Sanford Biggers, as drawn by Phaidon's Creative Director Julia Hasting for AKADAMIE X

Watch Sanford Biggers talk about breaking the rules

'I describe myself as an artist because I live in constant balance with mania – the maniacal desire to create!'

Have you ever seen a moonbow? That's the term for a rainbow formed not by the light of the sun, but the dimmer shine of the moon. Most are too faint for human eyes yet they do exist and, in Sanford Biggers' opinion, it is their rareness that makes them a useful simile when discussing genuine artistic achievement.

The LA-born, New York-based Biggers is both an Assistant Professor at Columbia University's Visual Arts program and a practising artist, whose work takes in quilting, popular music, film, sculpture and performance, and often engages with the contemporary African-American experience. In this video interview, Biggers offers a brief overview of the essay he contributes to our new book AKADEMIE X. The book encourages readers to learn to think, see and live like an artist. It's an inspirational and practical guide, drawing on the advice of 36 artworld figures, including Marina Abramović, Bob Nickas, Olafur Eliasson and Miranda July. 


stanford biggers

Biggers thinks moonbows are a useful when considering one's own excellence. It's something that we know exists, but perhaps haven't yet seen. “It's seeking this thing that's always out there, but that keeps us driven, to find excellence in our craft,” he says.

Though he works in academia, Biggers doesn't think becoming an artist is a simple, didactic process. “I think you can be made into a kind of artist,” he explains, “but a meaningful, impactful artist? They're born.”

Nevertheless, he does have some advice for those striving for artistic greatness. First of all, you should distinguish your own greatness from accepted measures. “You need to set your own measure of success,” he says, “so as to not be distracted by other people's measure of success, and to do that takes extreme focus.”


Afronomical Ways (2003) by Sanford Biggers
Afronomical Ways (2003) by Sanford Biggers

Long hours and hard work also help, as does an irreverence for rules, even if it is something as minor as deciding not to go to a fancy opening, and instead work away in the studio. After all, rule breaking is all part of a contemporary artist's role. 

“The pursuit of excellence as an artist is always seeking this thing that you think is out there. But as you get closer to it it just gets farther away. I describe myself as an artist because I live in constant balance with mania – the maniacal desire to create.”

We hope you've liked this brief lesson; you can watch another one here, featuring fellow AKADAMIE X academian, Shirley Tse and if you like what you've seen you can order a copy of AKADEMIE X from the people who made it, here.