Dear Artist,

In Francis Whately’s 2013 documentary, David Bowie: Five Years, there’s a scene, shown in split-screen, of David Bowie’s longtime guitarist Carlos Alomar casually riffing, then building layers for the anchoring groove that became the 1975 hit, Fame. In that moment, the shifting shape of an artist seems to unfold in real time. Young Americans would be Bowie’s ninth studio album, releasing past Glam Rock personae to grab at his latest obsession with R&B, funk, soul and dance hall music. In style, Bowie adopted a term for his new sound: “plastic soul.” “I put together all these odds and ends of art and culture that I really adore,” he said. “Every time I’ve made a radical change it’s helped me feel buoyant as an artist.”


David Bowie as alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, from his fifth studio album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

Five Years selects individual yearlong snippets from Bowie’s 50-plus years of creating and illuminates some of his most radical changes through the contributions of his collaborators. Having backed James Brown and Luther Vandross, Alomar was recruited for his musical roots — but he and Bowie soon bonded into their own kind of symbiotic, inventive entity. “It’s very rare to be able to go to one person or one place and always be able to find something new,” said Alomar. “So in the same way that his bands found that about him, I think that he found that about me. We were able to adapt.” The two would keep the experiment going for the next 25 years.

“It’s about a restless need to be creative and to continue being creative,” wrote Cameron Crowe, describing the six months he spent with Bowie while still a fledgling music journalist. “…he always shook it up and he always served the gods of creativity, and that was the lesson I got from him then and today.”


“I find only freedom in the realms of eccentricity…” (David Bowie)



PS: “Turn and face the strange,
Oh look out now you rock and rollers,
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.” (David Bowie)

“It gives me hope that new artists might be able to look at themselves and think about, ‘What are my changes going to be?’ ” (Carlos Alomar)

Esoterica: In addition to being a singer, songwriter, record producer and actor who embodied multiple musical styles and personae, David Bowie was also a painter and art collector. He painted faces, including a self-portrait for the cover of his 1995 album, Outside. As a collector and music fan, Bowie favoured risk takers like Duchamp, Hirst, Springsteen and Lennon. “From a very early age I was always fascinated by those who transgressed the norm, who defied convention, whether in painting or in music or anything,” he told Life magazine in 1992. “Those were my heroes.”


“The moment you know you know you know.” (David Bowie)

David Bowie died of liver cancer on January 10, 2016 — two days after turning 69. On his birthday he released a parting gift — his 26th studio album, Blackstar — a hip hop and electronic-inspired, avant garde jazz meditation on mortality. A longtime resident of New York City, Bowie had walked into the West Village’s 55 Bar and, after hearing the set, forged a collaboration with some artists of the future. “Tomorrow,” said Bowie, “belongs to those who can hear it coming.”




  1. A beautiful and inspiring tribute to an amazing talent and huge contributor to mankind as an artist and a human. A beaming light that shows the way and a constant reminder to be yourself and don’t hold back. RIP David Bowie…….And thank you for the light you shine to show the way.

    • One of the most thoughtful, thought provoking and beautifully written tributes about a genius … Mr. Bowie. Your carefully selected words and quotes have captured a man who lived beyond passionately … & courageously with no boundaries. “Tomorrow belongs to those who hear it coming” is somewhat haunting and will stay with me for my lifetime. Thank you Sara & David for the reminder to pay attention.

  2. Thank you, Sarah for the tribute to Bowie, an incredible icon. It seemed he would just keep inventing himself over and over. It is especially poignant to me as I am a few months older than he was. I will keep all of this in mind when I enter my studio and have reservations about my painting. And just be free!

  3. But, Sara, throughout all his changes, there is a sense of continuity. In Bowie’s first hit, Space Oddity, he sings, “I’m stepping out the door,” and his video of Lazarus, made just before he died, ends with him stepping out the door. Back in ’70s I struggled to be unique, to keep trying to find that cutting edge, change for the sake of change, that was what Modernism was all about. Finally I discovered that you can’t find uniqueness that way. I gave it up and just painted what I wanted to paint, dropping out of Modernism and all other movements. All of us have multiple selves, just like David Bowie. We don’t have to invent them, we just have to truthfully express them in our work and, like David, not to be afraid to switch from one to the other. Each of us is already unique, we just have to discover how, and each discovery, no matter how bizarre, will still be a part of the continuity of our work. “Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom?….”

    • I used to show the movie, Labyrinth, to my High School art students because of the creativity it offered….but in truth I was in love with Bowie (dark and incredibly sexy), and the main reason I showed the film!
      David Bowie, 1 year older than myself, was truly an amazing artist in every sense of the word. He was and will always be an inspiration to me as I struggle to be autonomous (as he was) in my lifetime.

  4. Thank you for your lucid, acknowledgement of Bowie, an artist who’s death drove the media to scour the bins of superlatives, in extravagant overindulgent efforts to identify his contributions.

    Above all, he proved that Life is Art & he lived thus. His early death may have come from exploring every frontier beyond limits but certainly without regret. May the rest of us understand that Truth is Beauty & muster the courage required to follow the frightening unknown into creativity or the strength to persist through all barriers towards resolution.

    All our actions may be raised to the level of Art. Discoveries throughout millennia show treasures relate our history, reassuring us that Art is our only immortality.

  5. great letter Sara . He was a man of changes / growth . if we keep doing the same thing , we will get the same thing . change and growth go hand in hand ,especially in the artists world . sameness will get boring in a hurry . change is exciting ,stimulating and sometimes rewarding . to challenge yourself is exciting and you never know where it can take you .

  6. “The moment you know you don’t know.” That rings so true. Thank you Sara for posting that parting photo of him with that caption. I would have loved to have seen some of his work attached, but hopefully, someone will guide me as to where it can be seen.

  7. Trying with no luck to share your article on Facebook. I know my friends would love to read it. How may I share it?

  8. My David Bowie thing was a surprising ability to relate to him somehow – I was in my mid-thirties when suddenly widowed with two teen children – not doing well at all for a bit. Mtv was new and always musical – they all helped!

    I’d been married and working in the schools with fun arts and literature and fitness things for small children and under pressures to put the rock and roll firmly AWAY for now. His way of connecting with the generations , I think was the big help. Thank you David Bowie.

    I liked what Warren Crisswell said in the comments here – ” All of us have multiple selves, just like David Bowie. We don’t have to invent them, we just have to truthfully express them in our work” Redemption, revelation, breakthrughs and fun and profit.

    Like finding a different tool to use from the human toolbox….in the end it is wiser, anyway than to “hit it with a hammer” or quit. :-)

  9. David Bowie always changing, evolving, a part of my life for such a long time. Life would not have been the same without having that music so how could I possibly forget all those Golden Years❤

  10. Thanks so much for this letter remembering David Bowie. Last night my local listener sponsored radio station (WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, Wi) played his music all night long. One selection which I’d never heard before was a choir of young children singing my personal favorite song about Major Tom with interesting percussion and it was just wonderful !! Truly other worldly. It has become commonplace today for musicians to refer to themselves as “artists”. Mr. Bowie was a artist in every sense and an inspiration in going bravely where your art takes you. His own songs were brilliant and when he covered someone else’s song he made you realize the song was even better than you thought it was.

  11. David Bowie was a huge influence to those of us attending art college in England during the 70ies and early 80ies, he gave us permission to break all the rules and live out loud. He invented Gender bending which opened the dialog about equal rights and eventually gay rights. He was a mentor to so many. I feel heart sick to think that he is no longer sharing the planet with us. Thank you Sara for this eloquent tribute.

  12. many wonderful tributes to this comet we just lost..however your choice of photos and quotes, the beautiful way it was assembled is the tribute that flew directly into my heart, and soon will be up on my studio wall..thank you kids!..

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop


Featured Artist

I’m a contemporary painter who loves to travel the world over finding pictures to paint, and capture on photo…check out my website and travel with me on my blog “The Traveling Artist Blog.”


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.