The most recommended art books

Who picked these books? Meet our 601 experts.

601 authors created a book list connected to art, and here are their favorite art books.
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Book cover of The Roots of Romanticism

Michael K. Ferber Author Of Romanticism: A Very Short Introduction

From my list on how romanticism transformed western culture.

Who am I?

I fell in love with the British Romantic poets when I took a course about them, and I fixated like a chick on the first one we studied, William Blake. He seemed very different from me, and in touch with something tremendous: I wanted to know about it. Ten years later I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Blake, and then published quite a bit about him. Meanwhile there were other poets, poets in other countries, and painters and musicians: besides being accomplished at their art, I find their ideas about nature, the self, art, and society still resonate with me.

Michael's book list on how romanticism transformed western culture

Michael K. Ferber Why did Michael love this book?

Though he declines to define it, Berlin says “The importance of romanticism is that it is the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world.” In this brief set of lectures he dwells mainly on German writers, since Germany was arguably the homeland of romanticism. Berlin seems to know everything, but his erudition does not interfere with his lively style. What the book lacks in thoroughness it more than makes up with sharp and provocative ideas.

By Isaiah Berlin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Roots of Romanticism, one of the twentieth century's most influential philosophers dissects and assesses a movement that changed the course of history. Brilliant, fresh, immediate, and eloquent, these celebrated Mellon Lectures are a bravura intellectual performance. Isaiah Berlin surveys the many attempts to define romanticism, distills its essence, traces its developments from its first stirrings to its apotheosis, and shows how it still permeates our outlook. He ranges over a cast of some of the greatest thinkers and artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Kant, Rousseau, Diderot, Schiller, the Schlegels, Novalis, Goethe, Blake, Byron, and Beethoven.…


Book cover of The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting

Joyce DiPastena Author Of Illuminations of the Heart

From my list on medieval illumination.

Who am I?

I’ve been in love with the Middle Ages ever since my mother handed me a copy of The Conquering Family, by Thomas B. Costain, when I was in the 7th grade. Eventually, I went on to earn a degree in history from the University of Arizona. In addition to the many colorful characters who impacted the medieval world, I became entranced with the art of the time period, particularly manuscript paintings. Their beauty, reverence, whimsy, even their occasional naughtiness, are, to me, simply enchanting! It was impossible not to share my love of this artform in at least one of my novels. Below are some of the books that helped me on my writing journey.

Joyce's book list on medieval illumination

Joyce DiPastena Why did Joyce love this book?

It’s hard to express the depths of my excitement when I discovered this book. This title allowed me to take research for my novel’s heroine to a whole new level. Should she use parchment or vellum, what was the difference, and when should she use one over the other? (Did you know the most sumptuous parchments were died purple? I didn’t until I read this book!) What was the difference between natural and artificial pigments as understood by medieval artists? And how did they create all those brilliant reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and more in their paintings? How did they make paint out of gold or apply gold leaf to their art? All these details and much, much more are laid out here. Everything a medieval artist, in life or in fiction, could possibly need to know! (This book also touches on other forms of medieval painting, like painting…

By Daniel V. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Medieval painters built up a tremendous range of technical resources for obtaining brilliance and permanence. In this volume, an internationally known authority on medieval paint technology describes these often jealously guarded recipes, lists of materials, and processes. Based upon years of study of medieval manuscripts and enlarged by laboratory analysis of medieval paintings, this book discusses carriers and grounds, binding media, pigments, coloring materials, and metals used in painting.
It describes the surfaces that the medieval artist painted upon, detailing their preparation. It analyzes binding media, discussing relative merits of glair versus gums, oil glazes, and other matters. It tells…


Book cover of The West Wing

Betty Rocksteady Author Of Soft Places

From my list on story told in an unconventional manner.

Who am I?

While I love straight-up fiction and read plenty of novels, I’ve always been just as interested in art as I have been in writing. The further into my writing career I get, the more it becomes obvious that art and illustration are just as vital to the way I want to tell my stories. I did the covers for my first few books and started experimenting with illustrating them as well with The Writhing Skies, creating a very strange blend of splatterpunk horror and Betty Boop-inspired illustration. Soft Places is a further step in the direction of telling stories in a way that’s a little different. 

Betty's book list on story told in an unconventional manner

Betty Rocksteady Why did Betty love this book?

Edward Gorey is a forever favorite of mine, a pen and ink artist popular for the dozens of strange and macabre little books he created. The West Wing is unique in that it has no words at all, and the story is told entirely through his meticulous pen and ink images. Without a plot, or even any characters, there is only mood and vibes, and they are spooky and mysterious. Each page shows a different part of The West Wing and its seemingly endless rooms with their hints of ghosts and the feeling that someone has just left, or that something horrible has just happened. It’s my favorite haunted house story of all time.

By Edward Gorey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Edward Gorey's The West Wing is an invitation to the imagination. On each page, a room beckons, inviting the reader to wonder why three shoes lie here abandoned, what is retreating in that mirror's reflection, or why there is an imprint of a body on the wallpaper, faded and floating four feet above the floor. A wordless mystery, it is one of Gorey's finest works.


Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

Book cover of Off Season

Randy Kraft Author Of Off Season

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Introspective Observant Bookish Friendly

Randy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, and they get on well. She will be on sabbatical fine-tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off-season?

Soothed by sea breezes, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late artist partner, Red is befriended by a flirty neighbor and her surfer husband, and Sharon shares her literary passions with a sexy retiree. When the winds of the pandemic blow, they have to confront their past within a daunting future.

Is off-season an opportunity for renewal or a glimpse of what might have been?

Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

What is this book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, she will be on sabbatical fine tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off season? On the other hand, what else might he have in mind and what will she face if she lets her guard down? Soothed by sea breezes and ocean views, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late partner, a Fauvist painter. Then, Red is…


Book cover of Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts

Gregory Maertz Author Of Nostalgia for the Future: Modernism and Heterogeneity in the Visual Arts of Nazi Germany

From my list on art and aesthetics in Nazi Germany.

Who am I?

I am a professor of English and Visual Culture at St. John’s University in New York. My research in recent years has focused on reexamining the fate of modernist art in Hitler’s Germany. I have chosen five books that have shaped our understanding of Nazi art and have new resonance with the present resurgence of fascism and authoritarian governments around the world.

Gregory's book list on art and aesthetics in Nazi Germany

Gregory Maertz Why did Gregory love this book?

This is one of the most influential studies of cultural politics in Nazi Germany which takes as its focus the bureaucracy Joseph Goebbels charged with integrating pre-National Socialist artists and their organizations into the new cultural and political order. Noteworthy, of course, throughout Steinweis’s masterpiece of institutional reconstruction, is the revelation that National Socialist aesthetic preferences were not novel but represented the appropriation of the prevailing conservative taste dominant in the late Weimar Republic.

By Alan E. Steinweis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From 1933 to 1945, the Reich Chamber of Culture exercised a profound influence over hundreds of thousands of German artists and entertainers. Alan Steinweis focuses on the fields of music, theatre and the visual arts in this study of Nazi cultural administration, examining a complex pattern of interaction among leading Nazi figures, German cultural functionaries, ordinary artists, and consumers of culture. Steinweis gives special attention to Nazi efforts to purge the arts of Jews and other so-called undesirables.


Book cover of Forest of A Thousand Daemons: A Hunter's Saga

Suyi Davies Author Of Son of the Storm

From my list on fantasy inspired by African empires.

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Benin City, Nigeria, surrounded by storytellers who offered me a healthy diet of oral, written, and visual tales. I grew up fascinated with stories of all kinds, especially the fantastic. When I began to tell my own stories, I gravitated toward the speculative, returning to where I first learned about stories. My novels David Mogo, Godhunter and Son of the Storm offer glimpses into the way I braid history and speculation. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona, and am currently a professor of the same at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, where I live.

Suyi's book list on fantasy inspired by African empires

Suyi Davies Why did Suyi love this book?

Let’s start from the beginning, why don’t we? Any list of fantasy by authors of African descent would, in my opinion, be incomplete without the inclusion of the original oral tales of fantastic beings and events that sparked our imaginations.

Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmọlẹ̀, the Yoruba-language novel (published in 1938, and translated by Wole Soyinka in 2013 to become Forest of a Thousand Daemons) features the hallmarks of what we’ve come to love in contemporary fantasy: monsters and battles, spellbinders and royalty, warriors and heroes, all presented like the campfire tale that it is.

I remember reading this and immediately regretting that I couldn’t experience it for the first time again. It’s that exhilarating.

By D.O. Fagunwa, Bruce Onobrakpeya (illustrator), Wole Soyinka (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forest of A Thousand Daemons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"His total conviction in multiple existences within our physical world is as much an inspiration to some of the most brilliant fiction in Yoruba writing as it is a deeply felt urge to 'justify the ways of God to man.'"--Wole Soyinka, translator and Nobel Laureate A classic work of African literature, Forest of a Thousand Daemons is the first novel to be written in the Yoruba language. First published in Nigeria in 1939, it is one of that country's most revered and widely read works, and its influence on Nigerian literature is profound, most notably in the works of Amos…


Book cover of Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science

Stuart Walton Author Of An Excursion Through Chaos: Disorder Under the Heavens

From my list on chaos and disorder.

Who am I?

My work has always been interested in the ways in which systems can be disrupted and subverted by taking radical fresh approaches to them, even where the prevailing view is that overturning them can only lead to the dreaded chaos.

Stuart's book list on chaos and disorder

Stuart Walton Why did Stuart love this book?

A comprehensive, elegantly written survey of the territory from a genuine polymath, Chaos Imagined considers the philosophical issues raised by the turn to disorder and chance in everything from cutting-edge artistic movements to mathematical chaos theory. Meisel moves with agile ease from historical narrative to considerations of some quite knotty theoretical problems in a style that is genuinely readable and elegant, rather than academically abstruse. He is as assured on avant-garde art movements as he is on the more elusive aspects of western philosophy.

By Martin Meisel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chaos Imagined as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The stories we tell in our attempt to make sense of the world-our myths and religion, literature and philosophy, science and art-are the comforting vehicles we use to transmit ideas of order. But beneath the quest for order lies the uneasy dread of fundamental disorder. True chaos is hard to imagine and even harder to represent. In this book, Martin Meisel considers the long effort to conjure, depict, and rationalize extreme disorder, with all the passion, excitement, and compromises the act provokes. Meisel builds a rough history from major social, psychological, and cosmological turning points in the imagining of chaos.…


Book cover of Paris Underground

Stephen Graham Author Of Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers

From my list on the subterranean of cities.

Who am I?

I've been obsessed with the material aspects of places - and the infrastructures that make them work - since I was a really young boy! (I remember, aged around 7, sitting on a bridge over the M6 motorway near Preston watching the traffic). This obsession was channeled into studying Geography, becoming a qualified urban planner, and completing a Ph.D. on how digital technologies effect urban life. A preoccupation with the subterranean realms of cities is also long-standing; it drove the 'Below' parts of my 2016 book Vertical: The City From Satellites to Bunkers. (I must admit I suffer from both claustropobia and vertigo! So, sadly, a lot of my work is necessarily desk-based!)

Stephen's book list on the subterranean of cities

Stephen Graham Why did Stephen love this book?

Anyone who has ventured down into Paris’s many catacombs, tunnels, and quarries will quickly realise that no city has a more storied, evocative, and influential subterranean culture.

With stunning colour photography, amazing maps, and an unrivalled discussion of the remarkable histories, cultures, and physical realms beneath Paris, this book was a revelation to me. 

What I found particularly fascinating is the way the book shows that, in sharp contrast to above-surface Paris, which is constantly ‘regenerated’, repaired, and cleared of the detritus of the past – beyond immaculately repaired historic buildings the ‘stuff’ of Paris subterranean world  largely just continues to accumulate!

The photos in this remarkable book take readers on tours of underground signs from the days of Victor Hugo; sketches of the guillotine from the time of the Revolution; Nazi military signs, and a vast array of art, graffiti, and remnants from Paris’ remarkable present-day ‘catophile’ culture.

By Caroline Archer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Paris Underground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literally underneath Paris, graffiti, signage, murals and mosaics reflect 500 years of the city?s history.


Book cover of Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia

Laura A. Macaluso Author Of Monument Culture: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments in a Changing World

From my list on monuments in the era of controversies and removal.

Who am I?

Laura A. Macaluso researches and writes about monuments, museums, and material culture. Interested in monuments since the 1990s, the current controversies and iconoclasm (monument removals) have reshaped society across the globe. She works at the intersection of public art and public history, at places such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Laura's book list on monuments in the era of controversies and removal

Laura A. Macaluso Why did Laura love this book?

Monument Lab is one book to get your hands on, if you are curious to know how a historic city can remake its traditional monumental history to become more inclusive and reflective of a holistic past and present. The book is about the organization called Monument Lab, which works with communities, artists, and more to reshape the monument culture of Philadelphia. Filled with short essays and colorful photographs, Monument Lab and Monument Lab the book model the democratic turn towards inclusive monument making in an American city.

By Paul M. Farber (editor), Ken Lum (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Monument Lab as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? That was the question posed by the curators, artists, scholars, and students who comprise the Philadelphia-based public art and history studio Monument Lab. And in 2017, along with Mural Arts Philadelphia, they produced and organized a groundbreaking, city-wide exhibition of temporary, site-specific works that engaged directly with the community. The installations, by a cohort of diverse artists considering issues of identity, appeared in iconic public squares and neighborhood parks with research and learning labs and prototype monuments.

Monument Lab is a fabulous compendium of the exhibition and a critical…


Book cover of Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form

Uldis Zarins Author Of Anatomy For Sculptors: Understanding the Human Figure

From my list on human anatomy for artists.

Who am I?

I’m a traditional sculptor with more than 25 years of experience. Being a dyslectic student in the 2000s, I developed a systematic approach to translating medical anatomy texts into visual information that I could use while sculpting.  All the anatomy books for artists at the time were text-centered. My reference sketches became quite popular among colleagues. It was clear that visual artists perceive information best when it’s visual, and that is how I got the idea for my first book. Now the Anatomy for Sculptors handbooks are bestsellers among visual artists striving to better understand the human form.

Uldis' book list on human anatomy for artists

Uldis Zarins Why did Uldis love this book?

Eliot Goldfinger’s book is very precise, reliable, and not too lengthy. Its systematic approach reminds me of a medical anatomy book, but it has been adapted for artists. The book is consistent in its depictions of human anatomy, and you will find each anatomical structure depicted from set angles: front, side, top, etc. It’s not always easy to find reliable human anatomy references, but this is one of them.

By Eliot Goldfinger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Human Anatomy for Artists as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eliot Goldfinger, a realistic sculptor and instructor of human and animal anatomy, has designed and written a reference work for artists and art students on the visual and descriptive components of human anatomy. The format is simple and accessible; all information about one aspect of a topic is set forth on facing pages. For example, the anterior leg muscle is illustrated in a series of precise anatomical drawings and well-lit photos, with text on origin,
insertion, action, structure, and how it relates to creating surface form directly opposite the pictures. Unique to this book are photographs of a series of…


Book cover of Art As Experience

Frank Jacobus Author Of Archi Graphic: An Infographic Look at Architecture

From my list on design sensing.

Who am I?

I'm a designer, a teacher, a father, a husband, and a friend. I love beautiful things and personally want to know why I find certain things more beautiful than others. I love learning about the world and finding connections between everyday experience and art. When I say “art” I really am blending art, design, architecture, landscape architecture, product design, etc. I believe everything is connected in some way. If I were to pigeonhole myself in any way I would call myself a generalist design thinker. I draw, I write, I make little objects, I make big objects – I see very little difference in any of these things.

Frank's book list on design sensing

Frank Jacobus Why did Frank love this book?

This book is essential to anyone who wants to come into the meaning of art, design, and architecture.

Give it time and it will undoubtedly change your life. Dewey’s central argument is that experience itself is aesthetic, that we need to pay deep attention to the quality inherent in every experience.

By John Dewey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art As Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on John Dewey's lectures on esthetics, delivered as the first William James Lecturer at Harvard in 1932, Art as Experience has grown to be considered internationally as the most distinguished work ever written by an American on the formal structure and characteristic effects of all the arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature.