Talent Scout

Archive for the Category Book Recommendations


Alice Neel, She Went Her Own Way

When I started my art practice at the age of 35, I did portraits.  I was inspired by Modigliani and others but one of my very favorites was the work of Alice Neel. I liked her story.  She lived in Greenwich Village in the 30’s and was part of a generation of bohemian artists and writers. During the 40’s and 50’s she worked outside of the mainstream in Spanish Harlem, where she developed a uniquely individual approach to portraiture in a time dominated by abstraction.   Neel’s outspoken personality and her daringly honest portraits made her a cult figure in the art community. I had the rare chance to see her work in person at the Walker Art Center.

Neel’s estate maintains a website for her, with a bio on its home page that labels her a pioneer, an apt description — for she was a brave painter.  She went her own way, no matter what the rest of the art world did and no matter what the world said.

1970 Andy Warhol Oil on Canvas 60 x 40 inches, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Timothy Collins

Marlene Dumas, a South African artist and painter  describes how Neel painted modern portraits, locating her subjects. Dumas writes:

…She painted people.

Most figurative painting is not about people and seldom about “characters.” Philip Guston painted cartoons. Warhol painted public images. Chuck Close uses portraiture to paint about painting; Alex Katz paints the cool; and Elizabeth Peyton paints dreams…

Dumas also notes that “the unflattering criticism she received about her nude self-portrait at age eighty [below] is unforgivably stupid.”


1980 Self Portrait Oil on Canvas 54 x 40 inches, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

I have this book on Alice Neel and recommend it highly.

Alice Neel

Art Books I Can’t Live Without

I thought I would share with you a few of my favorite art books that I go back to time after time for inspiration.  I would love to hear some of your favorites so I can add to my list.

Frida Kahlo

From Publishers Weekly:
“A delicately beautiful woman who smoked and drank “like a mariachi” and enjoyed her own sexual freedom even as she suffered the infidelities of her adored husband Diego Rivera, Kahlo painted ferociously honest visions of her private world. In this first volume of the Bantam-Barnard Biography series, Drucker graphically recounts the artist’s devastating accident and tortured physical life with a fearlessness to match Kahlo’s own. We are irresistibly drawn to this woman whose life has much to teach about passion, courage and self-determination.”

Sculpture Today

“Sculpture Today” is written in a scholarly yet accessible style, and offers a comprehensive overview of its subject, celebrating both the vitality and sheer diversity of sculpture during the last two and a half decades.

Many reviews have complained about the typewriter like text. I agree it’s hard to read but I found the breakdown of types of sculpture interesting and relevant.  Still a book I love having on my shelf.

What Design Can Do: Emily Pilloton and Project H Design

I have been following Emily Pilloton’s work over the last six months and to say I’m impressed with this woman is an understatement.  In 2008, with $1,000 in savings, a laptop, and a belief that design can change the world, Emily, a product designer and activist launched Project H Design, a nonprofit that supports inspires and delivers life-improving humanitarian product design.

In a very short time she has demonstrated her vision through world wide design initiatives. I recently purchased her book, Design Revolution—100 Products That Empower People.  Pilloton challenges designers to be change makers instead of “stuff creators.” A very inspiring woman who has put her design solutions to good work.

Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People

Book Review: The Art of the Idea by John Hunt

This book has received a lot of press lately and has a wonderful and entertaining website that features excerpts from the book. It’s hard not to be inspired by Hunt’s claim that it is ideas that move the world forward, and he refreshingly articulates that anyone can play: there is no hierarchy to original thinking. The Art of the Idea provides a toolbox for achieving excellence and provides a lifeline to those who find themselves stuck in a rut. Besides the great content I love it’s visual appeal which features 20 original paintings and collages by the internationally acclaimed South African artist Sam Nhlengethwa. And it just feels good in your hands with weighty paper and a thick tag board cover. This is a book I will go back to over and over and it’s a quick read at 135 pages.

An added benefit is that all profits of the book go to Room 13. Room 13 is a unique initiative that provides an environment for underprivileged children to unfold their imagination. Here they can express themselves in anything from painting and drawing to drama, poetry and storytelling.

The Art of the Idea: And How It Can Change Your Life

Book Review: Dear James—Letters to a Young Illustrator

I discovered Dear James through Eric Hanson’s recent review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  R.O. Blechman’s book  which features letters to a mythical illustrator contains sound advice for anyone in the creative world.

What peaked my interest most in Hanson’s review was on Blechman’s writing about the vital importance of pursuing odd ideas, of being different; the creativity of mistakes; the usefulness of shortcomings; of open-mindedness; how smaller opportunities open the door for larger ones; the necessity of effort; of beginning something big or small, of failing occasionally and learning from it.

I thought this was a wise and inspiring book on creativity. It’s a quick read at only 145 pages.  I really related to his discussion on working full-time and being an artist.  Blechman brings in examples from Hemingway, T.S. Eliot and other famous experts.  He reflects that one doesn’t necessarily have to be at odds between your working life and artist life–that one can often be a refuge from the other.  I love that!

Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator

Book Review: The Creative Habit—Learn It and Use It for Life

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest choreographers is a book I refer to over and over for creative guidance.  Whether you are a painter, musician, business person or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, The Creative Habit provides you with the tools.  My favorite is her chapter on scratching for ideas and starting with a box. (in my case it is a drawer) Do you have any book recommendations?  I would love to add more to my list.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

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