Our Summer Art Reading List

Ah, summer. A time when we can finally return to painting outside, pack our suitcases with sketchbooks … and regular books! Get your Kindle charging and find your library card, because we’ve compiled some of our favorite visual art-related books (and a few on our wishlist).

What are you reading this summer? Do you have any recommendations to share? Let us know in the comments!

Summer Art Reading

  • Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done ThatWhy Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That
    by Susie Hodge (Prestel, 2012)

With the ambitious subtitle, “Modern Art Explained,” this book responds to the mutterings of museumgoers everywhere by illuminating the talents of some misunderstood artists from the past century. This one also has a companion book on photography, Why It Does Not Have to be In Focus by Jackie Higgins.

In the oldest book on this list, the author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff takes aim at art criticism. Tom Wolfe’s 1975 book is number one on the list of local artist and art blogger Lenny Campello’s favorite art books. Whether you worship Clement Greenberg or you get the sense the art world has left you behind, Wolfe is sure to get you thinking and push a few buttons.

“Colors challenge language to encompass them,” writes artist Meloy in this poetic look at color. She puts a new perspective on the deep emotional connection we all have to color with an approach that is both scientific and personal (and, of course, anthropological). This book is also full of fascinating facts like this: “It has been shown that the words for colors enter evolving languages in this order, nearly universally: black, white, and red, then yellow and green … with green covering blue until blue comes into itself.”

  • Art Travel GuideArt Travel Guide: Must-See Contemporary Art Sites Across the USA
    by Connie Terwilliger (ArtNetwork, 2012)

Take this along on your road trip-slash-pilgrimage, or just daydream along with the photos. The author identifies 120 places you probably haven’t heard of, including sculpture parks and performances.

This well-loved novel and Pulitzer Prize winner tells the story of a teenager who comes into possession of a valuable painting that changes his life.

By the way, if you’re trying to pack light, be aware The Goldfinch is over 700 pages long.

Among the huge number of advice and self-help books out there for artists, Art & Fear stands out for its clear writing and compelling premise: “Artmaking involves skills that can be learned” and “Art is made by ordinary people.” Written by working artists and teachers, this could be one to keep handy for when the realities of making art get you down.

If you aren’t familiar with the name, Robert Henri was a beloved art teacher and a figure in the Ashcan School. You might have seen his paintings at the National Gallery of Art. Henri died in 1929, but you can still benefit from his advice, which this book collects in the form of his letters, articles, and sayings.

Chances are, you know if this is your kind of book after reading the title. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: essays, statements, and interviews by and with contemporary artists from Duchamp to Banksy. Installation artists, performance artists, and others are also included.

Both a murder mystery about Van Gogh and “a novel about the color blue,” according to its author, the novel’s main characters are a fictional baker-painter and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Moore is a hilarious writer, so expect this one to be very funny and very weird.

The Art Forger

A novel about art, theft, and forgery, with a backdrop of the real-life art heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Starting with a newspaper clipping about the anniversary of the thefts and the main character picking paintings for a studio visit, the two threads come together for a tale that, hopefully, isn’t too familiar to Art League readers. This is a past pick of The Art League Book Club, which recommended it to us.

  • ProvenanceProvenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
    by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo (Penguin, 2010)

Art-related crime is always a sexy topic for a book (or a movie), but we limited ourselves to two choices on this list. Unlike The Art Forger, this tale is nonfiction: the real people John Drewe and artist John Myatt are the main players. But just like the other book, it’s a captivating story thrillingly told.

Another Art League Book Club pick, this is for those of you who wonder what goes on in the inner circle at places like the Met. It’s a memoir by a former director of the museum, with some gossip and behind-the-scenes details. For other books about the Met, see this blog post.

That’s our list! Oh, and for those rainy days, we have another list you might like.

Cover image: detail from a photograph by Art League instructor Pete Duvall

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