Books About Great Women for the Art Lovers on Your List

Coffee table tomes with glossy photos are great, but sometimes art lovers are looking for a deeper dive. Why not pick out something different? And while you’re at it, why not pick out a book by a woman writer that features women artists? 

Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly” by the Guerrilla Girls

The bold, beloved, bad girls of the art world – the self-proclaimed redefiners of the “f” word to mean feminism – have a new book out: “The Art of Behaving Badly.” Yes, please. These anonymous activist women artists have been known for questioning and calling out misogynistic behavior while creating challenging, of-the-moment works of art for decades. They shouldn’t still have to be pointing out the inequities of the art world, but thank goodness they are. 

The lavishly illustrated book chronicles some of their greatest and best-known works, mercilessly witty street art and posters that document dismal percentages of women represented in museums and galleries, lower prices for art by women, and the lack of diversity in the art world. In “The Art of Behaving Badly” they state, “Museums, galleries and art collecting are still dominated and controlled by big money and white men. For the history of art to be more than the story of wealth and power, that must change. Our work is not finished. We invite you to look through these pages, get mad and keep up the fight. Creative complaining works!” Indeed. And, if you order it directly from their website, you can request a signed copy. 

Unravelling Women’s Art: Creators, Rebels, & Innovators in Textile Arts” by P.L. Henderson 

One of the reasons more women artists haven’t reached the heights of success of their male counterparts is that those who dictate what counts as art, often don’t count the art that women make, even though textiles were historically often more highly prized than other works of art. P.L. Henderson looks at the great tapestry of textile arts, which encompasses all of human history and all places, to reveal rich stories and introduce compelling creators. Rather than a scholarly timeline, Henderson presents anecdotes and surprises, like how Suffragettes enabled their cause through clothing design and knitters hid secrets in coded designs. Henderson also includes interviews with contemporary fiber artists. 

The Printmaker’s Daughter” by Katherine Govier

If you picture Mount Fuji in your mind’s eye, there’s a good chance you’re conjuring the image created by the great Edo period Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai. Novelist Katherine Govier looks behind the man and focuses on his daughter, Oei, a master artist in her own right, and assistant to on some of his best known works. The novel recreates sights and sounds of 19th century Tokyo while delivering the engaging tale of a young woman artist, as well as a suggestion that she may have had a greater hand in what came out of the family workshop than has been documented. 

The Flowering: The Autobiography of Judy Chicago” by Judy Chicago with a foreword by Gloria Steinem

How did Judy Chicago, the fearless feminist, break through barriers in the male-dominated art world of the 1960s and ’70s? You’ll find out in her new autobiography how Chicago changed her name, took to using macho materials like automotive paint and explosives, and then embraced supposedly feminine realms like needlework and china painting, elevating them to masterpiece status in her great opus, “The Dinner Party.” Chicago set out to do two things with her art, she once told me in an interview: rewrite history to include women’s accomplishments and heal the world (Tikkun Olam – a tenet and reflection of her deep faith). She did more of each than it seems one woman could. 

If you purchase through her foundation, you’ll receive a signed copy.

Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty” by Phoebe Hoban

Whether you missed or saw the recent Alice Neel retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you’ll enjoy meeting the artist in Phoebe Hoban’s biography, “Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty.” Follow the story of Neel, who grew up poor in a working class family, attending night classes in art despite her mother telling her, “I don’t know what you expect to do in the world, you’re only a girl.” What she did was become the country’s greatest modern portraitist, capturing the zeitgeist of life in New York in the second half of the 20th century, and earning her the title of America’s van Gogh. 

On This Day She: Putting Women Back Into History, One Day At A Time” by Tania Hershman, Ailsa Holland, and Jo Bell

Beyond the realm of art, there are women who’ve changed the world for as long as there’s been a world. “On This Day She,” from trio of Twitter stars, is meticulously researched, expansive and eye-opening. It features one woman and her story for each day of the year. You’ll meet scientists, explorers, rebels, artists, writers, politicians, inventors, and even a few killers. The goal is to give a more complete picture of history, but if you end up finding some new heroes, all the better. 

Photo by Mikhail Spaskov at iStock by Getty Images

As an Amazon associate Woman Around Town may receive a small commission from sales of the featured books. The selections are the writer’s own.

About Mary Gregory (42 Articles)
Mary Gregory is an award-winning art critic and journalist whose work with museums, galleries, and auction houses led her to writing about art for publications like Newsday, Long Island Pulse, Afterimage, Art Week, Our Town, and the Chelsea News. A member of the International Association of Art Critics, she has degrees in both English and art history, and her fiction has been anthologized by the Georgia Museum of Art. ------------------Adel Gorgy's photojournalist work, which focuses specifically on art news and exhibitions, has been widely published in New York area magazines, newspapers and journals both online and in print. His fine art photography has been seen around the world in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries.