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.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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

By Lilianne Milgrom,

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

Why 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. 


The Age of Light

By Whitney Scharer,

Book cover of The Age of Light

Why 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! 


The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

By Dominic Smith,

Book cover of The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

Why 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? 


The Soul of a Woman

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of The Soul of a Woman

Why 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.


The Hours

By Michael Cunningham,

Book cover of The Hours

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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

5,810 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 212 books about Paris
Romantic Love Explore 414 books about romantic love
Self-Actualization Explore 104 books about self-actualization

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Where the Crawdads Sing, The Great Believers, and The Air You Breathe if you like this list.