As we count down the final weeks of 2021, we are taking a look back at everything that has creatively inspired and artistically educated us. What better way to do that than by looking back at the books that have been published this year? So, we pulled together an incredible guide of some of the best art books around.
Our book recommendations include educational art books to read, photo books to admire beautiful images, inspiring books to cultivate creativity, and coffee table books that stand out. If you are creative at heart, this list will help you find a book guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing, all while learning an abundance of artistic skills. Some of the best books to read in art are not just limited to artists, they cover art history books, drawing tips, street photography, and graphic design books, so that creators of any profession can have a deeper understanding of their craft.
Here are our hand-picked selection of the best art books of 2021:
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Claire
In this beautiful multi-colored volume, Kassia St. Clair tells the unique and peculiar stories of 75 fascinating colors. She has thoroughly researched hues, dyes, and shades; and shares where they come from, presenting a surprising study of human history. These stories run vibrantly across art, war, fashion, and politics; depicting our culture vividly.
Street Portraits by Dawoud Bey
In a series of portraits taken from 1988 to 1991, Dawoud Bey beautifully defied racial stereotypes, revealing his Black subjects both intimately and openly to the world. With his camera and unique polaroid film that created an instant print and a reusable negative, Bey took to the streets to ask African Americans to pose for him. He created a safe space of self presentation and gave each subject a small black and white polaroid print of themselves as a way to return something back to the community.
Tattoo 1730s -1970s by Henk Schiffmacher
This book is a combination of a history book, art book, and memoir in one. In this book, Henk Schiffmacher shares with us the history of tattoos and the many adventures during the making of one of the largest tattoo collections in the world. The variety in his collection is depicted in over 700 images within the book, amassing tattoo drawings, photographs, designs, and artifacts from around the globe.
From Thread to Needle: Contemporary Embroidery Art by Charlotte Vannier
This book explores 80 international artists, their creative journeys, their influences, their challenges, and the messages they wish to deliver. From Thread to Needle features embroidery in contemporary art and illustrates all the ways in which the skill has been accepted as a creative form of expression.
Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories by Pamela Parmal, Jennifer M. Swope, Lauren D. Whitley, and Thatcher Ulrich
Fabric of a Nation: American Quilt Stories is a collection of over 400 years of textile art. The book covers 58 works that share the personal stories of their makers and owners and make connections to larger narratives of trade, immigration, industry, territorial and cultural expansion.
Street Art in the Time of Corona by Xavier Tapies
This extraordinary condensed volume captures the heroism, strangeness, frustration, and the longing for freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. From LA to Paris, Vienna to São Paulo, and many more, no one has quite depicted the range of emotions the world has lived through like the world’s street artists.
A Big Important Art Book (Now With Women) by Danielle Krysa
If you’ve ever walked through a museum or browsed any art books before, then it’s likely you’ve been left wondering where all the women artists are. A Big Important Art Book (Now with Women) challenges the paradigm of a male-dominated art world by highlighting the work of talented contemporary women artists and putting a spotlight on trailblazing female artists from the past. It also provides thoughtful creative prompts that will bring out the inner artist in everyone.
Frida Kahlo. The Complete Paintings by Luis-Martin Lozano, Andrea Kettenmann, and Marina Vazquez Ramos
Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is arguably the most well know woman artist in history, and her pioneering work and unique image have been admired for decades. In Frida Kahlo. The Complete Paintings, the artist’s life is related through a detailed illustrated biography supplemented with photos, drawings, letters, and diary entries from Kahlo herself. It also brings together the most extensive collection of Kahlo’s paintings to date, including works that were previously lost or haven’t been exhibited in over 80 years.
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Andreas Marks
The legendary Japanese woodblock printmaker Katsushika Hokusai has an undeniable connection to Mount Fuji. This book shares the late great's fascination with the dormant volcano through his original series of 36 prints plus the additional 10 later added by the artist. The brilliant collection also includes 114 color variations, capturing the artist's obsession with Mount Fuji while simultaneously presenting his admiration for 19th-century Japan's “countryside, cities, people, and serene natural beauty.”
Everything is Beautiful by Alma W. Thomas
As the first Black woman to exhibit a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, artist Alma Thomas was a pioneer in her field. Her vibrant and colorful abstract works are brought together in Alma W. Thomas. Everything is Beautiful. This retrospective on Thomas’ work features selections from her theatrical designs, sculptures, watercolors, and family photographs that have rarely been seen, demonstrating the artist’s pursuit of beauty in every facet of her life.
Color Scheme by Edith Young
Color surrounds us in everything we see but rarely do we ever stop to think how much it has influenced our visual culture. In Color Scheme author Edith Young explores the history of 40 color palettes with originality and humor, forcing us to rethink the way we see the world around us. Whether she’s examining shades of pink blush or Prince’s colorful concert costumes, Young challenges us to take a second look at color.
Off the Walls by Sara Waldorf and Annelisa Stephan
In the midst of a global pandemic that forced everyone into their homes, the Getty and other museums around the world challenged people to recreate iconic pieces of art with nothing more than common household items. Off the Walls gathers some of the best and most creative pieces that united and delighted us during those difficult times. From a version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night made of spaghetti to Frida Kahlo self-portraits recreated with pets and toilet paper, these genius homages are sure to keep you entertained, whether or not you’re stuck at home.
Check out our page on Bookshop to find an art book that will cultivate your inner creative.