If I were to ask you when you think the first makeup artist ever painted a face, how would you answer? Would you say in the 1800s in Paris, when the first fashion shows were held? Or maybe even further back, to the 1500’s in England, during Shakespeare’s reign over the Globe theatre? In actuality, there is data suggesting that as far back as 5000 years ago, rich Egyptian women’s features were being adorned by servants with kohl and oils. Over centuries to follow, makeup was a luxury the wealthy and royal used to accentuate their features. From Romans using chalk to whiten their faces, to Victorian women using toxic deadly nightshade to enlarge their eyes, the true original makeup artists were the servants to the wealthy, the wealthy themselves, or the theatre actors who did all of their own makeup.
The twentieth century is when makeup artistry began to make leaps and bounds in development and in its reputation as a profession. This can be attributed to a few different areas that were also advanced during the century like cinema, fashion, and most importantly, feminism. By the 1920’s, cinema became all the rage, and makeup artists were needed to paint the faces of the actresses. Now with a wealthier middle class in America, and more financially independent women, makeup wasn’t just for the extreme rich, and many young women copied the makeup they saw actresses wearing; lips in the shape of a cupid’s bow and heavily kohled eyes was the look of choice. The 1920’s was also when fashion shows became mainstream, and makeup artists were being hired to create looks for the models. Over the course of the twentieth century, as film, fashion, and the women’s role in professional settings developed and gained popularity and respect, so did the traditionally feminine role of the makeup artist. People began to see how paramount the makeup artist was to developing themes and aesthetics in visual arts, this being shown on a grand scale when in 1981 the first Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling was given out. By the end of the twentieth century, makeup artistry was an established career path that many creatives chose to pursue through schooling offered by the newly established makeup schools across North America.
Now seventeen years into the twenty-first century, it is either the best or worst time to be a makeup artist. With the rise of social media, namely Instagram and Youtube, the makeup and beauty community has exploded. Makeup artists such as Jaclyn Hill and Nikkie Tutorials who began channels 5-6 years ago with only hundreds of followers now reach and inspire millions of fans. For the first time ever, makeup artists aren’t anonymous figures in the background of media, but are celebrities themselves. These elite few famous makeup artists live very lavish lifestyles; from going on tropical vacations on big makeup brands' dollar, to hanging out with celebrities, to being gifted tons of makeup every month. No other time have makeup artists been so appreciated.
The flip side of this time is that makeup artistry is rapidly becoming democratized. These few major makeup artists are teaching millions of people, young and old, all over the world, the things that people once only got to learn by paying to go to a makeup school. There are 12 and 13 year old kids who can slay a face better than any cosmetology teacher, all by avidly watching their favourite Youtubers. Much like the fashion industry, some argue that social media has catalyzed a wealth of aspiring makeup artists for whom there will not ultimately be enough jobs.
This isn’t bad for the makeup artistry industry, though. Makeup artists will still be as necessary as a director is to film or as an author is to writing books. But I think that there will be a lot more people going into the makeup artistry field as a career choice for the future, whether it be for cinema and fashion, or to pursue the lavish lifestyles of celebrity makeup artists.