Best Art Books of the '00s

My favorite art and painting books from the '00 years of the 21st century.

If I could have only an armful of the best art books from all those published during the '00 years of the 21st century, these are what I'd choose. My longlist was those books hanging around close to hand rather than on a top shelf. From these I made a shorter list of those I've consulted many times and annotated. My final choice was those books I regard as containing "pivotal moment" info. (At the bottom of my list there's a chance for you to add your own choice.)

1
Boxed Set of Van Gogh's Letters

Best art books of the decade
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Besides the pleasures of reading Van Gogh's words and seeing the sketches he included, every artwork he mentions has been identified and there's a photo. For a Van Gogh fan, it's heaven on paper. If you read one letter a day, it'd keep you going for more than two years. That's considerably less time than the research and work behind this illustrated and cross-referenced, six-volume set of books.

2
Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour

Book Review Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour by Philip Ball
"Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour" by Philip Ball is a fascinating survey of the history and development of the colors and pigments artists use. Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Color theory, color history, art trivia, pigment science and development ... oodles of info on color for any painter interested in being more than a mere color user. Written in an accessible and interesting way too, that compels you to keep reading.

3
Freud at Work

Book review Freud at Work
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Step into the studio of the famous but reticent painter Lucian Freud to see him at work, his subjects and models, paintings that are works in progress and finished. The photos were taken over two decades by Bruce Bernard, a friend of Freud's for more than 50 years, and David Dawson, his studio assistant. Artistic voyeurism sure, but let's call it artistic insight instead.

4
The Creative License

Best Art Books of the Decade
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
It's the plethora of ideas, words, and illustrations squashed in here that make this creativity book stand out for me, plus the quirky style (including a handwriting font). It's full of ways to explore and express yourself through art, plus regular doses of support, motivation, and artistic musing. Open it somewhere, anywhere, and get started already.

5
The Artist's Handbook by Pip Seymour

best art books of the decade
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Straightforward, reliable, easy-to-understand yet fairly detailed info on art materials and how to use them. No pretty pictures with minimal text, no gobbledygook posing as art speak, no "let's-not-get-sued" safety warnings all over the place. Just solid info, the kind of stuff you'd hope an arts foundation course would cover, but rarely does. No wonder it's hard to find a copy.

6
The New Acrylics by Rheni Tauchid

best art books of the '00s
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Acrylic isn't a substitute for oil paint, nor mere paint, it's got way more potential and offers far more possibilities. This book shows just how much and how to set your feet on the road to getting the artistic maximum from acrylics. There's a sequel too, New Acrylics Sourcebook, which delves into the possibilities when you add acrylic paint to acrylic mediums.

7
The Impact of Modern Paints

Best art books of the decade
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
A chapter in 20th century art approached from the type of paint artists used and the artistic possibilities presented by developments in paint technology (and house paint) in the 1960s. Through interviews, documentary research, and scientific analysis of paintings, it explores how paint influenced the style and working methods of 10 big name American and British artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Bridget Riley. Learn about the "how" behind the more common "what".

8
Matisse Biography by Hilary Spurling

Matisse biography by Hilary Spurling book review
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
If picture is worth a 1,000 words it's said to be, surely a painter could be worth 1,000 pages? But it'll take an exceptional biographer to keep your attention across that sort of length, which Hilary Spurling certainly does in her epic Matisse biography (the second volume was published in 2005).

9
Whistler Exhibition Catalog: Like Breath on Glass

Best art books of the decade
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Why this one exhibition catalog above all? For the beautiful design and printing of the book, for the size and quality of the reproductions of the paintings, for the accessible style of writing, for the insight it provides into the work of Whistler, his era, contemporaries, and followers, for the new appreciation it gave me for the style. I keep coming back to look at it again, and it lives "off-shelf" rather than "on-shelf".

10
Hang-Ups by Simon Schama

Best art books of the decade
Photo © 2009 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.
This is my choice for a beach artistic read, a collection of articles and essays by art critic and historian Simon Schama. Glorious use of English, insightful commentary mixed with humor and disrespect, and all short enough to finish before you doze off in the sunshine.