The best books about how art and artists have inspired women on their journey toward personal fulfillment

Barbara Linn Probst Author Of Queen of the Owls
By Barbara Linn Probst

Who am I?

My passion is for stories about how art can help us become more authentic, whole, and fulfilled as human beings—that’s my “brand” as a writer (and reader). No, I’m not a painter, and I’ve never studied art history.  Rather, I’m what they call a “serious amateur” pianist and photographer—an “amateur” being someone who studies for love of the craft.  In fact, I’ve found that the more I give myself to these other art forms, the better I become as a writer—as if these other forms of creative expression open new places in me that enhance my stories and characters.

I wrote...

Queen of the Owls

By Barbara Linn Probst,

Book cover of Queen of the Owls

What is my book about?

Winner of multiple awards, Queen of the Owls is the powerful story of a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, colleague.  Framed by the life and art of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, it dares to ask a question every woman can relate to: what would you risk to be truly seen and known?

A chance meeting with a charismatic photographer will forever change Elizabeth’s life. Until she met Richard, Elizabeth's relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe and her art was purely academic. Now, it’s personal. When Richard reawakens a yearning that’s haunted Elizabeth since she was a child, Elizabeth takes a step she never imagined—and her life begins to unravel.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of L'Origine: The Secret Life of the World's Most Erotic Masterpiece

Why did I love this book?

L’Origine by artist and writer Lilianne Milgrom is a unique, well-researched, and absolutely compelling book. Part history and part memoir, it tells the story of Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, a painting known as “the world’s most erotic masterpiece,” along with its effect on a young woman (the author) who set out to be its official “copyist.”  Ultimately, it is the painting itself that liberates and transforms the protagonist—just as it will liberate and transform the reader! It certainly did that for me, cutting through all my ideas about the role of art and its depictions of the female body—in much the same way that Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, and the nude photographs she posed for, liberates and transforms the protagonist of my own novel. 

By Lilianne Milgrom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked L'Origine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of 5 major book awards, including the Publishers Weekly U.S. 2021 Selfies Award for Best Adult Fiction and winner of the IndieReader 2021 Discovery Award.

“L’Origine got me hooked—what a story! Milgrom brings the reader right along on her adventures as a copyist of one of the most well-known paintings in all the world.” —Harriet Welty Rochefort, author of French Fried, French Toast, Joie de Vivre, and Final Transgression

The riveting odyssey of one of the world’s most scandalous works of art.

In 1866, maverick French artist Gustave Courbet painted one of the most iconic images in the history…

The Age of Light

By Whitney Scharer,

Book cover of The Age of Light

Why did I love this book?

In The Age of Light, protagonist Lee Miller is both model (for surrealist photographer Man Ray) and artist—much like Georgia O’Keeffe, the muse and hub of my own novel.  Lee’s story, as she struggles with the question of how to stay true to herself while fulfilling her artistic ambition—and what that fulfillment may cost her—resonates strongly with me. It’s a struggle that so many women can relate to! 

By Whitney Scharer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Age of Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Scharer captures the thrill of artistic creation and the swirling hedonism of Paris's beautiful people.' The Times

Model. Muse. Lover. Artist.

'I'd rather take a picture than be one,' Lee Miller declares, as she arrives in Paris one cool day in 1929. Lee has left behind her life in New York and a successful modelling career at Vogue to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. She soon catches the eye of renowned Surrealist artist Man Ray and convinces him to hire her as his assistant. Man is an egotistical, charismatic force, and as Lee becomes both his muse and…

Book cover of The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

Why did I love this book?

There are so many elements in The Last Painting of Sara DeVos that echo themes in my own work! A female artist who dares to defy convention and gender boundaries. An art history graduate student, a passionless marriage, and the question of who “owns” a work of art. An act of questionable judgment that leads to the unraveling of a carefully-constructed life. How could I not feel a profound kinship with this well-researched, beautifully written, intellectually absorbing novel about the power of art to transform a woman’s life? 

By Dominic Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Painting of Sara De Vos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'. . . worthy of comparison to Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch . . . A masterly, multilayered story that will dazzle readers.' Library Journal (starred review)

In 1631, Sara de Vos is admitted to the Guild of St. Luke in Holland as a master painter, the first woman to be so honoured. Three hundred years later, only one work attributed to de Vos is known to remain - a haunting winter scene, At the Edge of a Wood, which hangs over the Manhattan bed of a wealthy descendant of the original owner.…

The Soul of a Woman

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of The Soul of a Woman

Why did I love this book?

In The Soul of a Woman, renowned novelist Isabel Allende tells her own story of a woman living through several iterations of the feminist movement.  Allende learns how to open and grow as a woman, with and without a partner—when to commit, and when to step away—and how to embrace her own sexuality. Her journey is all of our journey, and has strong parallels with the journey of the protagonist in my own novel.

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Soul of a Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Petal of the Sea comes “a bold exploration of womanhood, feminism, parenting, aging, love and more” (Associated Press).

“The Soul of a Woman is Isabel Allende’s most liberating book yet.”—Elle

“When I say that I was a feminist in kindergarten, I am not exaggerating,” begins Isabel Allende. As a child, she watched her mother, abandoned by her husband, provide for her three small children without “resources or voice.” Isabel became a fierce and defiant little girl, determined to fight for the life her mother couldn’t have.

As a young woman…

The Hours

By Michael Cunningham,

Book cover of The Hours

Why did I love this book?

In The Hours, Cunningham masterfully weaves together the stories of three women who will never meet, yet are connected through the influence of Virginia Woolf (one of the three) on their lives. Cunningham shows how art—in this case, Mrs. Dalloway, one of Woolf’s most brilliant novels—can have a profound influence that the artist could never have predicted and will never know.  As someone striving to produce her own art (in my case, through novels about the impact of art on human lives) that speaks to me in a very deep way, and gives me hope.

By Michael Cunningham,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize and Pen Faulkner prize. Made into an Oscar-winning film, 'The Hours' is a daring and deeply affecting novel inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf.

In 1920s London, Virginia Woolf is fighting against her rebellious spirit as she attempts to make a start on her new novel.

A young wife and mother, broiling in a suburb of 1940s Los Angeles, yearns to escape and read her precious copy of 'Mrs Dalloway'.

And Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich village apartment in 1990s New York to buy flowers for a party…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Paris, romantic love, and self-actualization?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Paris, romantic love, and self-actualization.

Paris Explore 320 books about Paris
Romantic Love Explore 735 books about romantic love
Self-Actualization Explore 176 books about self-actualization