Art and books are kindred spirits – they can both be divisive and controversial, they can make us see the world differently and confront us with realities not personally experienced, they can also both be a reflection of beauty in the world and they can make us feel the spectrum of human emotion. And like art, books follow styles from traditional, minimalist, abstract, bold, cultural and controversial – often an accurate representation of the age in which they were created, yet can also transcend time and place.  

Not only are we enamoured with the art, we are also fascinated by the enigmatic lives of artists. With enthralling stories and gregarious and engaging personas – the artist is often as fascinating, if not more so, than the art. 

We also have a fascination with the colourful characters on the artist’s periphery. Lovers and muses, parents, children, friends and art dealers, the community surrounding the artists paint a more complete picture of their often boisterous lives.  

Continually complementing each other, a book about art is the perfect pairing to appreciate both mediums. If you have never considered an art book, choosing one for your group might stimulate discussion in ways not seen before. Read below for our top picks of books of art. 

Featured Books of Art

1. The Boyds: The Art of the Boyds by Patricia Dobrez & Peter Herbst [B0656] 

Six generations of Boyds have been involved in the arts. This folio of lavish illustrations reflects the diversity of talent – pottery, writing, architecture, painting, sculpting, ceramics – in ‘Australia’s most visible and distinguished artistic family’. 

2. O’Keeffe: Georgia O’Keeffe by Nancy Frazier [B0694] 

O’Keeffe is best known for her near abstract paintings based on enlargements of flower and plant forms – works of great elegance, rhythmic vitality and sensuality. This book captures the haunting quality of her unique vision. 

3. Kandinsky: Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944 by Hajo Duchting [B0716] 

Kandinsky was one of the most important pioneers of abstract art, expressing feelings through a distinctive use of geometric shapes, brilliantly coloured and superbly disposed in space. 


Featured Artist Biographies

1. Grace Crowley: Being Modern by Elena Taylor [B1950] 

Crowley played a central part in introducing modern art to Australia. Rejecting the expectations of her Edwardian upbringing, she pursued a career as an artist, leaving the parochial confines of Australia and replacing the convention of marriage with a series of close friendships. In this beautifully illustrated edition, Taylor paints an evocative portrait of Crowley. 

2. Craft for a Dry Lake by Kim Manhood [B1636] 

Artist Kim Mahood drives and paints her way across the Tanami Desert and the cattle station where she grew up. Fiona Capp comments: ‘This subtle, sharp eyed, resolutely unsentimental memoir could well mark a new phase in our literature about Australian outback life and the complexities of a white woman’s relationship with the land and with the Aboriginal people who inhabit it.’ 

3. Balanda by Mary Ellen Jordan [B1868] 

‘Balanda’ is the word used by Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to describe non-Aboriginal people. Fuelled by a desire to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of Indigenous Australians, Jordan spent a year working at a tiny arts centre in Arnhem Land. The transition from Melbourne to Maningrida was extreme and being a ‘Balanda’ proved more complex than Jordan bargained for. As her disillusionment grows, her opinions on race, culture, language, art and political correctness are constantly challenged. An honest, perceptive and engaging contribution to the relationship between black and white Australians. 


Featured Art Fiction

1. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood [B1249] 

A Canadian painter, returning to Toronto for a retrospective exhibition of her work, is caught up in a reflection of her life and of the driven relationship with her ‘best friend’, Cordelia. Comic, mind-stretching, terrible in its grasp of children’s needs and cruelties, hopeful – and a compulsive read! 

2. Harland’s Half Acre by David Malouf [B1043] 

The life story of Frank Harland, an artist whose first drawings are made at night on his family’s struggling dairy farm in Queensland. Malouf writes with insight about many themes: family life; the pressures of poverty and temperament; the vocation of the artist; the changing patterns of Australian social history; the natural world of Australia, rendered with poetic precision. 

3. The Sitters by Alex Miller [B1459] 

An ageing artist’s meeting with an older woman opens the enigmas of his childhood and returns him to painting. A complex, subtle story touching on theoretical art questions, the connections between loss and creativity, and absence and presence in words and images. 


Featured stories of Artists and Lovers

1. Glass After Glass by Barbara Blackman [B1573] 

Married for twenty-seven years to the painter Charles Blackman, Barbara was also an artist’s model, muse, writer and mother. Here she writes of the people she has known in Australia’s art world and of day-to-day living. The circle of artists at Heide, her friendships with Joy Hester and with others, and her adaptation to increasing blindness from a young age are all part of these memoirs. 

2. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier [B1621] 

This fine historical novel evokes the mid-17th century Netherlands. Griet, a young servant girl, sits for the painter Vermeer, her employer, and soon finds herself surrounded by rumour. Deeply revealing about the process of painting and haunting in its passion, outrage and perceptions about human nature. 

3. Dangerous Love by Ben Okri [B1523] 

A love story alive with the sounds and the smells of Nigeria in the 1970s where the ordinary and the poor live in almost impossible conditions. Struggling with post-colonial realities and the aftermath of the civil war, the young artist and lover Omovo is still in touch with potent communal, cultural and spiritual traditions. A gripping novel from this Booker Prize-winning author.