Virtual access to amazing art books, no coffee table necessary!
Do you love art? Do you love books? Do you love art books? I have an obsession and hoarding instinct when it comes to art books. That photo history book from a class 20 years ago? I still have it sitting in my studio even though I haven’t picked it up in years.
Every time I visit a museum or a gallery the first thing I instinctively do is gravitate towards the bookstore. It doesn’t matter that I can actually see a 30×30 foot Richard Serra sculpture across the room. Instead of focusing on the actual art I came to see my first thought is LOOK! THERE ARE BOOKS RIGHT OVER THERE ABOUT RICHARD SERRA!
I am pretty convinced this stems from my childhood where I didn’t have much access to galleries or museums, so I would disappear into the “art and photography” section of the chain book store at the mall. Not the most diverse selection of works (About 80% Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe),but better than nothing. If I couldn’t see original work at least I could explore a facsimile of it. If I was lucky, the book might actually have answers about the process and history of the artist. I could immediately connect a face and a biography to the pieces I was interested in.
We live in a time where artists are no longer forced to sift through commercial curation and William Wegman calendars in order to discover important artists and art. Why? Because a select number of authoritative, globally recognized cultural institutions have been generous enough to share their resources. If you are an artist or an educator you should be taking advantage of this as much as possible. The following is a brief list of free online libraries that can get you started. The four arts organizations listed provide access to over 2,000 substantive and authoritative art books (Only a few of which are about Ansel Adams or Georgia O’Keefe). Bookmark these, use them consistently, and share them with your students and friends.
Online Libraries Listed in Order of Recommendation
The Guggenheim museum has made over 200 of their published books accessible and downloadable for free in collaboration with the Internet Archive. The quality and quantity are fantastic and includes artists ranging from Kandinsky to Holzer. This is an incredibly valuable archive and if you only explore one today it should be this one.
Starter Suggestion: Gerhard Richter : Eight Gray
The description from their website understates the impressiveness of this site. “Five decades of Met publications on art history, available to read, download, and/or search for free”. Take advantage of the “additional resources” section of each title. It allows readers to explore the Met’s image archive directly while the “related titles” allows for a substantive exploration of subject matter and author.
Starter Suggestion: All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852–1860
The Getty Virtual Library contains a large quantity of select titles from the archive of Getty Publications. The selection of over 250 backlist titles is primarily focused on art history topics as well as conservation and digital archiving.
Starter Suggestion: Courbet and the Modern Landscape
LACMA’s reading room is a collaborative project with the Internet Archive that contains a growing collection of archived art books and exhibition brochures. The search functionality is a little limited, but the collection has quite a few fascinating pieces available in PDF and EPUB formats. The brochures are particularly interesting both as an introduction to certain artists and as design objects.
Starter Suggestion: Abdulnasser Gharem: Pause
Don’t limit yourself to simply reading from online libraries. Use them in ways that you would never use that twenty pound full color signed monograph you picked up at the Guggenheim for $250.
- Download 20 books on contemporary art and combine them into one happy-fun-super-mega art history book.
- Download The Academy of the Sword: Illustrated Fencing Books 1500–1800 (or any other book) and combine the illustrations into a short comic using famous quotes.
- Pick a collection or a single book and have your students find five images (any artist, any time, any style) of a woman, or a building, or war, or red. Then have them create a piece that combines aesthetic and subject elements of each image.
- Find 25 color images by Wassily Kandinsky. Print them out as large as you can and stack them on top of one another. Use a paper cutter to slice the stack at least 5 times vertically and 5 times horizontally (more if you are sadistic). Throw the pieces into the air and have your students try and recreate each original piece. Better yet, have them create their own work using the pieces.
Have fun, and if you ever find yourself in need of additional creative and artistic resource suggestions please don’t hesitate to join our consistently growing creative community at artnerdsociety.com. Our ever expanding Recommends section is a curated collection of books, videos, image archives, and educational resources that any visual creative will find useful and inspiring.
Be well and keep creating,
Original Title Image by Sindre Aalberg via Unsplash
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