the art form in its entirety as well. When we are told that all the apes in the Planet of the Apes series have been created by special effects artists, I believe that act in itself should be powerful enough for people to understand the significant role that makeup plays in pop cultures. Once again, makeup isn’t just to make someone look like the “better” version of themselves, but it’s a respectable art form that changes one’s experience when watching a movie, or when one sees progressive people use makeup in other unexpected ways, like using liquid lipsticks as eyeliner. It can be someone as simple as that, or as crazy and intricate as Hawaiian Tiki gods (season 11 episode 12).
Because of its versatile uses and the fact that it allows people to push the boundaries of creativity, makeup should no longer be ignored as the great contribution to the arts community that it is.