Lana Theo


Seven years ago this week, I bid farewell to the teaching world, beginning life anew as a multi-hyphenated and nomadic freelance artist. But, I so miss my art students and the topics we’d passionately discuss for hours, days, weeks and years on end. I really miss all of it, and it became even more apparent after a new creative effort caught my attention and hasn’t let go. It brings home for me yet again the importance of proper arts education, and how it must remain paramount in school curricula for all age levels.

My latest bout of nostalgia is the full-on fault of Matti, Finland’s newest cultural icon, born only weeks ago and without warning on a mid-October Monday. The birth was swift, smooth and without a single contraction (unless a so-described ”brain fart” qualifies). Matti wasn’t borne of duress, nor to satisfy a deadline. Not for a paycheque, nor for a graded school project, as happens more often than not these days where creative expression is concerned. There’s nothing wrong with creativity earning kudos or compensation; good grades may open doors, and money’s helpful when one needs to eat, buy new underwear or pay the rent. However, I’ve long believed that compensation cannot and should not always be the prime catalyst for creative thought and contribution to society. Guiding and inspiring future arts and media prodigies is a task cherished by true educators in both university and professional arts environments, but also a daunting, utterly frustrating task should a, ”What’s in it for me?” sense of self-entitlement guides the wheels of creativity.

The art of simplicity and selfless expression for the sake of expression is, in my humble opinion, responsible for some of the most touching, celebrated works across all media platforms throughout the ages. Regardless and sadly, educators increasingly deal with students unable to see the forest for the trees in the land of creativity. The bare bones of art, its platform and simple expression are often cast aside in favour of pomp, circumstance and artists trying on a ”go big or go home” philosophy for size. My far too oft response to student proposals for video productions, scripts, set design projects and everything in between has far too frequently been, ”Take care not to aim too high with forced, unrealistic expression of ideas, especially when your foundation and core message might end up finishing a distant second.” Two hours of Michael Bay-inspired explosions cannot cover up all flaws in a flashy, sexy story that otherwise simply misses the mark.

A cliché that I normally dislike comes to mind in instances like these: K(eep) I(t) (S)imple (S)tupid. The minimalist style and clever, witty punchlines we’ve experienced though Matti in Finnish Nightmares reward us with a highly empathetic and sympathetically accessible work of art.

Artist and media student, Karoliina Korhonen, has been perplexed from the moment she pushed her two-dimensionial child into the lake on October 19th. With Matti’s first series of adventures now being published wherever one might think to look for them, native Finns overwhelmingly and with a renewed sense of pride (shhh) see themselves in any number of ”Exactly!” kinds of stereotypes. And all in good fun, it must be said. Foreigners, too, are taking ownership of their own newly-discovered Finnish-ness, including me, an ex-pat Canadian. Canucks aren’t supposed to hide behind their front doors as Matti does when neighbours are lingering in the hallway. But, hey, I do, and he has allowed me to smile and feel as if I fit in here in this, my adoptive country. ”Matti has possessed you,” as Karoliina informed me just the other day in our brief exchange. Correctly so, it seems, as I’m definitely not the only one currently being double-teamed by Matti and his creator.

As I watched all this bloom throughout the social media, I thought, This girl is every arts professor’s dream. I had a few of those students, the extraordinary ones that I viewed more as colleagues than ”only” my young charges. Sharing in the arts with like-minded souls was a dream all on its own. It’s a real trip, getting paid to do something I enjoyed so much that I would have done it for free, quite honestly. It was my tremendous honour, being surrounded by the boundless talent and expression oozing out of inspired, as yet unjaded individuals.

Art educators must encourage the sort of magic that simple, unselfish creation and innovations may have over the shaping of our lives. Easier said than done, maybe, but I’m feeling inspired yet again. Maybe it’s time to mount a comeback.

Kiitos, Matti!


Lana Theo is Canadian Freelance Artist (MA in media production) living in Finland.