Thursday, April 01, 2010

What types of art book do you like best?

The Making A Mark Opinion Poll for April asks you what types of art book you like the best.

I continue to be absolutely fascinated by the publishing industry's choice of what sort of art books should make it to the shelves and endlessly puzzled by why excellent books go out of print.

a sample of art books on the front page of Amazon's Art, Architecture & Photography section

If the economic reality is that it's not economical to produce books other than for the masses then I would suggest that the question then revolves around the means (technology) and ownership of production and publication - and the scope which now exists to produce books economically for niche audiences.

My personal view is that art book publishers might need to be a bit more aware of the variety of people out there who like art books which are maybe not quite the same as the ones which are usually on offer. How big are the niche markets?

So this month's poll attempts to identify preferences for different types of art books

Recognising that it's unlikely that people have just one sort of art book they buy, I'm making the poll multiple choice and mixing art instruction and art history. This is partly to see whether people lean more towards developing their art or learning from 'how to' books or by looking at and reading about art produced by others.

This poll really ought to be more sophisticated than it is but I thought we'd try this one for starters

The options - and you have a multiple choice - are:
  • step by step basic books for beginners - the type which major in step by step pictures of how to paint a picture and are typically short on text
  • basic principles books for beginners - more text than pictures
  • 'how to' for intermediate level - tackling a topic for those who have gone beyond beginners books
  • 'how to' for advanced level - tackling the topic at art school level
  • 'how to' for very specific topics - such as painting water or a specific genre or a specific technique such as use of colour or composition (assume media is covered at the basic/intermediate/advanced levels)
  • contemporary exhibition catalogues - relating to artists (eg Rothko or Banksy) or recent art movements
  • art history exhibition catalogues - whether or not you saw the exhibition, whether or not the exhibition is current
  • books about an artist - such as Vincent van Gogh
  • books about art movements - such as the Impressionists or the Hudson Valley painters
  • any good quality art history book - anything and everything relating to art history so long as it's good
As usual you can find the poll in the right hand column - and the deadline is the early hours on 30th April. I will then report the results later the same day.

Depending on the answers this poll may be developed further next month. Please feel free to suggest how it could be developed.

I'd love to hear about:
  • what sort of book makes you want to buy it; or
  • what sort of books you buy without thinking twice
  • anything else you'd like to say about what sort of art books you like and can't find.


  1. I would like to see books about single artists or groups of artists within a movement, where the artist is interviewed by another artist, and that artist discusses their technique, their setup, their workday, etc. Where it's more of an illustrated dialogue, rather than a step-by-step demonstration. One of my favorite books like this is called "Realists at Work" by John Arthur. There was a good mix of different artists, and the author asked pertinent questions.

  2. I like art books with lots of big, high quality images in it, with a short commentary from the artist or editor on each. Like a gallery of book-sized mini-prints with the added bonus of comments. :)

    I also like books with progress images explaining the steps and thoughts of the artist, both beginner and advanced level.

  3. I confess I am of a generation that prefers to get information/instruction from books rather than DVDs etc. Full colour printing and desk top publishing have made the production of gorgeous looking, illustrated art books very common - both instructional and otherwise. I find it hard to resist buying art books and have shelves full of them. However, although I'm as seduced by the great illustrations as the next person, I'm not convinced that the instructional art books we're getting are necessarily any better than those of past times. It may be a bit more effort to read and re-read an older, text-heavy book, but doing so can often reward the effort. For example, I recently discovered the books of Harold Speed ("The Practice and Science of Drawing" and "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials"). There are very few illustrations and those are in b/w! But, the content is fantastic and I will continue to return to these books long after the thrill of a new "coffee table" art book has faded. I've a great many modern "how to" art books too. Not many of them will help me develop my own style and approach - but the seductive nature of these well-illustrated books will convince me that I can become just like whoever the particular artist is that has written the book! Probably not very likely!

  4. You don't have a choice I'd pick:

    I like best art books that publish images of my artwork!


  5. I like books about just one or a group of artists & their own concise comments on the subject or working method.

  6. I buy books about art movements, about artists in the lead and good artists' biographies, as art cannot be seen separate from history. Artists take from previous styles and develop in new directions! Van Gogh's ear or ailments are not important. But what he gained from his stay in Paris and the countryside, how he was influenced by Impressionism and his contemporaries and how he developed in a fresh direction are very important aspects to consider.

    Art History books I love:
    Hilary Spurling: Matisse the Master (Two Volumes)
    Melissa McQuillan: Van Gogh (very good)
    Elda Fezzi: Renoir
    Italo Tomassoni: Pollock
    Heinrich Wolfflin: Renaissance and Baroque

    A super practical art book: Oil Painter's Solution Book: Landscapes
    by Elizabeth Tolley. I think I would also love to read the book recommended by Carol H.

  7. Lisa - that's because the presumption of the question is about what we read which interests us or helps us to develop our skills or learn more about art.

    Books with your own art work might be very nice - and I've seen some good ones - but how do they help you? I'm not saying they don't - but I am interested as to how they might

  8. My absolutely favorite art books are the ones you get in college when you first start taking art classes related to fine art. I was in these classes in 1970 and I still have my workbooks and text books. The physical book was very thick and wide. It was called Gardner's Art Through the Ages. the plates are still gorgeous full color photos but the spine is a little crusty. Another book I really liked was Bridgeman's Anatomy. Bridgeman’s is not for the novice. It really teaches how muscle moves under skin. Both books were beautiful introductions to art. It's been a long time but, I never gave up my ART love. I go to sites that buy art sell art .Even today I scour the internet for art and have supplemented my personally produced art with stuff from online sites. My walls are pretty full. Maybe I should revolve my art like the galleries revolve their art. Anyway, I have an awesome collection just not enough wall space to hang everything on.

  9. I was out all afternoon yesterday and got home to some really great comments - thanks everybody for contributing

    Any more contributions?

  10. Firstly, I have to be attracted by the image on the cover unless I'm seeking out a particular artist. I learn far better by seeing/watching rather than reading. My ideal art book would be one with equal ratios of images to text. Somethings can't be conveyed by just a photo alone.

    I'm usually disappointed by books that contain some instruction/tips by the author, then are filled up with statements from other artists. It comes off as simple namedropping to me and normally adds nothing useful.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Right now I've got a great book on tonalism, Like Breath on Glass, and Albala's terrific book, Landscape Painting, open on my studio table. Next to me in the living room is Jackie Battenfield's The Artist's Guide.

    Art business books is an important kind of book and I don't think I saw that in the poll. I've bought 3 this past year, all really helpful.

  13. Funny you should say that Lisa about art business books - guess what I'm working on!

    I think you're the second person I've known recommend the book on tonalism - but I've never seen it in the UK. Could be time to reach for the Amazon for a look see!

  14. My favorite art book is "Anatomy For The Artist" by Sarah Simblet and Photography by John Davis. The book shows nudes and with vellum overlays explain there positioning with bones and the musculature of the people. A handful of famous paintings are also broken down the same way, so an artist can understand how the body should truly look in different positions.

    I like books that are well designed, use large and highly detailed illustrations or photography... but if a book is not put together well as a whole I tend to discard it.

  15. An Art Biz book from you sounds great Katherine! I found the Albala book from your Landscape site and ended up signing up for his summer workshop (in part because it's taught about 20 miles from my home.)

    You do need the book on Tonalism. It's the best and it would be timely to have a review of it on the Landscape site.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.