10 More Books Every Artist Should Read

We recently asked more than a dozen artists from around the world to tell us about the books that changed the way they think about creativity. They could choose anything they wanted, and they did--from a self-help book to a collection of academic essays. The only requirement was that it left a lasting impression. 

Image    source

Image source

These suggestions come from artists themselves--painters, sculptors, illustrators, designers, and more--not reviewers or critics. These artists have lived through it all, from the challenges of everyday life in a creative field to the revelations that defined their careers--and in some cases, the perfect book helped light the way. If you’re looking for art reference books, click here, but if you are in the market for more general inspiration, start with this handy list, which covers classic artist how-tos, scholarly insights, and everything in between.

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. 

Written by two working artists, this book gives readers a roadmap for overcoming the everyday obstacles of a creative life. It’s a practical guide to not giving up, even when it’s a struggle to put pen (or brush) to paper. 

What the artists say:

Kari-Lise Alexander, painter: “When I was starting my career as an artist, someone recommended I read this book, and it was life-changing for me. I realized my struggles were not unique to me and that every artist goes through ups and downs. It also reminded me of why I create art and taught me that a lot of the distractions we encounter are unimportant when it comes to making the work we truly are called to make.”

Kate MacDowell, sculptor: “I read this book a long time ago, but I still remember the advice about building an artist community that you share your work with regularly. I like how it treats art as work, and work that requires habit, process, renewal, and support.” 

Image courtesy of Basic Books

Image courtesy of Basic Books

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

First first published in 1923, this volume brings together the wisdom and musings of the American painter and educator Robert Henri,compiled by his one-time pupil Margery Ryerson. Drawing on the history of art, Henri reveals a nuanced creative philosophy, based on the importance of influence, experience, and even kinship, all passed down from one generation of artists to the next.  

What the artist says: 

Danny Galieote, painter: “I’ve kept this book close to me over the years. When I was an art student, it helped me to see that all the thoughts and struggles I had as an aspiring artist were very similar to those of artists in the past.”

Image   courtesy of Penguin Random House

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

In this tried and true guide to “creative recovery,” best-selling author Julia Cameron presents a panoply of exercises and assignments for artists of all kinds. From the weekly “Artist’s Date” (a solo excursion to a new place) to the “Morning Pages” (handwritten notes you write every morning when you wake up), her exercises take twelve weeks to complete in full. They have been used and adapted by great writers and artists for more than twenty-five years. 

What the artists say: 

Anne Siems, painter: “Every artist would benefit from reading this book, especially those wanting to change and grow their work.”

Michael Strevens, digital artist: “In this book, one principle Julia Cameron talks about is the importance of ‘filling the well.’ For me, this has been essential. It means taking time to enjoy art: going to exhibitions, watching films, reading books. All of these things are important for inspiration and creativity as well as just staying sane!” 

Image: courtesy of Ecco

Image: courtesy of Ecco

Just Kids by Patti Smith

In her memoir, Patti Smith takes us back in time to the 1960s, when she and Robert Mapplethorpe were a couple of young unknowns in New York City. Equal parts love letter--for both Mapplethorpe and the city itself-- and modern-day fable, Just Kids introduces us to two bright-eyed, ambitious soulmates who made their home in the smallest room of the Chelsea Hotel. 

What the artist says: 

Esteban Diacono, motion graphics designer: “This book made me feel incredibly inspired and motivated to deepen my relationship with art. Patti’s memories from the Chelsea Hotel and the magical, unsurpassed art scene of New York in the 60-70’s connected with me in a level that no other book has.” 

Image courtesy of Penguin Press

Image courtesy of Penguin Press

Design as Art by Bruno Munari

First penned by the prolific graphic designer Bruno Munari in 1966, this book teaches us that art is accessible to everyone. With illustrations to guide the way, Munari digs deep into the relationship between form and function in ordinary, everyday objects. Let’s just say you’ll never look at a road sign the same way again. 

What the artist says:

Kevin Umaña, painter: “This book encouraged me to widen my perceptual awareness and changed how I view the world around me. It has motivated me to explore experimental ideas without hesitation or self-doubt, and it has allowed me to see the artistic possibilities of modern design in my daily life.”

Image courtesy of St. Martin's Griffin

Image courtesy of St. Martin's Griffin

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson

In his first trade book book, economist Don Thompson breaks down the reasons why some works of art sell for millions of dollars while others go unnoticed. With insightful interviews and behind-the-scenes tidbits, this book reveals the inner workings of auction houses, art collectors, and galleries. 

What the artists say: 

Laurence Vallières, sculptor: “I can’t describe how important this book was to me, but I’ll try. It's a thorough description of the art world, filled with amazing true anecdotes from artists’ lives. It’s eye-opening, and it made me feel like there are barely any rules. Your path to success is your own, and there is no special recipe. The key is to be as eccentric as you want to be.” 

Oriol Angrill, illustrator, painter, and printmaker: “I highly recommend this book. It talks about the business behind the art market, and how, in some ways, success is just a matter of investment. It’s necessary to understand how it works--what we are used to seeing and thinking of as great art might actually be a great way to cheat. When it comes to determining the worth of an artist, we just have to trust our feelings and common sense, not the price tag.”

Image courtesy of University of Chicago Press

Image courtesy of University of Chicago Press

The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4 by Clement Greenberg, edited by John O'Brian

American essayist Clement Greenberg was prolific between 1957 and 1969, and his writing is largely responsible for helping to establish the theory of modernist art. This collection includes his most famous works as well as lesser-known essays that appeared in leading publications of the time. Follow the trajectory of his criticism as he makes his way through a decade defined by change and innovation. 

What the artist says: 

Markus Åkesson, painter: “This book was a real eye-opener for me. I am not myself a modernist, but Greenberg’s writings really helped me to understand painting in a wider art context. I would recommend it to all art students, not only painters.” 

Image courtesy of Basic Books

Image courtesy of Basic Books

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman 

Cognitive scientist Don Norman delves into the psychology behind why some designs work and others fail. Covering topics ranging from ergonomics to behaviourism, this no-nonsense book tackles the design victories and faux pas of ordinary, functional objects--though the same principles could certainly apply to works of art. 

What the artist says: 

Frank J Guzzone, 3D designer: “While this might not appeal to every type of artist, I personally love how this book makes you think about what defines good design. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, ‘Great designers produce pleasurable experiences.’ In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and content, I think it’s incredibly refreshing when you come across something simple that brings you joy, even if it’s for a few seconds.” 

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books

How to Read Nancy by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgard

Using a single ‘Nancy’ strip from 1959 as its point of departure, this book breaks down the anatomy of a great comic. Essential reading for cartoonists, this close reading of a deceptively simple piece of work will prove enlightening for artists of all genres. 

What the artist says: 

Armando Veve, illustrator: “I was recently surprised by this book. I found Karasik and Newgard’s absurdly thorough analysis of a three-panel strip by Ernie Bushmiller incredibly insightful and entertaining. I have a natural tendency to take a maximalist approach in my pictures, but this book has inspired me to reconsider the power of saying less. I would recommend this book to any artist interested in the art of editing.” 

(Image  source )

(Image source)

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell 

In his third book, the best-selling Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell examines some of the best thinkers, inventors, and athletes in history, asking the simple question, “What makes them different?” From cultural ideals to childhood lessons, he highlights the essential ingredients that make us who we are and determine who we will become. 

What the artist says: 

Arinze Stanley, hyperrealist artist/activist: “This is one book I would recommend. It's not necessarily an art book, but it sure gave me insight on the path to success. It proved vital for me, as it directed my focus away from unnecessarily worrying about the future. It made me understand the importance of being where I needed to be at the right time.”


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