If you know me, you know my love of art is deep and boundless. I can spend hours in a museum. I studied arts administration in grad school (because of aforementioned museum interest). I am fascinated by copyright law and appropriation and controversy. I get really fired up when people don’t like a piece simply because, “I could have done that.” [Insert angry eye roll here.]
What most people don’t know is that I didn’t major in art history at any point. My graduate degree was largely about nonprofit management (with an arts focus, but still). All that to say: I really don’t know that much about art. However, though love of something doesn’t necessarily equal knowledge about something, it typically translates into a desire to know more. Thus, I am an avid reader of books about art/artists/museums/your mom. (Just threw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention.)
Here are my favorites for all you art history or should-have-been-art-history-majors out there:
The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark (Thompson)
This book offers an exciting look at art economics (artonomics?). Seriously. Why are you laughing? If you’ve ever wondered how, as the cover depicts, a stuffed shark might fetch $12 million, this is the book for you. It covers auctions, dealers, critics, museums, specific artists/sales, and so much more. One of my favorite sections is about how color relates to price/desire.
Seven Days in the Art World (Thornton)
This title is pretty self-explanatory. Thornton dives head first into seven of the art world’s most well-known arenas, beginning with “The Auction” and ending with “The Biennale.” She offers a wide view of the art world at a specific span of time (the late 2000s) by running its bases for the reader’s benefit.
Lives of the Artists: Portraits of Ten Artists Whose Work and Lifestyles Embody the Future of Contemporary Art (Tomkins)
Lives of the Artists seems like one of those books you might be assigned in grad school (in a good way). If you can’t tell from my list and a conspiculous lack of Renaissance and ancient art texts, I’m a modern/contemporary art fan. On top of that, I’m fascinated by how artists work, so vignettes into their lives really works for me.
The Rescue Artist (Dolnick)
Art and crime are two of my favorite subjects. Add them together, and I am a happy, happy girl. Well, I mean, I don’t like crime, per se, but I like reading about crime. Do I wish the Scream had never been stolen? Yes. Do I want to read about it since it was stolen, as this book accounts? YES.
The Participatory Museum (Simon)
So, technically this is a book more about museums and less about art/artists…but this is my list, and I’ll put what I want on it. If you want to get into my niche fascinations with the art/museum world, you’d land squarely into the museums as third places/participatory art experiences/audience cultivation and contribution, etc. So, when I found this book, I fell instantly in love. Nina Simon is my real life, present day hero. (You should also check out her blog, and feel free to pass along job openings you find at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.)
On my nightstand:
Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures (Wittman)
This book is in my purse right now, just waiting for lunchtime to roll around. I miss Serial and I need some intrigue in my cultural consumption.
33 Artists in 3 Acts (Thornton)
Sarah Thornton’s follow up to the aforementioned Seven Days in the Art World gets an automatic spot on my reading list.
What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art (Gompertz)
The description alone was enough for me to bite: “Every year, millions of museum and gallery visitors ponder the modern art on display and secretly ask themselves, ‘Is this art?’ A former director at London’s Tate Gallery and now the BBC arts editor, Will Gompertz made it his mission to bring modern art’s exciting history alive for everyone, explaining why an unmade bed or a pickled shark can be art—and why a five-year-old couldn’t really do it.” Yes, let’s all learn how a five-year-old really couldn’t do it, folks. Really, really. REALLY.
Happy reading, folks.
Author’s note: I sourced links from Amazon, but, if you want to buy independent, allow me to recommend Parnassus Books.