Makeup Museum (MM) Musings is a series that examines a broad range of museum topics as they relate to the collecting of cosmetics, along with my vision for a "real", physical Makeup Museum. These posts help me think through how I'd run things if the Museum was an actual organization, as well as examine the ways it's currently functioning. I also hope that these posts make everyone see that the idea of a museum devoted to cosmetics isn't so crazy after all - it can be done!
A while back the excellent fashion blog Worn Through had a post questioning whether fashion curators needed to also be designers, or at the very least, know how to sew. It got me thinking whether the same conundrum would face a beauty curator, i.e., does one need to be a professional makeup artist to oversee a beauty museum?
My gut reaction, naturally, is no. The curators at most art museums are not artists themselves. And as Jill points out in her Worn Through post, a background in art history and museum studies and/or cultural studies is more crucial for fashion historians and curators than being able to construct a garment. Seeing as how I have degrees in art history and cultural studies, plus work experience at several museums, I think I'm very qualified to be a beauty curator. Moreover, I'd argue that just because one is a professional makeup artist doesn't necessarily mean they're any more knowledgeable than I am about beauty history.
However, besides the fact that in recent years there's been a growing interest in the idea of the artist as curator, it is undeniable that a professional makeup artist would possess an abundance of knowledge that would prove useful in a museum or academic environment. An artist working at a department store counter, for example, understands the cosmetic needs of the average woman, which would be a valuable topic to contribute towards a book or exhibition on contemporary culture. Meanwhile, celebrity makeup artists and beauty directors for fashion houses offer a unique perspective on the relationship between fashion and makeup. They themselves are setting the trends - in effect, helping to create beauty history. Then there are the artists who do it all, from showing non-makeup pros how to easily achieve a certain look to providing their services for magazine photo shoots and runway shows. Case in point: Lisa Eldridge, a makeup artist whose enormously popular YouTube videos shot her to fame, is releasing a beauty history book this fall entitled Face Paint: the Story of Makeup. As Alex at I Heart Beauty says, "if anyone's qualified to tell the story of makeup it's Lisa Eldridge."
So where does that leave us? While I believe professional makeup artists could also make good beauty historians or curators, I still don't think being a pro is an absolute necessity. If you look the beauty history books that I've reviewed or recommended, many of them are not authored by pro makeup artists. It's a mixed bunch of historians, independent authors and collectors. I was also thinking of other fashion curatorial and history luminaries - do you think Valerie Steele or Tim Gunn could make a garment? Highly doubtful. While my application skills are nowhere near the level of a professional's (I still can't do winged eyeliner to save my life), I at least know which colors and looks are flattering on me, and I continue to experiment with the latest products and techniques. And given my art history background, I can also both appreciate and analyze the work of pros that I see in magazines and runway shows and on blogs. Combined with my passion for art, design, history and fashion in general, I think this is more than enough to run a beauty museum.
Having said all that, I do think it's necessary to have some knowledge of basic application and an interest in fashion. Makeup doesn't exist in a vacuum, and I think it may be difficult to curate a beauty museum without having at least some sense of which product goes where on one's face, how makeup artists use these products to create various looks, and a cursory knowledge of high-end fashion brands. How else would you come up with exhibition themes or know what's worth purchasing for the museum's collection? Additionally, it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with vintage cosmetics objects in order to gain a better understanding of product design and how it's evolved over the years, not to mention the cultural history these objects reflect.
What do you think? Do you think would-be makeup museum curators need to go to beauty school or are the other skills and knowledge I've mentioned sufficient?