The Way of an Artist - why so serious?

Article Index Kirsi Salonen October 06,2015 Comments

There's been a steady rise of interest in todays world in desire to earn a living through art. It's very clear to people who are currently professional artists, to those who are studying art or are pursuing various creative goals, be it A.I, Computer Engineers, Film or Game industry or fields of Natural Sciences - the aspect of art and creative urge is steadily globally growing. The idea of The Artist seems to have a sense of freedom that no other profession has, but what does it mean really, what does it take to be an artist these days?

I'm a digitally painting Visual Artist, born and living in Finland, and I can really say that I make my living by my art. I have a classical art training as a Bachelor of Fine Arts and I'm also a professional Make-Up Artist and an aspiring fantasy writer for a book series entitled 'Ordera' which I've developed for 8 years now. I have had the ability to draw ever since I was a very small child. Drawing and learning to actively use my imagination in accordance with my hand has been the same like learning to play a new song with a piano everytime you sit down and play it, and there's only been a few times when I've felt this ability as an obstacle in my life. I've now been in the industry for over 10 years as a freelancing designer and illustrator and I'm 33 years old.

My career has had many great moments, various awards from respected publications within the CG-industry, a publishing contract with a Hollywood studio, illustrating large-scale posters for the summer olympics to London in 2012, and many other wonderful collaborations and also personal victories and publications which some have become quite known over the years among public. My career also includes one heavy mental breakdown after a long working period and personal turmoil, which made me re-evaluate the pace and importance of health what comes to the emotional, psychological and physical balance that desperately needed attention. Before I start explaining about art and success more thoroughly, I think it's only natural to let you know when I talk about both 'dark' art and fantasy, that I really have sank my mind in both of those worlds and dragged myself out of them too. It has taken a lot of time, patience and passion and maybe also a certain kind of mercy.

I don't own a house or have a huge debt, I don't have a car anymore and at times I have absolutely no clue when my next commission comes. I can't say I've 'used to' the uncertainty or it's become a habit of life, but it's something that I've learned to live with, and it's one aspect of this strange profession, that at the same time people envy and avoid at all cost. Some have actually asked 'how on earth do you live?' and has zero confidence that you can survive as an artist. Nobody really enjoys uncertainty for a long time. So for 10 years of that has made me a kind of a renegade, living on the edge, despite almost all my activities involve the question: 'Can I afford this?' rather than 'Can I do this?'. Carefulness maybe is the right word to use in my case and this carefulness wouldn't have developed without some personal calamities and falls and realizations of one's own limits. It's not the most common word to be used for describing an artist, but hey, there's no two snowflakes quite alike, right?

Very often cultivating my imagination has helped me to think and solve problems even in everyday life and also apply this creative problem-solving into the creative process itself, such as testing new styles, techniques, software knowledge and basic training of visualizing my ideas into sensible forms and stories. Problem-solving part is one large section of being a 'serious' artist compared to someone who makes art solely for entertainment purposes. Seriously thinking artists can often conjure up ideas that are fresh and often produce further possibilities for development than those that simply theorize a visual construct and narrow it's function to a certain category and let it rest. Inspiring, ageless artistic endeavours, being just paper sketches or full renderings can also have a very long lasting effects and prospects, depending who sees them and in what context they are being used.



The creative profession is not something you just apply into and get on with. It's a constant cultivation process where you feed your own mind with things and associations you find interesting or necessary to express. Students who have only stepped into the technical aspects of becoming skilled in drawing, studying anatomy and perspective and colour wheels, are usually otherwise being left with their own devices to find their interests and own ideas. It's only natural this happens, but I believe it would serve them well to also invest into the visual language and understanding how the mind works before letting opening all 'floodgates' at the same time and see what happens. Some young artists can sense this overflowing and are there to help, while others don't pay attention to possible dangers. Mental training and developing 'visual literacy' is left to hatch in the dark, which may have positive and negative results, depending on the personality of the one who dwells in their 'own private world' for too long. It's seen as a secret of the individual artist, and it's righfully so, since nobody can see into the mind of another human and make sense into it like the person who holds that mind him or herself. That's why I as someone who aknowledges the deep fields of human fantasy and is heavily invested herself into it, and over the years have become more and more aware and conversing with the psychology behind art and why certain visual stimulations attract people so strongly, and why some stimulations even repel others. That interest has grown alongside with the themes within my expression and the questions that drive me mostly on emotional level;

  • What is beautiful and why?
  • What is the best way to show this emotion, and does this emotion have/need a story?
  • Why do I need to visualize this certain thing, and can anyone else understand the point I'm trying to make, does my art speak to others well enough that it makes a difference?
  • Is my idea relevant, can it withstand time?

Also the darker side of art is strong in my thinking, it reflects the more cynical and brutal side of 'reality', and is also rooted in the realms of emotion. Dark art in my line of works is maybe surprisingly driven by empathy rather than negative emotions, like anger, frustration and rage. I can't even create anything while I'm angry, it blocks the creative flow and makes my hands tremble. Maybe others find energy in certain aggression while working on a painting or other artworks but in my case it's like trying to write a zen-poem while arguing with a lover. In other words, it can't be done, unless you're feeling ok both inside and out and have a certain serenity with your surroundings. Others it may require spending time in solitude and there's truth in that 'myth' that some artists are much like monks sometimes.


However when it comes to completing a work of hire, then nobody cares about how you spend your leisure days and getting in-sync with your self. Commissions require a high tolerance for pressure and stress. That's why a certain line of discipline is important to recognize in oneself while working. Most professionals understand and know their limits when deadlines are approaching, but some of us may still struggle to meet them in time or are demanding too much of themselves what comes to accomplishing goals as scheduled. I think based on my experience that an artist can only achieve certain kind of accuracy in their working methods and meet their own standards after they've had enough opportinities to fail and succeed, and developing personal evolution in their field of art. That means when you've had the ability to excersize your own strenghts and practise your own expression without instructions, gainign knowledge and understanding about visual storytelling and ruthlessly learn to master skills to make your work resonate in ways it is remembered and recognized as your very own. This evolution in artistic terms happens through conversing with teachers, your own preferences who you respect as people, and critiques from those who see your work.

Some say that a person's inner flame of creativity, especially within young developing mind, should not be critisized but always encouraged, since it leads the person to their road of self-discovery and self-actualization. But I disagree with that statement in a portional way, that critique is equally important when it comes from outside as from inside, creativity needs its critics. People can get blinded by their own vision and that's when most important voice may be the one who disagrees with that vision, and the artist should always be able to hear that voice. As a conceptual ever-occurring possibility of manifestation of thoughts and dreams, art truly remains 'wild' and free, as for the audience and for the artist, to be both the receiver of the feedback and also the one who sends their own feedback out to the world for all to see. I don't know which side will have more to say as a message and how that could be analyzed, besides that everytime an artwork succeeds to cause an emotional response or awake imagination in a viewer, then the artwork has more 'lifespan'.

The artist does not know the impact of their works, he or she can only guess if their approach to their art subjects are close to their audience's preferences and desires. And I could also say that the artist does not know their audience either, when he/she is an honest artist, and will not base their popularity on purely 'friendly' or accustomed fanbase. Of course this also depends on the field of art. Sometimes everything an artist does is in accordance to their audience's demands, sometime's it's a financial necessity and sometimes it's purely to please people, which is a way of connecting with each other as well. The relationship between the artist and the viewer is very diverse and an unprepared chain of emotions and reactions, which may lead to fruitful dialogues between them.

So what is the point when you can call yourself a succesful artist? Is it when your viewers approve all that you do, your clients accept your commission fees, or when you are sure of your own set of strenghts and weaknesses and stick by your principles, or is it a certain amount of awards maybe? I have no direct answer for that when someone is a success. My road has always been towards the mind and make its images sensible and thoughtprovoking, in terms of vivid fantasy. I think that when a person treats their own fantasies reasonably and with respect to their own psychological senses, then that person is certainly on the Road to be a Serious Artist.

Article written by Artist, Illustrator Kirsi Salonen