Learning about the art world can seem elusive. It shouldn’t be.
Building your art bookshelf is a forever-ongoing process. I’ve included an Amazon link to help you find the right next book for you, but you can always purchase at your local bookstore in person or at bookshop.org.
The books are organized into categories. The First Books are for those brand-new to the art world. More seasoned collectors can jump ahead to dive deeper into specific threads.
- The First Books
- Artists & Art History
- The Science & Art Of Collecting
- The Buying & Selling Of Art
- The Art Market
The First Books
This book is an excellent place to start if you are new to art. Israel gives an easy-to-read account highlighting vital people, places, and events that make it happen. He covers one segment per chapter to provide a clear overview.
Learn what drives artists and their work, who curates important galleries for museums, why art fairs have become important in the last decades, and why you should hope museums never close.
If you work for an art dealer, these are likely the three books they will give you to learn about the field. Art collectors should understand the ecosystem they are joining, just as art gallery assistants want to know what collectors desire.
Art’s Hot & Cold
This provides valuable insights into what the market is made of, how it works, and what kinds of artists are in demand.
Using a combination of anecdote-based essays and cold business statistics, author Edward Winkleman walks through how an artist’s resale value on the secondary market changes as they enter different phases of their career.
London and Global Stops
Thompson, an acclaimed museum director and art collector, presents a witty, wide-ranging account of contemporary art. He takes us around the world, beginning with a surprising meditation on Christian saints and the transformation of relics into commodities.
Thompson travels to Venice Biennale openings on the canals, inside Damien Hirst’s London studio, Beijing’s 798 Art District for a revelatory conversation with Zhang Xiaogang, and to Silicon Valley with Peter Thiel.
The New Global Economy
A funny and insightful look at the contemporary art world from a writer whose eye was sharpened by a stint as a critic for The Economist.
The art world culture of the last twenty years has created an astonishingly rich, interconnected, internationalized, but strangely hereditary artistic patronage system.
We are accustomed to thinking of today’s artists as individuated creators pursuing their projects with passion and drive. And yet, according to Sarah Thornton’s investigations, dominant patronage systems have always been intimately linked with individual creativity.
Artists & Art History
For the Artist
This is a book by the New York magazine art critic and journalist Jerry Saltz. It’s a guide for artists trying to figure out how to make a living from their work. He also talks about how he started his career when he couldn’t get published.
Using his trademark wit, he advises those struggling or trying to figure out what they should do with their lives.
Artists as a Collective
Thornton covers three decades in the lives of artists like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Ai Weiwei. There is no agenda or judgment here; Thornton is committed to telling all sides of the story. The book contains its share of information and opinion, but it does so in nonfiction style (not essays).
She writes, “What I was interested in understanding was what relationship the artists themselves had to money and to art as investments.”
One subject in the introduction is the art world and how it affects society, including lack of diversity (in all aspects), the importance of money, and an unrealistic vision of artists.
Modern to Contemporary Art
A captivating and revelatory account of the extraordinary creativity and innovation that has transformed the visual art world since 1865. From Monet to Pollock, from Renoir to Warhol, this is one of the most momentous periods in art history.
But it’s also a surprising tale of how uncertain times can lead to great creativity; how innovation often takes place when you least expect it; and how sometimes what seems ugly or disturbing at first can be beautiful in its way.
How We Got to Now
Tony Godfrey is one of the most respected art historians in the world. He has taught, researched, and written about modern art for over forty years. Tony was curator at Tate Modern for over ten years, during which time he also ran Tate Britain. He has published many books on modern art, including The Story of Contemporary Art.
With eloquent prose and exhaustive research, he examines how contemporary art reflects our society in today’s hyper-connected world while also delving into its history during different periods throughout the ages.
The New Medium
Grundberg’s postmodern history of photography discusses how the content of the medium has changed from post-Fordist capitalism.
The book also emphasizes how American culture is rooted in popular culture that has become emblematic of international capitalism and mass media, replaced by digital technology after World War II.
This transition from the 20th to the 21st century is visible through several mediums, specifically popular photography created for Instagram and Facebook.
Our Relationship to the Photograph
Cotton explores the changing relationship between people and their images in a media-dominated world. She examines how ‘the camera’ has come to shape individual and collective identities, sometimes in ways we might not expect.
Photos touch our souls and mark our memories; they shape us as individuals and make us human—in all senses of the word: we are built from photographs, often without realizing it.
Cotton shows how photography is evolving at breakneck speed to meet new global markets; how it reflects our age of information overload—and holds up a mirror to it; how selfies have become a tool for art, publicity, or global protest.
The Science & Art of Collecting
When you are ready to get into more specifics, there is a ‘science and art’ to collecting, i.e., legal and curation. These three books will help you untangle the finer details of collecting.
The Finer Details
It explains the laws and logistics of the artist/dealer relationship to help give a fuller picture of the why of the art world.
Artists and dealers are in a marriage. Dealers manage an artist’s career trajectory, which adds value to your purchase. Therefore, asking an artist to step out on a side deal to save a few bucks potentially shorts your investment.
However, if you like the work of an artist who doesn’t have representation, reach out to them and ask for a studio visit. Supporting artists directly one-on-one is the best support.
Bring It Together
Good collections have the top artists from a spreadsheet. Significant collections are curated with throughlines and can change the perception of an era.
A memoir as well as a deep dive into the curatorial profession and art world. If you need to know where to start, learn and copy from others until you do. If you copy from others, it might as well be from a great like Hans.
Putting the Walls Up
Edward Winkleman is a highly respected art gallery owner. He leads readers through the ins and outs of the gallery business with top-notch advice on everything from selecting the right location to marketing your collection.
This book also offers thoughtful advice on staying competitive in an often oversaturated market by finding ways that distinguish your gallery from other galleries competing for the same clientele.
The Buying & Selling of Art
The Little Bookstore
The story of how a small bookstore in Philadelphia, PA, became a commercial gallery in the ’70s and ’80s, selling prints, paintings, and ephemera.
Two chapters are specific moments when Warhol was usually present: In 1965, he photographed Campbell soup cans and created his Brillo Box series. And in 1980, he made portraits of celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Christopher Reeve.
Who is in here: Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Elyssa Goodman, Olivier Zahm, and many others.
Advice from a Collector
Rozell comes from an art collector family and has collected for over 25 years. Her collection has been exhibited worldwide. In this book, she tells you how to start collecting independently or find an expert as an advisor or consultant if you already have a collection that you want to grow from small to extensive collections.
This book covers everything from the history of collecting, how to appreciate art, and how to start your collection. In addition, you’ll learn the difference between different types of art and what their prices might be like. The resource section includes all of the books and sites Rozell mentions.
Drama and Tragedy
Atencio introduces us to a group of collectors who have shaped their passion for collecting.
As a series of intimate portraits, drama, and tragedy unfold in each collector’s life. Each chapter begins with a collector’s love story about how they first began to collect art. We learn about their successes and failures in bidding for art.
Ultimately, the book addresses how we make sense of our relationship with art and why some people collect more than others.
Value to Cultural Identity
Findlay is a Canadian artist and lecturer. In this book, he traces the relationship between artworks and their social significance since the 18th-century Enlightenment through to contemporary practices.
He describes how this relationship has changed over time and emphasizes the role of art in telling us about identity and community. Findlay also discusses various artworks with an eye to their relevance for contemporary practices.
What You Really Want
This book will help you learn when to spend your money and when not to. Kagge is a Norwegian adventurer, collector, and photographer who has lived in Antarctica for 17 years. He has written this book to help people avoid making mistakes like buying things they don’t need or want.
As an art collector for over three decades and a gallerist for nearly twenty years, Bamberger knows what it takes to buy art professionally. The Art of Buying Art covers all aspects of what to do before buying a work of art – from estimating its worth to realizing its artistic attributes. In addition, he shares how to ensure that an art collection is aesthetically pleasing, cohesive, and suited for its location.
The Art Market
Woodham is a veteran art and antique appraiser with over 30 years of experience. He is a pioneer in Internet art sales as co-founder of Artspace.com and former CEO of Artnet Auctions.
This book offers a history of collecting and an overview of contemporary markets. It also includes tips on selecting artists, buying and selling, storage, insurance, and personal security. It’s a good resource for collectors and novice art enthusiasts alike.
Definitive Reference Book
As a definitive reference book on all things related to art law and practice, it covers everything from the basics of ownership, licenses, provenance, authentication, and auctioning to best practices in exhibitions, appraisals, and international sales.
It also aims to provide the insight and practical expertise required by novice and experienced practitioners.
The Greatening Divide
This book talks about how the contemporary art world has fundamentally changed over the past few decades when it became more mainstream and driven by economics rather than matters of taste.
The author argues this change in the art world led to a disconnect between what is sold for millions of dollars and good work. He discusses specific issues relating to this phenomenon, including how art became more accessible through technology and social media, creating a substantial potential market for new artists at lower prices and making markets more crowded.
The Great Cons
In this fascinating work, Amore explores some of the most notorious forgeries in the contemporary art world, tracing the path of their creators–including a Romanian peasant who became an international sensation with his authentically “discovered” paintings by da Vinci.
By exploring their methods and motivations, he offers insights into how these conmen operate–from hat-and-cane men to sophisticated criminal networks. As a result, this wide-ranging book sheds new light on both these criminals and some of our favorite artists at different points in history.