Artists Questioned. What would you recommend as essential reading for an artist?

Jamie Powell, Purple Reign Acrylic and spray paint on cut-canvas, 8" x 10", 2013

Jamie Powell, Purple Reign Acrylic and spray paint on cut-canvas, 8″ x 10″, 2013

All artists have questions they seek answers to. Sometimes they ask themselves the same questions over and over again, and sometimes they seek out friends and mentors who provide answers to their questions. If you ask the same question to several people you will most likely get several different answers, and then it is up to you to select the answer that is best for you. So the question is…What would you recommend as essential reading for an artist?

Jenny Hampe Endresen: Essential reading for an artist???? Oooooh: so much! I mean, there’s poetry, literature, art history, biography, artist’s journals…. Where do I begin?! Well, the first book that came to mind was Roger Cardinal’s “Outsider Art”, which had a huge impression on me as a 22 year old…. Then, the collected writings (rantings) of my dearly belovéd Jean Dubuffet…. The journals of Joan Miró…. The diaries of Paul Klee…. “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, by Kandinsky…. The collected writings of Piet Mondrian…. Letters of Van Gogh…. “Search for the Real”, by Hans Hoffman…. “Raw Vision: Outsider Art and Beyond”…. “Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry”, by Jaques Maritan….”The Transformation of Nature in Art”, by Ananda Coomarswamy…. “The Unknown Craftsman: a Japanese Insight Into Beauty”, by Soetsu Yanagi…. How’s that, for a start? I could list HUNDREDS of books that have had a huge influence upon my art…. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, e.e. cummings, J.D. Salinger, Meister Eckhart, etc. etc. etc. 


Brian Frink: Books that have been important to me…..I’m writing this on a plane.

John Berger’s, Sense of Sight

John Berger is one of my favorite writers who wrote about art.  It is difficult to label him a critic.  He did write some criticism yet he wrote much more.  Sense of Sight is a collection of his short essays.  Some are about specific artists others are musings.  His prose is compact, full of allegory and poetry.  My favorite essay in this collection is The White Bird.

Suzi Gablik, Has Modernism Failed?

In 1984 Ms. Gablik had the audacity to suggest that Modernism might have failed.  Well she had the audacity to ask that question.  It was a question on a lot of artists mind and this book neatly presented it.  She paralleled the development of Modernist art with industrialism in Western society.  She suggested that the ethos of the individual, a concept that found its full flowering in late Twentieth century America, had run it course.

I had moved from New York to Madison Wisconsin.  Ms. Gablik gave a talk about her book at the Madison Art Center.  I had the great fortune to hear her speak and buy her book.

The Empathic Civilization,  Jeremy Rifkin

This a big fat sprawling book.  Rifkin examines the idea of empathy.  He proposes that humans rather than being naturally competitive are instead, naturally empathic.  He describes the ever-increasing empathetic response in humans through the advancing development of our civilizations and our technologies.  He makes the assertion that we are well on the way to developing into what he labels Homoempathicus.  He also makes the claim that our future survival as a species is dependent on this evolution.

James Elkins  What Ever Happened to Art Criticism?

A slim volume by the Chicago based art historian and writer James Elkins.  In it he asks the very simple question that forms the title.  Elkins is a wonderfully clear writer with an accessible style reminiscent of Berger.  As it turns out something HAS happened to art criticism, it is gone.  He quickly breaks down where it went and speculates on some ideas on how to get it back.

James Elkins, What Painting Is

An amazing book about painting, I don’t know what else to say about it.

Ree Morton catalogue from her New Museum exhibition

It was 1979 and I had just moved to New York City.  I walked into a place called New School For Social Research.  In the New School was a gallery called the New Museum it was run by the legendary Marcia Tucker.  On this fall afternoon I happened upon an exhibition by the great, late Ree Morton.  This exhibition marked me, sitting in my imagination nudging me towards a quirky, idiosyncratic formalism.  It was asymmetrical and strange.  I used what money I had to buy the catalogue and it has been a cherished part of my library for thirty-two years.

David Douglas Duncan, Picasso

This book was a Christmas gift from my parents when I was in high school.  It was a gigantic coffee table style book meant to glorify Picasso.  I loved it.  I pored over the many black and white images of the artist at home, in his studio, at the beach, cavorting everywhere and making art out of his leftover meals.  Included were all of the paintings he had made for that particular year, 1974.  I still go through this book.

————————————————————————————————————————————- Ashley Garrett: I actually don’t feel there isn’t a book that couldn’t be considered essential reading for an artist! The sources of inspiration for artists are extremely wide and varied. I don’t feel that I can recommend a particular book or line of thinking to another artist, but would rather encourage other artists to look far into their own channels of thought and follow each line as far as possible. Read wide and deep, ask questions in the text, and find the next book that approaches that answer, and on to the next question. Integrity for an artist is to stay intensely curious about the world and all the things and thoughts in it. I find myself constantly re-reading books by Joyce, Dostoevsky, and Nabokov, Steppenwolf by Hesse, Nausea by Sarte, Ibsen’s realist cycle and his early plays, poems by T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath–just like in making work, go to the edges of what you really don’t know, and read from there. Books that were given or recommended to me by other artists mean a great deal especially: just a few are Virginia Woolf’s first novel The Voyage Out by Curtis Hamilton, Ibsen by Katherine Aungier, The Poetics of Space by Noah Post, Wallace Steven’s The Palm at the End of the Mind and Henri Michaux by Brian Wood, William Butler Yates by Farrell Brickhouse, and a few great ones by high school and art school teachers including short stories by Flannery O’Connor and TJ Clark’s The Sight of Death.


Lisa Pressman:  I have many artist books that I look through but I like to reread  books that discuss the creative process.

Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit

The Writing Life :Annie Dillard

Daybook: Anne Truit

May Sarton: The Journals of Solitude

Trust the Process Shaun Mcniff

Art and Soul: Audrey Flack

Anais Nin: all the journals

Concerning the Spiritual in Art Kandinsky

Free Play Stephen Nachmanovitch

Art and  Fear, Ted Orland

“This is on my list to get ASAP:”

The Infinite Line: Re-making Art After Modernism by Briony Fer

Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation

Art Critiques: A Guide (Second Edition) – James Elkins; Paperback

“I also did a series on my blog about what is on your book shelf?

Here,here and here.


Jamie Powell:  Here is my list of books for artists – they are in no particular order.

Needless to say I lean towards artists writings.

Essays On The Blurring of Art Life

by Alan Kaprow

edited by Jeff Kelley

Jasper Johns

Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews

edited by Kirk Varnedoe

WET on Painting, Feminism and Art Culture

by Mira Schor

Philip Guston 

Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations

by Clark Coolidge

Letters To Young Artists

edited by Peter Nesbett, Sarah Andress, Shelly Bancroft


Sarah Saunders:  I’d recommend “The Art Instinct” by Denis Dutton. It’s a history of aesthetics from an evolutionary viewpoint. It basically looks at why we consider anything to be art, or beautiful. He’s not interested in judgement, critique or defining good art; it’s more about the instinct to be concerned with anything called art at all. He discusses the universality of this instinct across cultures and time. It looks at the question mainly from the observer’s point of view. I’d be interested in a similar take from the creator’s viewpoint, the basis for our motivation to create! Sadly, he died shortly after this book was published.

The other book I’d recommend is “The Language of Ornament” by James Trilling. It’s a survey of the history and expressive language of ornament. He makes a case for seeing ornament as a distinct category of art. He looks at the role of ornament; seeing it not simply as added on embellishment, but as a visual language in it’s own right (with history, expressive force, relation to material etc.).

The previous question was, and the next question is…

If you have a question you’d like answered please let me know. If it is interesting maybe I’ll use it.

From my shelf. The Horse’s Mouth.


One of my favourite things on Facebook recently were the posts called Shelfies ( shelvies). They are photos of peoples bookshelves, and I really enjoyed trying to see what reading habits many of my friends have.

There are many books on my shelves that I hope to someday reread and this is one of them. It’s probably 25 years since I read The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary, and that’s been too long.

The Horse’s Mouth is a 1944 novel by Joyce Cary, the third in his First Trilogy, whose first two books are Herself Surprised (1941) and To Be A Pilgrim (1942). The Horse’s Mouth follows the adventures of Gulley Jimson, an artist who would exploit his friends and acquaintances to earn a quid, told from his point of view, just as the other books in the First Trilogy tell events from their central characters’ different points of view. Cary’s novel also uses Gulley’s unique perspective to comment on the social and political events of the time.

Daily Studio Photograph. June 9, 2012.

June 9, 2012.

June 9, 2012.

Reading, and reading, and reading. This time The Triumph Of American Painting. Who’s your favourite American painter? Modern, contemporary, or otherwise.

Daily Studio Photograph. June 7, 2012.

June 7, 2012.

June 7, 2012.

The reading continues, and this one is about Pop Art. What is your favourite art movement, and are there still such things as art movements?