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Best books written by artists? Dinners would be many! In fact, there are a thousand ways to discover the history of art: travel, videos, films, essays, biographies, art history texts. But what better way to discover the ideas, emotions and lives behind the art history of art than by reading it directly from the books written by the artists? I’m Clelia and today I recommend 6 books written by artists that are really worth reading. 

Reading is one of my passions, but above all it is one of the ways through which I discover myself and the world around me. In terms of books, then, I don’t really read everything. Like everyone of course I have favorite genres in general or related to the period. But one thing is certain many of my readings are related to the art world. And among these biographies or books written by the artists are more and more interesting for me to read. 

1. Van Gogh’s Letters to Theo – Best Books Written by Artists

I perfectly remember which was the first book written by an artist that I read at university. And it’s the same one I’m telling you about first today. One of those books that I’m sure many of us have received as a gift or read on the recommendation of a friend: Van Gogh’s letters to Theo. Probably if it weren’t for these letters much of what we know about Van Gogh would have remained mysterious or in some unspoken sense. 

It is in fact a collection of 97 of the almost 700 letters sent by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo throughout their lives. These in particular cover about 18 years from August 1872 until July 1890, a couple of days before Van Gogh’s death.

How is it organised?

In my opinion they have the great value of making us discover how Van Gogh was an all-round artist, that is, even the letters are a masterpiece in a certain sense. They help a lot to really discover his ideas about nature, art and life. Also because the relationship between the two was very intense, almost manic because of the affection that bound them so sometimes they are very intimate letters. Inside the book they are reported in full so they have different lengths and while some are so interesting that they are underlined or re-read. others, on the other hand, need to be re-read because they help in the narration. 

It is one of those books that is worth reading and in my opinion also a gift to those of us who are passionate about art and his works in particular. 

2. Weiweismi by Ai Weiwei – Best Books Written by Artists

The second book is Weiweismi by Ai WeiWei. I remember buying it with my mother at Feltrinelli in Palermo the year I prepared contemporary art at the Triennale. I felt more and more that I was captured by this revolutionary world and I didn’t think twice about it. Now I buy paper books much more carefully and I read practically everything in ebooks to avoid physically owning too many books.

But I’m happy to still have this one in my library in my parents’ room. It is a collection of ideas. A veritable flow of quotations or brief thoughts by the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei. The book was published in 2013 and just like his works, it was born out of a direct criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights violations and provoked a strong political debate. 

What are the main topics?

These are excerpts from his newspaper articles, twitter posts or answers to interviews born as reactions to some events since 2008. For example the Beijing Olympics, the Sichuan earthquake, or his 81-day period in prison. Weiweismi is organized around six main themes: freedom of expression; art and activism; government and moral choices; the digital world; history and future; and personal reflections. A sliding book, synthetic perhaps but profound at the same time. 

3. The Spiritual in Art – Best Books Written by Artists

The next book is very often recommended as further reading, even given away as if it were a classic. And it probably is but in my opinion it is much more complex than it seems. This is Kandinsky’s The Spiritual in Art.

A book that for those who love abstract art or the philosophy of art is truly a classic but not for everyone so think about it for a moment before buying or giving it away. I recommend it to you today because it opens the door to discovering an artist Kandinsky who changed our approach to the work of art per se and together with others at the beginning of the twentieth century freed us from many preconceptions of traditional art.

How is the book divided?

The text is divided into two parts that we could enclose in two concepts: shape and color. In fact, the first part of the book focuses on the shape and on the philosophical and spiritual meanings of the shapes. The second part, on the other hand, is dedicated to painting and in particular to color. Furthermore, in this second part some pages dedicated to the artist, to the purpose of his expression and to his nature are very interesting. So a super recommended book by me but which should be read in a period in which you are trained to read or particularly tempted. 

4. Andy Warhol Diaries – Best Books Written by Artists

Another book that is considered a must-read classic is the Andy Warhol Diaries. An immense and truly unique book. This is a somewhat particular example because, unlike all the other texts, Warhol did not actually write these diaries. He dictated them by recounting what happened to him almost every day for 11 years. Don’t expect intimate reading like you might imagine from a diary. I see it as a report of the things that happened to him every day. Among other things, everything is dated day by day but written in the past because Warhol called his assistant in the morning and told her what had happened the day before. The people he’d met, some ideas he’d exchanged. 

Why is it a masterpiece?

There are two things about this book that make it conceptually a masterpiece. Warhol’s idea of ​​telling every day of his existence for so long makes us understand how self-centered and at the same time smart he was because he gave us a piece of history. And then it surprises me how he was always ahead because he did nothing but give us a taste of the Instagram stories in which the facts of the day of many of the people we follow are reported. Or Youtube vlogs where we follow other people’s personal lives. A genius in this too. 

5. My Secret Life of Dalì – Best Books Written by Artists

And speaking of geniuses, the next book I recommend was written along with many other books in the history of his career as an artist by the genius of Surrealism: Salvador Dalì. And it’s called My Secret Life. There would be several Dali books to read, but this one is really interesting conceptually. In fact, Dali is telling us, read this book if you want to find out more about me. If you want to know my secrets, my life, here they are and I’ll tell you myself, because I’m the only one who can. 

What is Dali talking about in the book?

The book is divided into three main parts and tells about his secret life up to that point. The first part is dedicated to his birth and childhood and divided between real memories and memories created by the imagination. The second part is linked to his adolescence, to the story of the art school. And then finally the third part is all about being an adult, surrealism. Very interesting and obviously a book written by a licensed egomaniac but at the same time a genius. Unmissable to read and then to integrate precisely with his other books. 

6. Walking Through Walls – Best Books Written by Artists

Finally, I want to tell you about my favorite of today’s six books: Walking Through Walls by Marina Abramovic. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life. One of those that everyone should read and that I myself will give to a couple of people in the next few days for Christmas. The book was released in 2018 and is a smooth, lucid, engaging, passionate and real story of Marina Abramovic’s story. Story told by her. It begins with his childhood, talks about the broken relationship with his father, the arrogance and sometimes nastiness of his mother. But then he also tells of the period of study, of the discovery of performance, of the passion for his first works. It tells of the intensity of the first performances in an almost cathartic way. And then comes to tell later several episodes and works of the artist. 

The center of the book is her. Even if the relationship with Ulay, the travels, the division on the Chinese Wall are told. I really don’t want to spoil too much because it’s the story of a lifetime. It flows very fast and never gets boring, it must be read!

Let me know about Instagram if you have any other suggestions for books written by artists that you think are unmissable. And if you liked this post, take a look at the my YouTube channel so you don’t miss the next videos related to art, travel and the market. And if you want to keep reading I suggest you check out my tips on 5 books for art lovers or i 6 Books on the Art Market.

Thanks and see you next time!

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