Books for Art Lovers on Your Gift List

Bibliophiles and art lovers can celebrate this season by sharing inspiration, knowledge, history, beauty, poetry, fun, and adventure. Several wonderful new and recent publications spotlight art – specifically art by or about women artists, or penned by women writers. 

Museums and galleries around the world are ramping up exhibitions, collections, and coverage of female artists in recognition of the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art and San Jose Museum of Art recently announced that for all of 2020, they’ll be exhibiting only art by women. How better to celebrate and prepare for a year of women’s achievements than by getting and gifting books about women artists?

Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order) by Bridget Quinn

It’s hard not to relate to Quinn’s story of going to her female art history professor, wondering why there were only a handful of women artists in the standard textbook, Janson’s “History of Art.”  “You’ve got the new edition! Our version didn’t have a single woman with her clothes on,” her professor replied. Quinn set out to change that. 

With chapters exploring the brilliant Renaissance painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, and the emotionally evocative work of contemporary African American artist, Kara Walker, a broad range of women’s artistic voices comes through. Get to know 15 amazing women artists. As Quinn states, “Great lives are inspiring. Great art is life changing.”

From Rhythm to Form Artwork by Marsha Solomon, Poetry by Stanley H. Barkan

Marsha Solomon’s lyrical abstractions have been described by almost all who see them as joyous and uplifting. They’re a reflection of the spirit of this contemporary painter, but they also offer opportunities for reflection in the viewer. The poet, Stanley H. Barkan, attended an exhibition of Solomon’s work and penned a suite of poems in response. 

With gorgeous reproductions of Solomon’s color-field abstractions accompanied by poems in direct conversation on facing pages, this book is one to savor slowly. Solomon states that she tries to create imaginary landscapes for the viewer to enter. Her worlds are welcoming and filled with color and light. Barkan’s deeply affecting poems extend the possibilities of thought and vision.

Ultimately, for each viewer of Solomon’s work, the response will be personal and unique. For each reader, Barkan’s poems will spark something different. Inspiration is on every page. 

La Luministe by Paula Butterfield

Spend some time in the past, and see the world through the eyes of painter Berthe Morisot in Butterfield’s debut novel. Morisot, striving to create art in male dominated 19th century France, helped forge an unprecedented, new vision. She was an Impressionist, and one of the few women Impressionists whose work is widely known. 

Starting with a scene at the Louvre, there are plenty of artists to meet vicariously, including Henri Fantin-Latour, as well as brothers, Eugène and Édouard Manet, with whom Morisot’s fate would be forever intertwined both on and off the canvas. Morisot’s life and loves are explored, but mostly Butterfield focuses her perceptions and prose on the magic of art. The thoughts and dreams of one artist seem to reach across time, as they resonate and feel relevant today. 

Metropolitan Stories: A Novel by Christine Coulson

Coulson strings together a series of engaging stories to create a novel that’s really more of a long love letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. History, art, people and their passions all come alive in her portrait of the place where Coulson worked for years. It’s a behind the scenes look filled with whimsy, knowledge and a palpable sense of awe. You can tell on every page how much Coulson loves The Met.

Stories range from erudite to gossipy to magic-infused. Paintings talk, ghosts roam the halls, outsized egos dwarf monumental sculptures, and through it all, the museum seems to come alive. Metropolitan Stories may not change the way you see the art at The Met, but then again, it just might. 

Great Women Artists edited by Rebecca Morrill

Great Women Artists delivers on the title’s promise.  Within its large, glossy pages are stunning works by 400 women artists from over 50 countries spanning the past 500 years. Famous or forgotten, these women artists worked just as diligently and passionately as their male counterparts.  Some of them are almost unknown, but all have something to say through their art.  Even the most insatiably curious will find endless new visions to explore. 

There’s a big red line through the word “women” on the cover.  The point that’s being made is that these artists are great.  Period.  No qualifiers needed.  Their recognition is way overdue, but just in time.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Finally, if you haven’t seen the film adaptation of The Goldfinch, be glad. The movie didn’t impress critics, but the novel is unforgettable, and you can still experience its thrilling surprises. When I closed the final page, I knew it would win the Pulitzer. A few months later, everyone else found out. 

The Goldfinch is a lightning fast page-turner with deep thoughts about art, complex relationships, international intrigue, one of contemporary fiction’s greatest characters (Boris), and, at the center, a delicate, small, heartbreakingly beautiful painting by Carel Fabritius. From the opening scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through a Dickensian cast of posh and penniless characters, from pillars of society to criminals both big and small, a life unfurls alongside an unchanging picture. Tartt’s work is art, and her touch is astonishing. 

Top photo: Bigstock

About Mary Gregory (35 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.