The ARTINFO Bookshelf: 40 Books That Every Artist Should Own, Part II

The ARTINFO Bookshelf: 40 Books That Every Artist Should Own, Part II
A few of ARTINFO's 40 Books Every Artist Should Have: Susan Sontag's "On Photography", Rosalyn Deutche's "Evictions" and more
(Illustration by ARTINFO)

ARTINFO continues its list of the 40 books every artist should own, following up Part 1 with another 20 essential picks for your library.

“Witness to Her Art” Rhea Anastas and Michael Brenson, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College


Using the work of six key female artists (Adrian Piper, Mona Hatoum, Cady Noland, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker, Daniela Rossell, and magazine Eau de Cologne) as examples, this anthology of artist writings, primary documents, and criticism presents key insight into the legacy of the feminist movement.

“The Profitable Artist: A Handbook for All Artists in the Performing, Literary, and Visual Arts” Edited by Artspire, Co-published by the New York Foundation for the Arts and Allworth Press

The NYFA Web site is known to many as the first place to search for information on jobs, grants, and opportunities in the arts in New York. The non-profit organization has supplemented its online arm with this “best practices” how-to guide for managing a career in the arts. With valuable information on business, finance, marketing, and law balanced with interviews and case studies, the book is translatable to art careers in multiple disciplines. This book is about making a living. Who can sniff at that? 

“Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, Image Continuum Press

A grounded look at what it’s really like to sit down and make art. Made by artists for artists, this book is advertised as “not your typical self-help book,” with insights into the difficulties behind finding the rhythm in your art practice amid the other stresses of life. The book was a huge hit when it was first published in 1994, selling over 80,000 copies in its original Capra Press edition, mostly due to word-of-mouth endorsements.

“The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field” by Pierre Bourdieu, Stanford University Press

Leading social theorist Pierre Bourdieu continued his study on Flaubert’s influence on modern literature and crossed into the area of art, developing a theory of its autonomy in this 1994 work. Bourdieu builds a bridge between social relations and art, creating an indispensable interdisciplinary approach.

“Participation” Edited by Claire Bishop, MIT Press, co-published with Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

The CUNY professor sparked a whole line of books in this style with the now classic 2006 compilation of writing on relational aesthetics and performance art, featuring narrative analysis of historic works by El Lissitzky and Allan Kaprow, and essays by Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes, Felix Guattari, Joseph Beuys, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Hal Foster, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and many more (and the first translation to English of French guru Jacques Ranciere’s “Problems and Transformations in Critical Art”). The book is the ultimate introduction and definitive go-to source on the subject of participatory practice.

“Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility” James P. Carse, Ballantine Books (Random House)

For the game-lover in all of us, Carse’s course on games in business, politics, and personal life is a brainteaser totally valuable to artists whose work is playful or performative. Carse explains winning, losing, the mystique of property and power, culture and community — all things that are applicable to the canvas or your social life.

“100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists” Edited by Alex Danchev, Penguin Classics

Discover the roots of all the ‘isms’ that your professor may have claimed your work derives from, as well as a few others. Danchev compiles 100 manifestos from the last 100 years written by artists from Rem Koolhaas to Billy Childish. If you’re interested in reading even more manifestos from outside of just the visual arts, check out “Manifesto: A Century of Isms” as well, although Danchev is our recommendation for the visual-art-centered bookshelf.

“Art As Experience” by John Dewey, Penguin Group

American philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer John Dewey (1859-1952) was one of the foremost respected authorities on literature, the effects of the arts, and aesthetic theory. His work still has the power to suggest new ideas. Summed up, a large portion of this volume is devoted to his argument about the centrality of the art object to culture.

“Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics” by Rosalyn Deutsche, MIT Press

The Columbia University feminist theory and modern and contemporary art scholar left her mark on theory with the 1996 critique “Evictions,” which combined urban theory and the history of art and architecture into a critique of democratic space. This text is valuable for the urban sociologist with aesthetic concerns as well as for artists whose work deals with space and class.

“Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel” by Ernst Haeckel, Prestel

Haeckel was the John James Audubon of plant life and sea creatures. The natural scientist, who first published his portfolio between 1899 and 1904 in separate installments, left behind some of the most delicately rendered interpretations of organic forms, proving a valuable resource for both scientists and artists alike.

“True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World” Anthony Haden-Guest, Grove/Atlantic Inc.

Interjecting both humor and insider experience into our list, Anthony Haden-Guest’s tell-all account of the boom of the art world in the 1980s, and then its bust, continues to be gripping reading.

“The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri, Basic Books

Reading this 1924 book is still like having the most dedicated of teachers with you at all times. Robert Henri’s mentoring words offer technical and critical advice that is inspiring, encouraging, and easily translated into many areas of life.

“Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia” by Richard Hertz, Hol Art Books

The birth of the so-called “Pictures Generation” begins here, with the story of Jack Goldstein and his CalArts classmates, who led a shift from Conceptualism to Pictures art in 1970s New York. Hertz weaves his story from the narratives of the art world’s own, including contributions by Tom Wudl, John Baldessari, Matt Mullican, Robert Longo, and more. Together, they reveal the evolution of Chouinard into CalArts, the dynamics of New York’s art scene of the ‘70s, and, of course, the compelling story of Goldstein himself. Nearly all CalArts alumi have read this book, myself included, and the phrase “CalArts Mafia” has taken root as an affectionate term for the vast network of artists working internationally, post-Goldstein.

“Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy” by Dave Hickey, Art Issues Press

Meditating on art’s function, dysfunction, and position in a democratic American society, “Air Guitar” has become widely read as a piece of cultural commentary over the years by theory students, critics, and artists.

“After Modern Art 1945-2000” David Hopkins, Oxford University Press

Hopkins’s text offers a valuable history of postwar art, compressing the widely varied movements of American and European art into a sensible timeline — no small task. Our only wish is that this book be updated as soon as possible, seeing as it cuts off at 2000, and over a decade of artmaking has passed.

“Concerning the Spiritual in Art” by Wassily Kandinsky, Dover Publications

The father of modernism and abstraction was also heavily invested in capturing “spirit” on canvas, and he delivers still intriguing words on color theory and the nature of art. A good compliment to this is his other famous work, “Point and Line to Plane,” which dissects the place of the line, point, and building blocks of composition in non-objective painting.

“Art School: Propositions for the 21st Century” Edited by Steven Henry Madoff, MIT Press

With the price of higher education soaring, students falling into debt, and institutions subsequently reevaluating and reorganizing curriculums and education models, today’s art schools face new challenges. Steven Henry Madoff and MIT Press look at the current state and future of art education. With accompanying essays by artists and educators such as Hans Haacke and Marina Abramovic, as well as questionnaires with Shirin Neshat and Mike Kelley, the anthology is critical for its unique view of academia from the perspective of those who have passed through it at different points in the last century — creating a roadmap of the major historical art schools, and hinting at the possible structures of new schools to come.

“I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette” Edited by Paper Monument

This was the first pamphlet published by the art-focused offshoot of literary journal n+1. Paper Monument’s guidelines for how to behave in the art world are both funny and serious in a “take it with a grain of salt” kind of way. Featuring the contributions of 38 artists, critics, curators, and dealers, from Paddy Johnson to Rachel Uffner, “I Like Your Work” helps avoid the possibly disastrous social interactions that might occur at a Thursday night opening otherwise.

“On Photography” by Susan Sontag, Picador (MacMillan)

Her book “Against Interpretation, and Other Essays,” published in 1966 put Sontag on the map as an integral voice in the cultural debate, with her now famous essay “Notes on Camp” and musings on arts and literature. Nearly a decade later, she packed hit the art world with another punch in “On Photography,” famously comparing the camera to a loaded gun. 

“The Practice and Science of Drawing” Harold Speed, Dover Publications

Missing from most art schools these days is concrete technical instruction, and though Harold Speed’s book was written over a century ago, it can still fill that void. Speed’s instruction on line drawing, mass drawing, visual memory, and materials (with accompanying plates and diagrams) serves as the perfect place to being learning the traditional skills. 

For questions or further book suggestions, write amartinez[at]