The best books on Design, recommended by Kevin G. Bethune

When we think of design, we often think of objects, typefaces and graphic art. In fact, Kevin G. Bethune argues, design is an essential human activity that goes far beyond that to encompass designing institutions and social structures, a continuum that extends from the material world to our civic existence and the ways in which we collaborate to solve problems and achieve collective ends.

The best books on Understanding the Nude, recommended by Annebella Pollen

Nudity is not the same as the nude. Nor is nudity the same as nudism, but they tend to overlap quite a lot in people’s minds. Annebella Pollen, an authority on the many varied forms of British nudism in the twentieth century shares key influences on her own research to help us unpack (or undress?) the idea of nudity in western culture, showing the many ways in which nakedness can be a form of dress.

The Best Art Books of 2021, recommended by Romas Viesulas

Which art, architecture, design and photography books have we added to our library in 2021? Romas Viesulas, art & architecture editor at Five Books, takes us through his personal choice of beautiful reference books to add visual and conceptual interest to any well-appointed bookshelf.

The Best Books for Graphic Designers, recommended by Linda Secondari

What does it take to be a good graphic designer in our media-saturated age? Linda Secondari, member of the Executive Board of the Graphic Artists Guild, gives us a glimpse of her reference library, five must-have volumes for every design aspirant and those whose work relies on effective visual communication. That she is a book designer by trade is, of course, grist to our mill here at Five Books.

Best Books on the Art Museum, recommended by Charles Saumarez Smith

How has the architecture, vision, financing and public role of art museums around the world been transformed in the last century? And what does the history of art museums presage for their future as contested sites of cultural significance in the context of the pandemic’s challenge to public gathering places? Charles Saumarez Smith, one of the UK’s leading museum figures, brings us five books that reveal both the historic, civic humanist mission of the art museum, and its antithesis in the face of twenty first century challenges.

The best books on Goya and the art of biography, recommended by Janis Tomlinson

The art of Francisco de Goya reflects the social and political chaos of Spain in his day, leaving later generations to read into his prolific work—by turns formal and bizarre, official and fantastic—many often contradictory interpretations. Art historian Janis Tomlinson recommends books that disentangle Goya from the retroactive projections of later admirers and situates him in his own time. We also consider what makes for a compelling biography.

The best books on The Arts and Crafts Movement, recommended by Julia Griffin

Originating in 19th-century Britain, the Arts and Crafts movement was an international phenomenon extending across many media to Europe, America and Japan. Julia Griffin, who has examined its impact in Poland, tells us how it advanced notions of national identity and provided roots to modernism by establishing a sensitivity to materials, designs, and forms, a sensibility that is still with us today.

The Best Art Books of 2020, recommended by Romas Viesulas

Which art, architecture and photography books have we added to our library in 2020? Romas Viesulas, art & architecture editor at Five Books, takes us through his personal choice of beautiful reference books and biographies to add visual and conceptual interest to any well-appointed bookshelf.

The best books on Figurative Painting Today, recommended by Julien Delagrange

Collectors and curators have been clamouring for figurative art in recent years, as a generation of painters take a more traditional, representational approach to addressing major cultural themes in their work. But is figurative painting today merely a reactionary impulse, a kind of nostalgia for art that preceded modernism, postmodernism and the fragmentation in art-making that was ushered in by conceptual art? There is much more to it than that, argues painter and art historian Julien Delagrange.

The best books on Lucian Freud, recommended by William Feaver

Though ferociously private, Lucian Freud spoke about painting, the art world and his life and loves to his confidante and frequent collaborator, William Feaver, on the phone most weeks for many years. Feaver’s transcript forms the core of his definitive two-volume biography. He speaks with us about the best books for understanding the life and work of this renowned painter, and the very particular collaboration that led to this magisterial account of one of the finest painters of the last century.

The Best Books by Artists, recommended by Michaela Unterdörfer

Why should we read what visual artists have written? Michaela Unterdörfer, head of publishing for the art gallery Hauser & Wirth, argues that the visual and artistic language of artists makes archival material more immediate and compelling. Artists’ testimonies refer not only to physical archives but above all to the mental archives of artists, their cultural and historic inheritance, which books like these bring to life.

The best books on Minimalism, recommended by Kyle Chayka

In times of political or personal turmoil, there’s a tendency to seek solace in stripping back life to its bare essentials. Minimalist thought is threaded through Stoicism and Zen Buddhism; absence and space became major preoccupations of 1960s US art. Kyle Chayka, the art critic and author of The Longing for Less, recommends five books on the philosophy that underpins the present fad for minimalist self-help.

The best books on Andy Warhol, recommended by Blake Gopnik

Andy Warhol’s ubiquitous soup cans – and his willingness to play the naïf – eclipse the leading Pop Art figure’s depth, as Blake Gopnik reveals in his magisterial new biography. Here, Gopnik discusses five key books that offer crucial insight into Warhol the man.

The best books on Northern Renaissance, recommended by Christopher S. Wood

The Renaissance had quite distinct manifestations in Northern Europe and Italy: if the Southern Renaissance was all about abundance and positivity, the dominant theme of the Northern Renaissance was negativity, says New York University Professor Christopher S. Wood. He recommends what to read to learn more about the Northern Renaissance, from Bosch’s fantasy bestiary of the demonic and the grotesque, to Bruegel’s comic and badly proportioned peasants.

The best books on Drawing and Painting, recommended by Juliette Aristides

Geniuses may only be born once a century or so, but great art gets made all the time. Some of it follows atelier methods inspired by an apprenticeship model that has been handed down through the centuries. Juliette Aristides, an artist at the forefront of the atelier revival movement, discusses five books that are ‘core curriculum’ for anyone who wants to learn how to paint and draw, and thereby explore the virtues of sustained attention and close observation that come with making representational art.

The best books on Leonardo da Vinci, recommended by Martin Kemp

Every generation has its own Leonardo, and for many he remains a man of mystery. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor in Art History at Oxford and the author of the recently published Mona Lisa: The People and the Painting, helps us identify the non-mythical Leonardo. What might Leonardo be doing were he alive today, in our own digital age?

The best books on Rembrandt, recommended by Onno Blom

Though he left more self-portraits to posterity than practically any Old Master, there remains an air of mystery around Rembrandt the man—even on the 350th anniversary of his death. Piecing together the very few personal letters and documents left behind, Onno Blom has now reconstructed Rembrandt’s formative years in Young Rembrandt. Here he guides us through five of the most authoritative—and imaginative—accounts of the artist.

The Best Art History Books for Teenagers, recommended by John Harrison

Which are the best books to get a teenager excited about art history? We turned to veteran art history teacher John Harrison, formerly head of the art history department at Eton College, for his top five picks of the most illuminating and accessible books for getting a broad overview of the history of art.

The best books on John Ruskin, recommended by Michael Glover

As a believer in the humanising nature of proper work, the virtues of sustained attention and the value of aesthetics as the keystone to ideals for a truly prosperous society, John Ruskin’s abiding concerns are still very much with us today. On the bicentenary of this eminent Victorian’s birth, Michael Glover, author of the idiosyncratic Ruskin Dictionary, explains why we should still be reading Ruskin closely in the twenty first century.

The best books on Bohemian Living, recommended by Darren Coffield

The bohemian world of London and Paris in the 20th century was a fabled land, where people could go to get lost, reinvent themselves and live life as they wanted. Poverty, alcoholism and misery were often the frequent travelling companions on this journey but, Darren Coffield argues, these marginalised areas of society allowed for a freedom that is almost unimaginable in our own world. He picks the best books on bohemian living.

The best books on Future Cities, recommended by Davina Jackson

We are a city-dwelling species. Our urban existence creates both opportunities and challenges, as the recent pandemic has illustrated. One thing seems clear, however. Understanding the way we interact with our built environment is becoming an increasingly data-driven enterprise, as Davina Jackson argues compellingly in her book, Data Cities. Here, she shares the five books that best explain the technology behind the urban planning of the future.

Books on Social Housing in the UK, recommended by Mark Swenarton

How did the UK end up in a housing crisis? More than a century on from the 1919 Housing Act, a look back at the history of social housing with architectural historian Mark Swenarton provides some clues, and insights into the ennobling effect of architecture on peoples’ everyday lives.

The best books on The Dutch Masters, recommended by Adam Eaker

The past may be a foreign country, but the world portrayed in the art of the Dutch Masters is not so very far from our own, says Adam Eaker of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. For a society that struggles with materialism and consumption, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the 17th century Golden Age.

Andrew Graham-Dixon on His Favourite Art Books

Art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon takes us through his favourite art books, one of which is the best thing he has ever read about art. He contends that Monet is a follower of Turner, reflects on how the purpose of history of art has changed, and introduces us to the diaries of an “astonishingly bad” painter which reveal him to be one of the nineteenth century’s greatest prose writers.

The best books on The Renaissance, recommended by Jerry Brotton

A century-and-a-half ago the Swiss art historian, Jacob Burckhardt, popularized the idea of a ‘Renaissance’ in 14th century Italy. For most people, the term still conjures up works of art by the likes of Michelangelo or Leonardo. But there is much, much more to it than that. Professor of Renaissance studies, Jerry Brotton, picks the best books to read for a more complete understanding of the Renaissance.

The best books on The Lives of Artists, recommended by Maria Loh

We live in an age obsessed with self-image. Technology has made the ‘selfie’ a ubiquitous form of social currency. Renaissance means may have been very different, but celebrity artists in Medici Florence dealt with many of the issues relating to identity and authorship that we grapple with today. Maria Loh, author of Still Lives: Death, Desire, and the Portrait of the Old Master, talks to Five Books about the curated self.

The best books on Architecture and Aesthetics, recommended by Timothy Hyde

What’s at stake when we call a building beautiful or denounce it as ugly? MIT professor Timothy Hyde, author of Ugliness and Judgment, explores five books about the social, political and economic dimensions behind debates that often masquerade as arguments about style, but which deal with matters at the very heart of civil society.

The best books on Vermeer and Studio Method, recommended by Jane Jelley

Painting is not what it used to be. With materials and photography close to hand, it’s easy to forget the sheer labour involved in producing an Old Master canvas. What does studio method – the making of masterpieces – tell us about artistic genius, then and now? Painter Jane Jelley considers the question using Johannes Vermeer as her starting point.

Kayla Rae Whitaker on Stories about Women Artists

Kayla Rae Whitaker composes an ode to ‘women who make things’, from wooden dolls to indie music, and post-modern triptychs to the best candy bar you’ll ever taste. These are tales about what happens when the muse becomes the artist

Rachel Cohen on Writing About Art

Good writing about visual experience allows us to see things we otherwise wouldn’t, says Rachel Cohen. The author picks some of her own favourite books about art.

The best books on Architectural History, recommended by Dan Cruickshank

Art historian and TV presenter Dan Cruickshank explains the beauty of Palladian proportions, takes us on a tour of some key English country houses and describes the poetry of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles. He recommends the best books on ‘architectural history’

The best books on British Buildings, recommended by Harry Mount

Bestselling author Harry Mount thinks that the British sell themselves short when they fail to appreciate their architecture. He also expresses his thanks that Christopher Wren didn’t redesign London on a Parisian/New York grid system following the 1666 fire.