Think summer reading should be devoted to bodice rippers or cold-blooded thrillers? Think again. Aspiring art collectors, creatives, and art admirers of every stripe can spend their time on the beach or curled up in bed this season broadening their horizons with our curated list of best art books for beginners.
Summer is an excellent time to explore new vistas through reading, whether on an actual vacation or at home. It’s also the prime time to cultivate new passions, even if you’re not currently a student (and even if you never took an art history class!) With the pace of life slowed down a touch and out of office messages on your email, vow to connect with your creativity this season. No matter your starting place, age, or level of artistic ability, you can spark inspiration as well as new conversations with fellow travelers and friends.
For the curious about contemporary art
Do you struggle to understand contemporary art? Have you felt hopelessly out of your depth in an art gallery or museum? This is the best art book for you. Veteran art dealer Findlay gives aspiring art lovers full permission to engage with art on their own terms — no prior experience or education required. Learn why you should ignore museum wall labels and unplug the audio tour to connect with art on your own terms. “Seeing Slowly” will help you give you confidence and reinvigorate your love for art.
This anthology was co-edited by arts writer, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew, whose influential art-world career began as social media manager for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New York Times culture writer Jenna Wortham combines essays and poetry, photographs and images, and memes and social media posts to showcase the world of Black creators — and envision the future.
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Pocket-sized yet powerful, Drew’s account of how art and protest are inextricably linked invites readers to claim space in an art world that is for everyone — not just the elite.
Best art books for the beginner art collector
With decades of experience in the art market, Findlay decodes the forces at play behind the astronomical price tags that make headline news. Beyond the frenzy of constantly escalating prices and competitive status symbols, Findlay also takes a look at art’s essential worth in our everyday lives. But the gossipy scandals, scams, and stories he takes readers through are captivating, too!
A light-hearted art book for beginners that takes you into the heart of the contemporary art world, Thomas Girst, an art historian and worldwide Head of Cultural Engagement at the BMW Group, and Magnus Resch, an author, art entrepreneur, and lecturer, enlighten and entertain with anecdotes, advice, and stories curated from art-world insiders, including such names as Jeff Koons, Zaha Hadid, and John Baldessari, Larry Gagosian, Jeffrey Deitch, and more.
Recommended reading if you skipped art history
A book based on a television series instead of the other way around, “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger — one of the world’s most celebrated art writers — will change the way you look at art. Originally a BBC series, the book includes seven essays (three of which are made up exclusively of images) that illuminate the cultural issues and hidden ideologies at play in the Western artistic canon. Berger was the first to introduce the concept of the “male gaze” in how women are portrayed from advertisements to oil paintings, an idea that launched additional feminist critiques of imagery in popular culture. With his insightful analysis and simple language, Berger makes art history more accessible and understandable for the beginner art lover.
From Picasso’s blue period to Van Gogh’s yellow sunflowers, scarlet women to imperial purple, and everything in between, the little-known history of colors bursts vividly onto the page — and along the way, reveals their influence on the course of human civilization up until today.
Art historian Bridget Quinn brings brilliant women artists to the fore in this illustrated volume. Designed as a corrective to the canon that often ignores female artists, “Broad Strokes” is a feisty, enjoyable, and essential feminist art history lesson from 1600 to today.
In a book that reads like a conversation between friends, famed artist David Hockney and his frequent collaborator, art critic Martin Gayford, take readers on a journey through visual images from cave paintings to contemporary cinema. Packed with stunning images to accompany the rousing discussion, this volume will change your perspective on art.
A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford
Best art books to refresh your creativity
The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke responds to a tortured young artist in a series of letters that still offer something fresh for contemporary readers. His advice from the turn of the 20th century rings true today:
“Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source, you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside.”
Whether you’re a practicing artist, dream of being one, or appreciate creativity in any form, this funny and practical handbook by art critic Jerry Saltz gives you fresh inspiration to follow your dreams and not give in to self-doubt. With advice, prompts, and rules to follow, Saltz distills his art-world experience into invaluable insight about what really matters when it comes to living an artful life.
New York Times bestselling author Austin Kleon’s highly visual books are a primer for living a creative and meaningful life. In his most recent volume, he gives readers timeless advice for unlocking their creativity and getting their voices out in the world.
What art books do you recommend? Let us know in the comments.
Editorial director and writer Allison Stice covers art, design and culture. Her work has been published in The Bitter Southerner, Garden & Gun, Savannah Magazine and more.