Artistic Book Recs to Enlighten, Entertain, and Educate

I am lucky to say art has always had a tremendous place in my life. Here are are a few of the art books that make me and the people in my life tick.

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Art keeps the world in motion. It certainly keeps my art history major mom and my friend, and my art-addicted brains moving too.

My mom has always made sure art held a special place in my life whether it was arts and crafts at a senior center or discussing the history of art together over dinner. Her passion for art has most certainly been passed along to me. My best friend Emmy, who I met in college, came from a very similar art-obsessed home. It has been one of my greatest joys to have someone so dear to me that shares a deep love of art and museums the same way I do. It is never a question of whether or not we want to spend the whole day at the MET; we plan on it.

I asked myself and these two art lovers for art books they loved and thought would enlighten other lovers. Here are four below that you are sure to love!

Art of the Western World: From Ancient Greece to Post-Modernism by Michael Wood, Bruce Cole, and Adelheid Gealt


The genius book that is Art of the Western World: From Ancient Greece to Post-Modernism was published on New Year’s Day 1989. My mother purchased the book in September of that year, her first year at university. I asked my mother about the impact this book had on her at that time in her life and here is what she had to say.

“It was my very first history class, freshman year of college and we had to buy all of are books and I remember getting that book but I didn’t crack it open or anything… I went to my art history class and reading the book looking at the book completely changed my life and what direction I wanted my life to go in.

I knew I was going to be a communications major, that’s what I wanted to do and then when I read that book and saw how art was affected by all aspects of history, it made me want to go into the museum field and do art history and make art history my major as well as comminications.”

Kerry Cooper

This book dives into the complexities of art and just how every piece of art created was influenced by the art and artists before it. It covers paintings, sculptures, and architecture from ancient Greece all the way to around 1988; that’s over 2,000 years of art and inspiration!

The Great Artists – A Library Of Their Lives, Times And Paintings by Funk and Wagnells Publishers


The Great Artists – A Library Of Their Lives, Times, And Paintings is a large, detailed collection of artists and their works. My family came across this 25-book series at the thrift store for my 20th birthday, and it could not have been a better gift.

The books are massive. Pages and pages are written about the artists and even more contain painting after painting. The books are so large because there are some poster-sized paintings folded inside that felt like the biggest surprise upon my first read. My favorite part of these books is most of these artists are the best of the best with their most famous works on the front cover. I have always been curious about paintings that don’t get as much appreciation, so that’s what these books really did for me. They showed me just how much art is out there created by some of my favorite artists that I had no idea about.

This is the perfect set of books to have on a coffee table; mine are currently in a chaotic stack making me smile every time I see them.

Florence: The Paintings & Frescoes, 1250-1743 by Ross King and Anja Grebe


Florence: The Paintings & Frescoes, 1250-1743 is an absolutely beautiful book containing all of the paintings and frescos at the Uffizi, the Galleria Palatina of the Pitti Palace, the Accademia, the Duomo, and more. Over 2,000 works of art are discussed in this glorious book!

I was lucky enough to live in Italy this past fall and took a day trip to Florence. My only desire on this day trip was to step into the Uffizi and walk right in, eyes set on finding the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. There was a snag in my plans; my friends and I attempted to get a discount on the tickets because we were students. Let’s just say that did not happen. I burst into tears at the price of the tickets and deeply contemplated what I should do.

I was in Italy. I was in Florence. I was at the museum that contained the painting I have wanted to see for what felt like my whole life. So I split up with my friends and went in alone. I beelined in the direction my heart took me passing the most beautiful paintings I have seen in my life. It finally came into sight; I just stood in the middle of the room tears rolling down my cheeks. The whole museum was at my fingertips, and I just stood in the center of that room for an hour. Nothing compares to seeing a painting like that right there in front of you.

This book not only has detailed bios on many of the painters but also endless descriptions of paintings and pages and pages of art to indulge in. It was one of my best finds at a local store and is the perfect conversation piece. I want to have this laid out on a table open to a random page every day just to strike up a conversation about art.

Art Against Despair: Pictures to restore hope by The School of Life


Art Against Despair: Pictures to restore hope was Emmy’s pick; adding a book of modern art to this list. It calls itself a collection of “inspiring and therapeutic works of art.” Containing art and essays, this book changes the pace of this article. The paintings are on the left while the essays are on the right making this book feel less like a picture book and more like a deep dive into each and every piece mentioned.

Art Against Despair contains art from galleries including The Metropolitan Museum of Art (our go-to museum), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery, London and Tate Museum, London.

I asked Emmy why she enjoyed this book, and she said:

“I like how it takes different pieces of art, even those that may be perceived as sad, and demonstrates how they each encompass hope and courage.”

Emmy Francis

This way of describing art and changing the perception of it has never crossed my mind, but it will definitely be a book I borrow. I really look forward to the walk-through of why they chose the work they did for the goal of this book and how they describe it. Needless to say, Emmy has made me want to read this book, the exact purpose of this piece!!


Be sure to check out your favorite second-hand stores for some more books like these!

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