Renatta Kusko is a freelance makeup artist, graphic designer, and student in Las Vegas, Nevada, and been a makeup artist in the Las Vegas Independent film circuit since 2015. Kusko wrote "Instagram Makeup: A Series of Complaints" in the fall of 2016 for writer and educator Heather Lang's Nevada State College composition course, subtitled "Writing for a Cause." This essay came to Paint This Desert with Lang's recommendation as a piece that's sassy in all the right ways, "demonstrating superb ethos and pathos." From a PtD point of view, it points to Instagram being a destination for aesthetics, and how aesthetic are adjusting to social media, which is also a trend with public art. Kusko responds to makeup becoming spectacle.
By Renatta Kusko
Imagine this: you walk into your usually clean bathroom expecting the general sameness and mundaneness, but instead you find your three-year-old daughter covered in lipstick, face powder, and nail polish.
It’s a mess.
I’m not ashamed to say that my mom walked into her bathroom on many occasions to find me covered in makeup, and not just as a three-year old. As a kid, I was continually pleased by smearing cosmetics on my face. Years later, I’m a makeup artist who enjoys smearing cosmetics on other people’s faces. And yet, despite my childhood tendencies, I now firmly practice the art of minimalism, the most important skill in makeup artistry.
Whilst venturing the world, you’ve probably witnessed an emerging technique that some like to call Instagram makeup. Generally, this consists of a heavy layer of foundation, winged eyeliner that is so sharp it could cut through steel, liquid lipstick in a highly dramatic color—with overdrawn lips, of course—and the infamous Instagram brow. (I can’t explain that one. I’m afraid you’ll have to witness it yourself.)
What defines “Instagram makeup” is mostly the sheer amount of it. There’s tons of product involved, and it generally entails transforming the face into a new one with a technique called contouring and highlighting. By shadowing the hollow points of the face and highlighting the others, a person’s facial features become exaggerated. Contouring has been a technique in makeup since Shakespearean times. However, this technique has been exploited by tens of thousands of makeup artists on Instagram who transform their faces for shock value and social gratification. Now, I realize that I’m about to voice an unpopular opinion. But as a great philosopher once said: sorry, not sorry. Instagram makeup is terrible.
As a firm follower of feminism, I thoroughly believe that women and men can wear whatever the hell they want. Ten pounds of makeup? You go honey, beat that face! I don’t want my point misconstrued here—the actual existence of Instagram makeup isn’t terrible in the slightest. I’ll admit, I’ve indulged in its wonder on my path to makeup righteousness. There’s a definite beauty and mastery to this style of makeup; it takes time, a lot of money, and plenty of research to perfect. The problem here is simple: Instagram makeup, or the general style of wearing lots of makeup, undermines the very purpose of makeup artistry.
It is my own personal hell to be shown a picture of Instagram makeup as a reference for what a client wants. I’ve come off as that asshole—you know, the one who says, “you don’t need that much makeup.” But hear me out ladies. You really don’t. It physically pains me to purposely “transform” a person’s face.
That isn’t my job, and it isn't my desire as an artist. I strongly respect natural beauty in the least judgmental way possible. I adore the freckles and uneven brows, the cleft chins and wrinkled foreheads, and the double chins of the world, too. I pride myself on bringing out someone’s natural beauty with the flick of a brush.
In my two years as a makeup artist, I have had to get up close and personal with hundreds of faces. I pride myself on recognizing the most pronounced and unique features of someone’s face and enhancing them to the best of my ability. The three-year-old me, covered in perfumed white face powder, will always respect and adore the act of makeup as play. But the serious artist in my soul will never truly accept—nor practice—a convention that tells women and men that their natural face and body should be changed into something else.
Above: Stephen Hendee created sculpture for the celebration of 30 years of public art programming in the City of Las Vegas.