When I was in art school, one of the very first classes I took was a drawing class that met at 8:00 AM MWF. Usually this class (AD 110) was taught by a TA. But this particular semester it was taught by one of the art professors. This was fine, except he had decided to use the time while we were drawing to impart his knowledge of life, and how we had to take advantage of every opportunity, and how he started out as a riveter and he built on that experience, and you have to build on your own experiences, and on and on and on.
Drawing 110 was an intro class where you spent a lot of time drawing busted watering cans and guitars missing strings composed in a hap hazard "still life." When you are a freshmen, you have just rolled out of bed and you are attempting to get excited about drawing a bunch of garbage, the last thing you want to hear is what amounts to a graduation motivation speech. The entire time he was going through this weekly diatribe, the dialog in my head went something like this: "Okay that's great! Building on experiences! Wonderful! Do you want to pipe down so I concentrate on my drawing here? You are always telling me to think about what I see and not what I know, to focus on my lightest lights and darkest darks, so how about letting me do that?"
Anyway, despite that, my instructor might be pleased to know that not everything he went on about was totally lost on me. One of the things that he said was that we should be keeping our textbooks and building a personal library of art books. I took this to heart and did not sell any of my art books when the semester ended. I built up quite a collection, and I have since added to my textbooks with other art books that I have found along my way as an artist. I am now a fine arts librarian, and this could well have been the starting point for that career choice as well. The picture above is just a potion of one shelf of several that house my art books. What follows is my recommendation for three art books from my collection that I think every artist should at least read if not own.
The Practical Handbook For The Emerging Artist
Unlike the other books on this list, this one is actually one of my former textbooks. This book has proven to be far more useful than the class that required it. It has information and guides through every aspect of being a practicing artist. From copyright law, to artists statements, to how to get your artwork seen, this book covers each topic in a way to familiarize the reader with the issue at hand. I refer to this book regularly but one of the points that I have taken from it was in section two; "Getting Your Work Out and Seen." Here the book talks about the different avenues for exhibition, how to navigate the selection process, and the pros and cons of each venue. One of the things that the author stressed was that as an emerging artist it doesn't really matter where you go to show your work, as long as it gets out there. She furthered by describing how you can build from each exhibition opportunity, and added that you never know who will be at each venue meaning that a prominent gallery owner or other professional might be there too. Personally I have experienced this, as my first solo exhibition at a small gallery outside of Washington, DC came about because the owner of the gallery happened to see my work at a local art fair. My copy is the first edition, but it has since been updated. An enhanced second edition is available.
Why Art Cannot Be Taught
I found this book shortly after I was rejected to every MFA program I applied to (another story that I may blog about at sometime in the future). The author describes it as a guide book for art students just beginning their studies. But I think it is a book every artist should read. In it Elkins discussed the historical roots of art education from the master/apprentice model to the academy to the current form of college art schools. He explained the nature of each environment and went in to detail about how the "publish or perish" model of higher education does little to help foster future artists. One section that I really enjoyed was on critiques and how it described what would happen if an artist like Georges Seurat brought in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte to a contemporary art class. The dialog was humerus, but a very valid point was made.
Art and Fear
I'm not sure when I came across this book, but I have found it helpful even outside the realm of art making. This book described how as an artist one should take the time to cultivate his/herself as an artist. It described the benefits of surrounding yourself in a creative community and building a network of artist friends. It encouraged the reader to make art, even when there seemed little point in doing so. This is a very good book to consult when dealing with rejection (which happens a LOT as an artist). One thing that I took away from this book was the idea that one should constantly be developing art. The author explained the idea was to draw and draw and paint, sculpt and sculpt and wheel through, just keep working on whatever it is you do. Bayles and Orland stated that it wasn't quality that mattered, but quantity. If you keep churning out works not all of them will be masterpieces, in fact most will not be. But there will at least be a handful that are stunning, and it is these handful that will take you places.
Well those are my three picks. As mentioned I work in a library so to stress that, you do not have to go out and buy these books just to read them (though they are available through amazon). You can go to your library and check them out. I have provided a link to Worldcat which after you enter the title will tell you the nearest library with a copy of that book. They are very good reads.