Back to School Special: The Unofficial Art School Reading List

The interior of Holman Library at Green River Community College in Auburn, WA.

If the whole point of being in art school is to make art, why bother reading? For many art students, history and theory courses are just another hoop. But according to CMU senior Jamie Ernest, the library is be just as important – and inspiring –  as the studio. Here are her tips for off-syllabus top picks.

Jamie’s top 8 books art students must read at some point in their university career

  1. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. This short, easy to read gem will restore your confidence that you can make it in the art world. This book is blunt and addresses the issues that hinder artists and their creative develop. It’s reassuring, refreshing and exciting to read, no matter your field or medium.
  2. Art/Work: Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career by Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber. This book is essential if you are thinking about being a practicing artist. Written by an art lawyer and a gallery director, it covers everything from resumes and paperwork, to documentation, working with galleries, and what you can expect in all of these situations – and much more. This is a staple and critical if you’re graduating (if you don’t already have the desire to buy it as an underclassman).
  3. Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists by Sharon Louden. Truly an inspirational read, similar to Art & Fear, this collection of essays provides the reader with hope and reassurance. Advice is abundant throughout this collection that surveys a wide range of working artists. Also a great book to give to friends or family who might not understand what it takes to live a creative life as a working artist.
  4. Art Law (in a Nutshell) by Leonard D. DuBoff and Christy O. King. You might think this book would be full of Latin and other things difficult to understand for the non-lawyer reader…but it is far from it. It is 300 pages of interesting. It addresses the history of art law and explains clearly and succinctly what is right and wrong. It covers customs, copyright, contracts, auctions and much more. If you are serious about becoming a practicing artist, I recommend this read; you not only learn about how art law evolved historically, but valuable ways to avoid potential problems once you are established.
  5. Color and Light by James Gurney. I know, I know, isn’t Josef Albers’ book, The Interaction of Color the color book of an artist’s life? No, not necessarily. Gurney’s book explores other ways of understanding color. He touches on scientific understanding along with artistic understanding, which tie together beautifully. Gurney has done extensive research on color and light and elaborates how color works in our real world in relation to art.
  6. On Photography by Susan Sontag. All of the photographers already know the importance of Sontag’s writing, but painters, sculptors, new media artists, etc. should all take the time to read this short collection of essays. Sontag touches on photography from a number of different perspective that a trained painter or sculptor might not understand; she discusses the language of photography, its history, and how it is different from other art forms. Truly an essential read for the non-photographer.
  7. Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. Also another short read, this book delves into what makes an image work and what doesn’t. Essential information for an emerging artist, no? Bang’s is a much more accessible version of some of Kandinsky’s writings. She discusses why certain shapes and colors make us feel certain things, and situations in which these are aesthetically successful.
  8. Guerrilla Girls’ Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art by Guerilla Girls. This book, comprised by the anonymous group of feminist, women artists, demonstrates how men have dominated the arts by discouraging and obscuring women’s involvement. This book approaches this very important issue in the art world with humor and class, but also with stone cold facts. People of all genders should read this book; it is funny, blunt, and relevant and provides a much-needed perspective to correct our course in an ever-changing art world. Equality for all!

What’s on your unofficial reading list this semester?

Jamie Earnest is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University and will receive her BFA in May 2016. She is a Carnegie Mellon Fifth Year Scholar, a part of the senior honor society, serves on the Students President’s Cabinet, and is the director of The Frame Gallery, a student-run gallery on campus. In addition to her school involvement, Earnest takes her artistic life very seriously and attends local and national shows, and has recently been shown through Revision Space Gallery, Future Tennant, and will be working with The Warhol in the spring for an installation.

2 Comments on Back to School Special: The Unofficial Art School Reading List

  1. This list could keep me busy for a very long time. Thanks for the recommendations. Some of my favorite reads from grad school at Sotheby’s were by Sara Thornton ( Seven Days in the Art World and 33 Artists in Three Acts are fantastic.

  2. Fascinating; I really enjoyed “Seven Days” and was excited when Seth Clark recommended “33 Artists” but I never finished it. I wonder if that’s because it’s a book for artists, rather than art historians? I kept waiting for analysis, but the material is presented very “naked” – unfiltered, honest.

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