Parents for their graduating students, people for book clubs, or beginning painters who are just awakening their eyes to artists, everybody wants book recommendations. I am happy to help! I love reading books about artists, some based on real artists and some fictional artists.
Here are my top 15 books about artists I love to read over and over.
1. What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly by Arianna Davis
NAMED A BEST GIFT BOOK OF THE YEAR BY: Instyle, Oprah Daily, Business Insider, Esquire, Boston Globe, and Redbook. Frida is an inspiration and stands as a feminist symbol. Amazon reads states, “In this irresistible read, writer Arianna Davis conjures Frida’s brave spirit, encouraging women to create fearlessly and stand by their own truths.”
2. Blood, Water, Paint by Joy McCullough
This novel is based on the real life of artist, Artemisia Gentileschi. Amazon states, “Joy McCullough's bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia's heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia's most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman's timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.”
3. The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
The Masterpiece follows two stories, Virginia Clay, who takes a job in Grand Central Terminal in 1974 when the terminal is declining and in need of repairs, and also of Clara, who teaches at the Grand Central School of Art in 1928. These stories are connected by a profound mystery of a masterpiece and who painted it.
4. Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
What happened to Anna Dale in the 1940s in North Carolina? Morgan Christopher in 2018 will discover all of her Anna’s secrets while restoring an old post office mural. Amazon reviews state, “What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.”
5. Lust for Life by Irving Stone
You may have seen the movie, but did you read the book? This brilliant book shows Vincent Van Gogh as a passionate lover and as a madman. The New York Times says, “The classic, bestselling biographical novel of Vincent Van Gogh.”
6. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
“A most untraditional love story, this is the celebrated tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who inadvertently travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love. “Niffenegger’s inventive and poignant writing is well worth a trip” (Entertainment Weekly). This novel is on the list because Clare is an artist and spends time in her studio making art, and the author describes the art-making process wonderfully.
7. Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon McKenzie
Gordon McKenzie worked at Hallmark Cards for 30 years. He writes this charming book about narrating the corporate world when you are an artist and how not to lose your creativity in the bottom line.
8. Where’d You Go Bernadette? By Maria Semple
Bernadette, a revolutionary architect, leaves right before a family trip to Antarctica. This is a touching novel about misplaced genius and what happens when artists do not have an outlet for their creativity.
9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
You know Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love and City of Girls. Big Magic is just as well researched but in this book, Elizabeth speaks about wonder and joy. I re-read this book every year and laugh and cry. I also read it to my class while working on their projects instead of playing music in the background. Creativity and inspiration are mysterious, but for me, they live in this book.
10. Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Amazon Reviews states, “Dawn Tripp brings to life Georgia O’Keeffe, her love affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her quest to become an independent artist.”
11. The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
The Art Spirit was first published in 1923 and is a collection of letters from Henri to his students at the Ashcan School. It is surprising how the technical information on painting and the sound advice on life is still relevant to artists 100 years later. Amazon reviews say, “The Art Spirit has been a source of inspiration for artists and creatives from David Lynch to George Bellows. Filled with valuable technical advice and wisdom about the place of art and the artist in American society, this classic work continues to be a must-read for anyone interested in the power of creation and the beauty of art.”
12. The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds
Really what can I say about Peter H. Reynolds? I stood in line for 2.5 hours to meet him at NAEA Boston and collect his books. Every year I have my preservice college students do a “Dot Day” and I have YouTube read the book because I’m afraid if I read it I will get chocked up in front of the class. These books are very important to my life as an art teacher, and my own creative growth. Here is the official tag lines for each from Amazon,
"The Dot An enchanting invitation to self-expression! Don’t worry, just make a mark — and see where it takes you.
Ish A creative spirit learns that thinking "ishly" leads to a far more wonderful outcome than "getting it right."
Sky Color The sky’s no limit in this gentle, playful tale — a reminder that if we open our eyes and look beyond the expected, inspiration will come.”
13. Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn't get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.
"This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially—statistically speaking—there aren't any people like that. Geniuses get made once-a-century or so, yet good art gets made all the time, so to equate the making of art with the workings of genius removes this intimately human activity to a strangely unreachable and unknowable place. For all practical purposes making art can be examined in great detail without ever getting entangled in the very remote problems of genius." From the Introduction
14. I’d Rather be in the Studio by Alyson B. Stanfield
This is a self-promotion tool to introduce yourself as an artist, write an artist statement, have marketing messages, expand your mailing list, cultivate collectors, and become a media magnet to build a bigger audience for your artwork.
15. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
Amazon reviews says, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the world's most widely used instructional drawing book. Whether you are drawing as a professional artist, as an artist in training, or as a hobby, this book will give you greater confidence in your ability and deepen your artistic perception, as well as foster a new appreciation of the world around you.”
If you have read one of the books on my list, let me know. Also if you would like to see a list like this of art related book for children, let me know by leaving a comment.
Oh….. relaxing summer! I know people joke about teachers having their summers “off” but when you look at all the doctor’s appointments I have failed to schedule during the year, the workshops, conferences, continuing education classes to take to remain certified, summer school to teach for that little bit of extra money, and vacation bible school to help with at church teachers, teachers rarely have the summer off. This summer is my first one in I don’t know how long (five years?) that I don’t have a long list of things to do.
I’m in recovery!
Since finishing my doctorate in April, I have heard many people ask what I intend to do this summer, trying to help fill my time with activities. It has been hard to have firm boundaries and to pick and choose their seemingly good-intentioned advances. I had to say no to so many things while I was in grad school and especially last year as I worked on my dissertation, that I want to be normal again and go and do everything. I called last year the season of sacrifice, so if that is true, this season of fun activities will be the season of plenty.
Plenty of rest, plenty of food, plenty of sun, and plenty of books. I still love books, (I thought grad school would have killed that love of reading with all those journal articles) and now I get to read for pleasure. I have unlocked the joys of storytelling in fictional books.
With all that said, here are a couple of books I recommend…
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
The Chaperone is a story of a woman who accompanies a young dancer to New York from their hometown of Wichita, KS. The girl’s journey is fantastic, but the story is really about what happens to the Chaperone while in New York and how that changes her life.
When I was looking for an image of this book cover, I discovered that PBS Studios made it into a movie that came out March of 2019. The movie stars Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey) and Haley Lu Richardson.
Here is the trailer for the movie:
The next book is the very popular:
Educated, a Memoir by Tara Westover
Educated seems to be on everyone’s list for a summer read, so it was hard to get my hands on. I was waiting for the audiobook from my local library for over a month when my friend sent the actual book as a graduation present. I went back and forth, listening to the book in my car and reading the book on my nightstand. The story is a memoir, so it follows the remembrances of the author, Tara in her life journey of not going to school being raised by their survivalist Mormon parents in Idaho to going to BYU and eventually getting her Ph.D. from Trinity College at Cambridge. According to her website, she was a visiting fellow at Harvard University in 2010.
Here is Tara Westover on Ellen talking about her memoir.
Enjoy your summer reading!
I teach future art teachers at Emporia State University. Here is what is going on in my classes.