But if you’re looking at bestseller lists and feeling disappointed, we’re here to help. We’ve selected ten unique, quirky, and inspiring reads for creatives that you might not have thought of. Ranging from painting to photography, each dives deep into their respective subject to help educate, inform and entertain you in equal measure.
You can find some of these titles at your local retailer. But if not, don’t worry: you won’t have to feed the Amazon beast. We’ve included links to Bookshop.org, whose mission is to financially support independent local bookstores. (Note: we don’t make any affiliate income from these links: we’re only interested in supporting other creative endeavours.)
Art and fashion have always had a tumultuous and unpredictable relationship. On the one hand, there is a long-standing stereotype of artists and bohemians wearing black, featureless clothing. But others saw clothes as tools of expression and canvases to show who they really are. And this unique, far-reaching book celebrates them in all their glory.
Style guru Charlie Porter takes us on a journey of discovery, from the impeccable cuts of Yves Klein to the kaleidoscopic suits of Yayoi Kusama and Cindy Sherman; Andy Warhol’s signature denim to Charlotte Prodger’s casual outfits. Her trained eye picks out relevant details, both helping us to understand the featured artists on a deeper level and giving us ideas and inspiration to dress more imaginatively.
Philip Guston (1913-1980) was a Canadian-American painter, printmaker, muralist, and draftsman who is now considered one of the most important American painters of the 20th century. If you’ve never heard of him, this is a great introduction; if you have, this book will deepen your knowledge and understanding.
A founding figure of the mid-century New York Schools movement, Philip Guston helped pioneer a modified form of figurative art known as Neo-Expressionism. This expertly curated selection of his writings, interviews and interviews brings together the artist’s most incisive reflections on iconography and abstraction, metaphysics and mysticism, and the nature of painting and drawing.
Publishing and mainstream media have not always done a great job of representing the contribution of black creatives to the UK art scene. This book aims to restore the balance and tells a fascinating story.
From the 1950s, some of these artists, hailing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia, were considered and adopted as outstanding and meritorious practitioners. Others weren’t, so on occasion they got together and did their own exhibitions or created their own gallery spaces.
Beginning with the pioneering generation of artists such as Ronald Moody, Aubrey Williams and Frank Bowling, author Eddie Chambers candidly discusses the issues and progression of successive waves, up to and including contemporary names like Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili and Yinka Shonibare. Everything is meticulously researched, complete and infinitely fascinating.
If you assumed gender nonconformity was a modern development, this story of a Victorian-born artist would quickly disabuse you of that notion. Financially independent and relatively free from social conventions, Hannah Gluckstein (1895-1978) rejected any given name or gendered prefix such as Miss or Mr and used the names Gluck, Peter and Hig.
A member of the Lamorna artists’ colony near Penzance, Gluck’s relationships with several women included one with Nesta Obermer, and their shared self-portraiture is considered an iconic lesbian statement.
This modern reappraisal of Gluck’s work is richly illustrated. It features everything from the powerful series of self-portraits that play with the conventions of masculinity and femininity to still life, landscape, portraiture and images by popular artists. A significant contribution both to gender studies and to understanding a complex and important modern painter, it couldn’t be a more timely read.
Born in 1957, Raymond Pettibon is an American artist who established himself on the Southern California punk rock scene in the early 1980s, creating posters and album covers primarily for bands on SST Records. He has since become widely recognized in the fine art world for his innovative use of American iconography and satirical critiques of American culture.
In 1985, he started a series called Surfers, which revisited the Californian surf culture of his childhood. These artworks usually feature a lone surfer silently carving a beauty line along a large wave. This publication traces a selection of 100 surfers from the series, from small monochrome works on paper to large-scale colorful paintings.
However, this series is not limited to one particular sport. It goes deeper than that, forcing us as humans to confront our own smallness and weakness in the face of the power of nature. And Pettibon’s lyrical writing of these images, referencing his own philosophies, is both engaging and empowering.
Art has always been a masculine world, but this domination has never been total. Ninth Street Women is the intriguing story of five women who dared to break into 20th century abstract painting.
Among them, Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, whose incredible talent has sometimes been overshadowed by their husbands, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. There was also Grace Hartigan, who gave up her life as a housewife and mother in New Jersey to become one of the boldest painters of her generation; Joan Mitchell, who escaped an emotionally traumatic childhood to create beautiful visionary canvases; and Helen Frankenthaler, the stepdaughter of a prominent New York family who chose a difficult path.
Author Mary Gabriel tells the remarkable and inspiring story of how these women went against the grain, tore up contemporary social code, found liberation through art, and helped reshape the culture of the world. post-war America.
Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was an American writer, philosopher, and political activist best known for her essays on modern culture and her critique of the Vietnam War. Although she was not a professional photographer herself, her groundbreaking critique of photography, first published in 1977, is required reading for anyone interested in the subject.
Featuring six essays originally published in the New York Review of Books, On Photography examines how we use images to create a sense of reality and authority in our lives. Although times have changed, his analysis remains surprisingly insightful and isn’t really dated at all.
For centuries, artists have told and retold the complex stories of the African diaspora. The epic book lets you explore this enduring legacy by bringing together a selection of over 400 works and documents by over 200 artists from the 16th to 21st centuries. These include oils, watercolours, drawings, prints, photographs, mixed media, textiles, fiber art, sculptures, performance pieces and installations.
These evocative and often poignant works are organized into eight themes: Maps and Margins; Emancipations; daily lives; Rites and Rhythms; Roads and trances; portraits; Afro-Atlantic modernisms; Resistance and activism. Helpfully, the scholarly essays put everything into context, from different approaches to portraiture to examining historical notions of slavery and emancipation.
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist whose father, the poet Ai Qing, was exposed and sent to a labor camp when he was just one year old. As an adult, Weiwei openly criticized his government and spent time in prison for his activism. In this book, he tells the epic story of China over the past 100 years through the story of his own life and that of his father.
The author recounts a childhood in exile, his move to America as a young man and eventual return home, his rise from unknown to art world superstar and international human rights activist, and how his work was shaped by life under a totalitarian regime.
As the subtitle says, it’s “The story of two lives, a nation and a century of art under tyranny”. Anyone interested in what lies behind the world’s largest economy will find this engaging and captivating read.
Martin Gayford is an art critic best known for his work for The Telegraph and The Spectator. During his work, he traveled the world to see works of art and meet artists. This book chronicles some of those journeys, often to inaccessible places and involving frustrations and complications, but also bringing fortuitous encounters and endings.
His entertaining and insightful narrative takes us to Brancusi’s Endless Column in Romania, prehistoric rock art in France, the museum island of Naoshima in Japan, the Judd Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and a work of Roni Horn in Iceland. We also taste encounters with artists like Robert Rauschenberg in New York, Marina Abramovic in Venice, Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, and a trip to Beijing with Gilbert & George.
Along the way, the author weaves together many ideas about travel, art, and humanity in general. Those who are tired of package holidays and are looking for new adventure ideas will find plenty of inspiration here.