I discuss some insights from my art practice reading list. I also shamelessly plug some of my other series and explain how they tie in.
I’ve done a fair amount of reading this year for my art practice. I read a few of these listed for the mentorship program that I participated in the first quarter of the year. A few of the others were mentioned in the program, so I followed up reading them after the fact. I’m going to talk about a few of the standouts from my art practice reading list and some commonalities I find useful to think about and a few things that I think are missing.
My 2022 reading list (so far)
The Politics of Design – Ruben Pater
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
How to be an artist – Jerry Saltz
Show your work – Austin Kleon
Walking on Water – Madeleine L’Engle
Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking — David Bayles & Ted Orland
Catching the big fish – David Lynch
Art and Faith: A Theology of Making – Makoto Fujimura
If you are getting started and want an easy read to practice and revisit over and over, the Austin Kleon trilogy is a fantastic set. For my mentorship program we read the second book: Show Your Work! I also recommend both Steal Like an Artist and Keep Going!. Because they are quirky and fun and short, they are usually in the public library. So if you want to read some encouragement, have a few basic starting points, and you are strapped for cash, this is the perfect place to start.
I feel like his voice of encouragement is most like what I hope that my voice of encouragement sounds like: some good information mixed in with some humor for both myself and the process we engage in. I want to have fun. And I want others to find their fun in a dedicated but flexible way. I feel like Kleon provides a good bit of that in his books.
For a more academic look at artmaking, I found Art and Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of Artmaking really good. I checked this book out from the library last year but then bought it and read it as part of the mentorship program. This book has fantastic information in it but it is definitely a dryer read than most all of the other books on this list. Because of that, I found my second read allowed me to have a better grasp of the material. I took copious notes in my copy so I see myself revisiting this book again and again.
For Christians (and interested non-Christians)
Last in this group is Art and Faith: A Theology of Making. This book is about Christian Theology and art making. As a Christian making art, I found Fujimura’s insights to be incredibly profound and thought provoking. This book absolutely rocked my world. As I was reading, I wrote a bunch of my own personal theology, insights, and notes on current projects because it energized me so much I felt drawn to have the conversation in real time with what I was reading.
I know I will seek out this book again to center me in the faith and practice that he articulates so well. If you aren’t a Christian or a theology nerd like I am, your mileage may vary for this book. But I would encourage you to give it a try if you are curious because I think he does such a lovely job of articulating how art making can bridge the gap between the mundane and divine and how our participation by making helps birth God’s beautiful world into the here and now.
What these books have in common and what’s missing
Who gets to present?
There are a LOT of old and white and men on this list. It is absolutely my biggest complaint here. So much of what is articulated here is privileged by the gatekeeping of arts, academia, book publishing, and who gets to spend time formally art making.
There are several outliers here. I found The Politics of Design to be a fascinating non-American perspective on how graphic design works around the world. It’s a visually stunning book that is a quick read too. I nearly read it in one sitting. Fujimura’s book is grounded in his Japanese heritage which offers a profound richness that I enjoyed. As the only women writer on the list, I wanted to enjoy L’Engle’s Walking on Water. Her book is one of the oft-named classics in Christian artmaking circles but I personally found that the Fujimura book spoke to me more deeply.
As I am looking for this sort of reading going forward, I will actively be seeking more women, more non-binary and gender non-conforming people, more Black people, more people of color, more voices from outside the United States, and additional voices from outside formal academic circles. I find it challenging to find resources but I feel sure there are people out in the world having these conversations. (If you have suggestions, please share!!)
Small sidebar here to the other voices
Looking for other voices to talk about art making is why I love doing the AV Art Club posts. I love hearing about artists talk about their process and articulate the whys and hows of it all. If you’ve never taken a look at this series here on my site, please do! I find YouTube to be a treasure trove for this. Just so many good videos of artists directly talking about their work without the gatekeeping of publishing.
Are you serious?
Many of these books are serious takes on artmaking. And that has it’s place for sure. But I struggle with this approach because it’s so antithetical to how I actually make art. My process has so many elements of play and freeform improvisation that all of this serious talk makes me feel like I’m probably not doing it right. The Austin Kleon books and the Saltz book are the exceptions here. They take a much more playful approach which I feel sure is why I respond as well as I do to those.
Missing those playful voices is why I set out to write “How to create your art practice”. I wanted a more playful, flexible voice in that space. And while I feel art making can be incredibly profound, it can also be a pick-me-up for when you are having a rough day. It doesn’t have to be all and only serious and meaningful or silly or transitory. It can be any of those things, or all of them, or something else all together. Looking at it only through a serious lens makes that hard to see though.
And so anyway…
Reading these selections have been a part of my push to read more non-fiction this year. I started this year with a goal of reading one non-fiction book a month to go with the fiction reading I do. Art books have been the bulk of that reading. I am usually an ereader but I find reading nonfiction on my Kindle difficult so I tend toward ordering physical copies of books for this. At first I was ordering from Amazon because we are all addicted to instant gratification but in the last couple of months I’ve shifted to ordering from used book sellers or checking them out of the library. That’s why all the links above are either to the book’s website or to used copies.
What are you reading? Do you enjoy mostly fiction or do you mix it up with some non-fiction? I find the older I get the more I gravitate to non-fiction and I don’t know why that is exactly. Let me know in comments or tag me on socials so I can see what you are reading!