By Noelle Sharp
MAKING ART WORK: Advice for artists, from artists is a series that taps into the knowledge and experience of seasoned creatives from our community and beyond for the benefit of our students.
We had the pleasure of speaking with the famous and incredibly diverse artist, Tom Bianchi. Photographer, painter, sculpture and writer, Bianchi was launched into art world success when his 1991 book of photographs, "OUT OF THE STUDIO", opened the door for a public vision of gay men and their intimate lives.
What advice do you have for artists?
Above all - be curious. For centuries humans have communicated with symbols and rituals designed to help one another survive. To be an artist is to find one’s place in this grand dialog. Employ painting - music - film - dance - the web - the expression of concepts in new technologies. We are an evolving species with a vast immediate need to to heal and learn to manifest love. Choose the role of a shaman / explore various media as healing tools.
What do you wish you had known when you were a young artist?
I knew everything I needed to know when I was a young artist. I knew I loved making art. I knew I couldn’t not make art. Period.
I started drawing and painting. The culture I grew up in told me I couldn’t be an artist, so I became a lawyer - for 10 years. Then I discovered “THEY" were wrong. I could be an artist. Follow your inner need to make the images you dream and share them with the world - channel those pictures. Make your thoughts and dreams visible. Get your ego out of the way. It took me some years to get over the fear of the judgment of others when I began to draw in a realist style. So learning to draw was not about learning to draw. It was about learning to let go of external judgements. Same with my photographs.
We each need to explore our talents (interests) to find our voice and express what we - uniquely each of us - is born to express. For example, as I child I loved making pictures. As I came into puberty, I recognized my fascination with the male body and eventually same sex love. I also became concerned about the damage homophobia was doing to the world. So put it all together and I figured out who I was. Your passion leads to your mission.
To young artists I recommend Duane Michals’ advice - “Never try to be and artist. Just do your work and if it is true - it will become art.”
How do you find balance between creating your own art and using your creative talents for other projects?
Do everything you do with integrity. Live in a high state of consciousness - everything you do can be a creative act. Make a bowl of cereal and fruit and milk. Make it beautiful and balanced - be grateful for it. Make it an act of love you do for yourself - then you can extend that consciousness to everything in your life and others.
Is it possible to maintain one’s integrity and freedom of thought and still participate int he art world?
Yes - of course it is. The art world is not a mountain to climb or monster to conquer. It is a complex and sometimes dysfunctional tool. Learn to use it for your own ends. An example: back in the early 1980s an art class made a gallery visit to my first show. One of the students asked how I decided what size to make my paintings. I answered: "I’m aware of the size of dining room walls on Park Avenue. I make my work to fit there.” A student yelled “Sell Out.” I laughed, “The way the art world works is that the first tier of support for my work has come from private collectors. I have always respected that support. In any event, I was making what I wanted on my walls too. As Picasso observed, the artist is a collector who makes his own collection. One doesn’t get more authentic then that.
Work from your innermost intention - and be aware of what that truly is. Today more than ever, we need voices of integrity to confront the selfish ego driven lazy thinking that has poisoned our culture. Don’t treat art as a commodity - make it an invitation to collectors to help you to realize your vision. Many collectors (institutions and individuals) may not fully understand the spiritual purpose in your connection with them. Teach them - seduce them into appreciating what you see and what it can mean in their life.
Be political. Confront authority with your own alternative vision of the world.
What is the most useful advice you were given?
I’ve already quoted Duane Michals here - never try to be an artist . . . that’s worth remembering. When I was making a book dummy of my Fire Island Polaroids, Sam Wagstaff (Robert Mapplethorpe's lover / mentor) asked me if I was making my book for “our mothers.” If I was, he warned, “it won’t be very interesting.” He added, “Don’t make your pictures about your ability to make pictures. He advised me to be fearless and not shrink from the frank sexual content of many of those pictures. "Make your pictures about the people in them. That’s what will be interesting for hundreds of years.” Many times in my life - from living people as well as from spirit through channelers - I have been given the advice to be extravagant in my work, embrace the erotic and investigate the issues we have with our sexual energy. I love that mission.
What would you do differently if you could go back in time?
On a practical level, I would have followed conventional wisdom and retained more of my painting and sculpture. 25% was the common advice. As it was, I sold (or gave) just about all the paintings and sculpture I made thinking I could always make another. Being a restless mind, I rarely went back to territory I’d previously mined. So now I have little of my earlier work. Photography is of course different. But I am back to painting again too. I will save a quarter of that work.
Other than that, live without regret. Take the path of the Buddha - all your experiences are perfect teachers for the evolvement of your soul. Live fearlessly / embrace failure. Have a wonderful creative life. Be the most loving being you can be.
Photos courtesy of Tom Bianchi.