Art History Books You Can Read in a Weekend

Bob Batson

Staff Writer

Bob writes furniture descriptions for money. He lives in Brighton.

If you are, like me, an uncultured amorphous lump of tweets, then you’re starving for short educational remedies in modern art history. So here are five easily digestible art history books you can consume before you’re exposed as dilettante.


life with picasso book coverLife With Picasso by Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake

It is not quite an art history, a biography, or a memoir. It is a stirring of the three by the iconic Françoise Gilot to make something a more intimate history. While it easy to compare her own works with Picasso, Gilot—and Lake—pivot away from this cliché to explore the pains and ecstasies of two artists sharing ten years and two children together.



Postpostcolonial artists and global aesthetics cover-Colonial Art and Global Aesthetics by Akinwumi Adesokan

It may seem like an stretch to go from an artist’s memoir to a dialectical art history yet Adesokan’s intelligent, readable prose handles the complex without headache. The volume is lightweight without sacrificing the gravity of its subject and Adesokan clearly cares enough about the reader to break down complex historical relationships. However this book will ensure you can’t walk through a Western museum’s African art wing without layers of complex rage.


my faraway one coverMy Faraway One: Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933 edited by Sarah Greenough

Departing from Art History and towards artists’ history, this love letter collection is one of the most revealing. Georgia O’Keeffe’s tryst with Alfred Stieglitz was one of the most entrancing modern romances of the twentieth century and this type of publication does push the limits of personal understanding. A weekend with the first volume will leave you sensitive and with a deep appreciation for the inner lives of artists.


women photographersWomen Photographers by Constance Sullivan

While there are many, many, many, options for contemporary female photographers (and hopefully this publishing practice will never die), Sullivan’s work is a genesis collection. It was published at a time when art histories were curated towards western male artists; two years before Madonna’s Sex was published and everyone started to give a shit. Sullivan’s struggles mirrored the challenges of her collective subjects, women who faced discrimination as photographers when photography was still not treated as a serious art form.


black arts and black aestheticsBlack Arts and Aesthetics: A Bibliography by Carolyn Fowler

Not gonna lie, this will not be an easy volume to find (Atlanta’s Vintage Bookstore has six copies left as of April 2018) but is one of the most seminal collections and essays produced about the cultural magnitude of Black Artists. If you want to go beyond a breezy weekend read and understand the full weight of Black American artistic and aesthetic history, then you’ll need this bibliography.

What are your favorite art history books?