Great Art Books

I have taken a break from my painting and value blog series, to highlight some very good art books.

First is the book which motivated me to learn how to paint, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh . This is an unbelievable and moving collection of letters written by Van Gogh mainly to his brother Theo, who supported him greatly financially and emotionally throughout his career.


The above image is a couple of pages of his letters, you get an insight into how and why he worked, it is unprecedented and unlikely to ever be equalled as a record of an artist, if you had no interest in painting or art, this is still fascinating.


The second book I have chosen is much more specialist although continuing the Dutch genius theme, it is Rembrandt The Painter at Work, this was written by 'the' expert on Rembrandt, where it differs though from a dry historical text is that the expert Ernst van de Wetering was trained as an artist and has a painter's fascination with his subject.



He has totally dismantled Rembrandt's technique and presented it in this book, it has incredible closeups of his paintings and you can start to see how he achieved some of his techniques. For me this is important because I don't there ever will be anybody as good as Rembrandt at manipulating the texture and surface of paint to give the illusion of 'life'.


Third is a classic text on painting, the interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester it can be a difficult read, and I had to read it a few times, also a lot of it isn't very enlightening, however there are some very special gems in there. The really fascinating parts are where he describes his efforts to convey sensations and reality in his work, and for me conveying reality is the only point of painting, not reality in a photo realistic way, but reality in feelings, sensations and the stuff beyond words. To achieve that in painting is what it is all about, that is why people are still interested in painting because it has the ability to go beyond purely the visual onto a different level evoking feeling and sensations. 



"If you can talk about it, why paint it?" , "I would like, in my arbitrary way, to bring one nearer to the actual human being." - Francis Bacon


Next up, number four is absolutely completely and utterly different, the cover is terrible and the title totally off putting. However there are no better practical guides to painting, it is a series of about fifty questions covering where your painting may have gone wrong,it includes shapes, light, value, depth, etc. Each aspect of painting is illustrated by a painting by the author, some of which are poor reproductions but it gets the point across. It is a very useful tool to self critique your painting, by applying each question to your work. The book is Problem Solving for Oil Painters by Gregg Kreutz.



Another great book along these lines is by Richard Schmid called Alla Prima, it is very good, rammed full of practical information, however I struggle to recommend it strongly as it is self published and is hideously expensive being about £70 for the paperback. I suppose though you could easily spend that on a course and you would learn nothing like the amount of information which is in this book.


I am going to end this particular list with another classic, it is about drawing, which for me is the basis of painting and the place to start, and this is the book to start with. What also makes this book special is how it teaches you about psychology at the same time, and how to activate the creative areas of the brain while dampening the more egoic, word based parts, which generally will make you happier as well!

Drawing on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards.



I would love to hear any suggestions to add to future lists...

James Holman
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