Even when depicted by the written word, something about visual art is so compelling. Though the media are very different, they go together as well as song and dance, and lovers of art and books love to watch those worlds collide. Whether ekphrasis, narrative or even biography, these texts are great books for art lovers.
As a native of the American South myself, Sally Mann's photographs certainly made an impression on me not only in the way they execute the feeling of nostalgia intertwined with the present but also in how they depict the setting of the South as a symbol of that feeling. In this memoir featuring her photographs, Sally Mann explains that feeling of moving forward into decadence while backsliding into the past, and what that means for the present. She has a true talent for expressing art in words, and although no work of art should need the artist's explanation, her memoir stands alone as an art piece itself.
This work of nonfiction details the women who worked in animation during its innovation and how they made cinematic history. It tells the narrative of the boys' club that was Walt Disney Studios, how the women who worked there fought for respect, and perhaps most importantly, on the wide-scale, how women and girl characters were depicted in animated films. The book chronicles the rise of Disney all the way up to the first female-directed full-length animated film from the studio, Frozen. It's an important one among books for art lovers.
The five women profiled in this book are among the most influential in the male-dominated world of abstract painting—and their influence was as artists themselves, not muses. From one of the most turbulent social and political times (post-war), these women's art worked to tear up the prevailing social code and replace it with the ideals of liberation.
In Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, protagonist Theo miraculously survives the accident that kills his mother, he is uprooted from everything he knows. In turn, he becomes intensely fixated on a painting that reminds him of her. Many art lovers can relate to the attachment of one's memory, eye, spirit, or what have you, to a work of art, and this novel illustrates that attachment better than any other book for art lovers.
I fancy myself a connoisseur of all things horror—the more macabre and sickly funny, the better, so when I thought to myself "oh, wow, what a great title," I should have immediately known that Born to be Posthumous's contents would be horrific, if not also that the book was a biography of Edward Gorey. If you're unfamiliar with his work... well, you've actually probably seen it and you just didn't know! He wrote children's picture books with titles like The Hapless Child and my personal favorite, The Gashleycrumb Tinies, which is a gory (literally) interpretation of ABC books. All of his books are great books for art lovers, but this one is about HIM, the artist, the one from whose mind all of this sprang.
This biography details the paradoxical life of Philip Johnson, the man credited with introducing European modernist architecture to America. This style now dominates American cities, and while Johnson mentored generations and won a Pulitzer Prize, he also served clients like the Rockefellers, televangelists, Donald Trump, and was otherwise a man of "deep paradoxes." This book delves into his life as it was affected by his art, and vice versa.
The protagonist of this graphic novel, Cherry, imitates Scheherazade of Arabian Nights (or 1001 Nights), but this work of fiction is more than just a fairy tale retelling. Though she is married to the evil king, Jerome, Cherry is in love with her maid, Hero. While Jerome schemes to seduce his wife so that he can take over the kingdom, the two women hatch a plan to keep him at bay. The illustrations in this novel are compelling independently, but they illuminate the text so well that they're inextricable. This one definitely numbers among great books for art lovers.
The texts detailed above are the best books for art lovers I’ve been able to find—and I hope you enjoy and learn from them as much as I did.
What to Read Next
Mary Kay is a horror enthusiast, sideshow lover, and prose writer from south of Atlanta. Her true crime novel, America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster is available for pre-order, and you can hear her analysis (and jokes) about scary movies on the podcast, Everything Trying to Kill You. You can read her tweets @mkmcbrayer.