Thursday, April 25, 2013


artists in their own words

As a follow-up to re-reading The Selected Writings of John Marin, here is a list of first-person narratives by painters and artists.  These books form the core of my art library, and the list below doesn't even include coffee table art books, of which I have many (and many of my favorites contain interviews with the artists, but I have to draw the line somewhere here, or writing this list will become a day-long project).  Some of these I re-read every few years.  Others not so much, but they still contain seeds of genius and solid information about work habits and process, which can often feel like a life preserver tossed to the floundering and even drowning, if you get my drift.  I am just going to list titles here, the publication information is readily available online or by searching this very blog, since I have written about many of these books here over the years (search my blog by using that little search box in the upper left hand corner of this page - type in the name of the artist, or the book title).  This list is roughly in chronological order.  I would have liked to have been assigned some of these books to read, as an art major in college, but I'm glad I had the wherewithal to seek them out on my own, so, you know, no hard feelings.  Water under the bridge and all that.

I've put an asterisk after the books that mean worlds to me.

Ancient history (so to speak):

On Painting - Leon Battista Alberti
The Lives of the Artists - Giorgio Vasari

Eighteenth-nineteenth century:

Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag
Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun
Memoirs of the Life of John Constable*
The Journal of Eugene Delacroix
Noa Noa - Paul Gaugin
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh*
An American Artist in the South Seas - John LaFarge
The Recollections of John Ferguson Weir 1869-1913
The Life and Letters of J. Alden Weir
The Digressions of V. - Elihu Vedder
Drawn from Memory - Ernest H. Shepard
Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck - Philip C. Beam
Letters - Paul Cezanne

Twentieth century:

John Sloan's New York Scene 1906-1913*
The Art Spirit - Robert Henri*
Hawthorne on Painting - Charles W. Hawthorne*
The Wyeths: The Letters of N.C. Wyeth 1901-1945*
Concerning the Spiritual in Art - Wassily Kandinski
Somehow a Past: The Autobiography of Marsden Hartley
Eight Poems and an Essay - Marsden Hartley
My Dear Stieglitz: Letters of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz 1912-1915
My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz Volume One 1915-1933*
A Woman on Paper: Georgia O'Keeffe - Anita Pollitzer
The Selected Writings of John Marin*
My Life - Marc Chagall
Background with Figures - Cecilia Beaux
Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr*
Frederick J. Waugh: American Marine Painter - George R. Havens
The Journals of Grace Hartigan 1951-1955
Material Witness: The Selected Letters of Fairfield Porter
Art in its Own Terms: Selected Criticism 1935-1975 - Fairfield Porter*
The Party's Over Now - John Gruen
Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons*
Dawns & Dusks - Louise Nevelson*
The Sound of Sleat: A Painter's Life - Jon Schueler
Art & Soul - Audrey Flack
The Philosophy of Andy Warhol*
The Andy Warhol Diaries*
What Did I Do?  The Unauthorized Autobiography of Larry Rivers
Joseph Cornell's Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters, and Files
Daybook - Anne Truitt
Agnes Martin: Writings*
The Time of My Life - Emily Muir
Chuck Reducks: Drawing from the Fun Side of Life - Chuck Jones
Peanuts: A Golden Celebration - Charles M. Schulz

A few books in this list do not have much first-person writing by the artist in question, because there isn't much available, but what little there is, is here (for example, a few known letters from Winslow Homer, or brief sections of the book about marine painting that Frederick J. Waugh never published himself), and I have found even those little bits to be valuable, so I include them.  I didn't include books I know about but don't have, or have but haven't yet read.  Rockwell Kent, for example - I love many of his paintings but have not read his books.  And Marie Bashkirtseff, I have her Journal but there it sits on the shelf.  And Love Locked Out: The Memoirs of Anna Lea Merritt, ditto.  The Letters & Journals of Paula Modersohn-Becker, ditto ditto.  I did include Charles M. Schulz, because in this particular book he explains some of the real-life stuff behind specific story lines in his comic strips - and the same with Chuck Jones and his genius animation sequences.

One more book I must tell you about, since I've turned to it often over the years as a great browsing book:  Painters on Painting - selected and edited by Eric Protter and published by Dover.  A chronological list of samples of known historical documents written by painters in their own words, and in a few cases by friends or historians if no known documents exist, from Giotto, Fra Angelico, Ucello, Bottielli, Leonardo da Vinci (oh, I forgot to mention that I also have a huge reprint of his Diaries, but I haven't yet read a word), Titian, etc., up through history to some of the moderns of the twentieth century.  Short entries, this isn't a huge book, but I love its scope and interesting bits and pieces.  God bless Dover books, for this book in particular, and also for just being generally awesome. 

I would also like to mention, so I will, a great series of reprints of old art books, called The Library of American Art, published in the 1960s by Kennedy Galleries, Inc., in New York, and Da Capo Press.  I have four volumes so far and would like to find more.  All are reprints of scarce nineteenth-century art books about American painters.  I am about to start reading one of these - The Domestic and Artistic Life of John Singleton Copley by Martha Babcock Amory.  Originally published in Boston in 1882, the reprint I have is from 1969 and contains many of Copley's letters, along with letters from his family, during his education and travels to England and Italy as a student and then as a working painter.  I thought this would be a great follow-up to continue reading about colonial and federal America, after finishing the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin last week.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

A few more items of interest that I know about and want to read, sometime soon - the Keith Haring Journals, Gerhard Richter's Writings 1961-2007, and Nell Blaine's Diaries (her papers are at Harvard and I've heard that her diaries are wonderful, but will if they ever be published? I do not know, so if anyone else does, please tell me).  If anyone has titles to add to this list, especially published diaries of artists, please comment.  You know I am always starving for good books...

I see I haven't even mentioned biographies of artists, or art instruction books, besides the classics by Henri and Hawthorne above, or any the great art blogs out there at this very moment, and omg youtube videos, painters' diaries unfolding before our eyes.  Well, I'll have to save all  that for another day.

What a great list! I have Art Spirit and Hawthorne on Painting but while I think them good I don't tend to be a excited about them as everyone else in the world. I have the Kandinski but have to admit that spiritual is just not me, I'm more the mechanic. On the other hand I very much like Art in its Own Terms and Painters on Painting,(short attention span). Hundreds and Thousands is on my Amazon wishlist and I just added the Cecilia Beaux and no doubt will add more as I investigate your list. While not strictly autobio I highly recommend The Paintings of Bernard Dunstan, I like his work and thru-out he makes comments on his life and the circumstances at the time of certain paintings. I can see that my art library will be growing, it's presently around 260 volumes and once past 2 isn't 4 the next number of note? Maybe it was 5. I think I would love a chance to peruse your shelves. I am one of those people who goes into someones home and brazenly begins seeing whats on the shelf...I'm sorry did you say something, I was just looking at this ____. One of my ruder habits, but I'm not going to change.
Thank you, Sarah. A list of favorite books, in my eccentric opinion, is one of the greatest gifts someone can share with others.
I love the Robert Henri book and had borrowed a copy from my local library two or three times before I bought my own copy. It was very expensive, on my budget anyway, but a fine copy in a very good dust jacket of the first edition so I could not resist. I read it again once I got it home and never felt a twinge of remorse for splurging.
Have you ever read the essays on art by Walter Pater? If not, they are favorites of mine. He was a professor of Art history at Oxford, one of the founders of the Aesthetic Movement, mentor of Oscar Wilde, among many other accomplishments. His essays on Renaissance art, William Morris, and Ancient Greek sculpture are his best, I think. If you ever find his collected essays published during his lifetime, many of them contain his literary criticism as well as thoughts on art--both very adept and interesting. Wilde even wrote a book about Pater's essays: "The Critic as Artist" in 1891, also very good.
I will stop now...
Steve, Cecilia Beaux's memoir is not very well-written but it is interesting. You could supplement it (as I have) with the recent art book "Cecilia Beaux: A Modern Painter in the Gilded Age" by Alice Carter, which is not that well written either, but it does have great color plates and it fills in the blanks in Beaux's own version of her life!

Thanks for the recommendation on the Dunstan book - I like his work too and will look for it. I may have to write another post on some of the coffee table art books I have, next. Heavy on Maine art and representational painting in general, no surprises there. I haven't counted so I don't know how many I have. A lot... I won't say too many, though.

Hello anon, thank you for the long and interesting comment, and no, I have not read Pater's essays! I will now! I have the Henri book in softcover (for travel) and in hardcover (at home on the shelf). Have read bits of it more times than I can remember. There is a fabulous Henri painting at the Colby Museum of Art, by the way, if you are ever in the area. Life-size, portrait of a Spanish dancer. Totally stunning brushwork.

And HOLY CRACKERS I can't believe I forgot to put Joe Fig's amazing book on my list! "Inside the Painter's Studio" - IT'S SO GOOD! In depth nterviews with contemporary painters, pictures of their studios and Fig's obsessive sculptures of the same, such a great book... I've mentioned it several times in the past two years, but it deserves another.

I started reading the John Singleton Copley book last night - fascinating so far. Right now he is in Italy looking at paintings when the American Revolution breaks out and is writing to his wife (still in Boston with their young children), urging her to take ship for England. Even though he is for liberty, he doesn't want her caught in the middle of a war. Great stuff.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?