Blog The 9 Books Every Artist Should Have on Their Shelf

As artists, we must never stop learning.

One of the most difficult parts about leaving art school and starting your own art business is that you no longer have a built-in support system. There isn’t anyone telling you to get to the studio at a certain hour, and there aren’t assignments or peers to turn to when you start to doubt your progress.

We believe that as artists we must never stop learning, sharing and growing. Knowing where to look when you need to gather inspiration or strategize business advice can help you feel like you aren’t alone on this path.

Here are 9 books that have played an insightful and crucial part of our development as artists and shaped our career as business owners.

We reach for these dog-eared pages when times get tough, we need a creative boost, or simply want someone to relate to.

Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists Paperback

Edited by Sharon Louden

This book offers working artists a collection of personal stories from people who have been there. Reading through their experiences you get a sense of the practical and nitty-gritty side of making a living as an artist. These stories validate the artistic struggles we all face and also inspire about the possibilities that await.  The diverse perspectives of the artists are at once brutally honest, aspirational, and funny.

Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

David Lynch

When you admire an artist’s work, you often wonder, “how do they even get these ideas?” David Lynch charmingly takes readers through his process of finding and harnessing creativity. A longtime practitioner of transcendental meditation, Lynch offers deeply delightful insights into generating ideas. Weaving together life, art and consciousness, this book turns the idea of the suffering artist on its head and instead replaces it with the idea that our mental capacity, and ability to reach inner peace acts as our biggest creative driver.

Do It: The Compendium

Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist

As part of an ongoing twenty-year project, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist recruited more than 60 renowned artists to contribute instructions for creating and exhibiting artwork. These wacky, fun and off-the-wall essays give you “do it yourself” directions to creating contemporary art and will spark some creative ideas of your own. It’s also quite exciting to read the writings and connect with such prominent contemporary artists as Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovic, Jon Baldessari, Matthew Barney, Christian Boltanski, and Louise Bourgeois … just to name a few.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

David Bayles & Ted Orland

Art and Fear is one of those books that we have highlighted, creased, and bookmarked with dozens of torn up sticky notes. It’s a book that artists continue to recommend and connect with. Written in a straightforward manner, this book tackles the insecurities all artists face when finishing projects or putting your work out to be critiqued. It’s concise, clear, compelling and worth coming back to over and over.  For anyone that has felt either internal or external pressures that have kept them from creating (and who hasn’t?), this book deserves a prominent place in your bookshelf.

Creative Block

Danielle Krysa

This book is both beautiful and insightful. Perfect for setting out on the coffee table and picking up from time to time. Danielle Krysa from The Jealous Curator highlights 50 artists’ strategies for getting over a creative block and finding inspiration. Laid out with large, colorful pictures, you can flip through the artworks and read selections about how that particular artist deals with art world challenges in a refreshing and candid manner.

Photo by Arif Riyanto

Taking the Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist (the Insider’s Guide to Exhibiting and Selling Your Art)

Cay Lang

This is another one of those heavily bookmarked finds with lots of handwritten notes in the margins. Cay Lang takes you through the (very practical) steps you need to take to establish a career as a professional artist. From insiders tips on how to promote yourself online to the best contemporary business practices, this book helps you understand the ins-and-outs of galleries as well as alternative platforms for selling your work. Taking the Leap provides a concrete guide for artists looking to exhibit their work from someone who has had years of experience.


Jonathan Melber, Heather Darcy Bhandari

Feeling lost when it comes to galleries, contracts, and documentation? This book digs into the day-to-day aspects of what you need to know for running your art business. While there isn’t a magic bullet for gaining representation, Art/Work offers some practical advice on professional presentation, shipping work, and legal documents.

The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love

Jackie Battenfield

Written for artists from an artist’s perspective, Jackie Battenfield serves up the ultimate reference book for artists. Covering a wide range of topics that artists might encounter over their career, The Artist’s Guide provides a comprehensive overview of what professional artists need to know to have a prosperous career. On top of that, there are tons of really nice pictures of artwork to accompany the text and drive the point home visually.

Using real-life examples, Battenfield presents tips on planning, strategies for self-management, marketing promotion, grant writing, and portfolio development. Each chapter ends with a “reality check” where professional artists contribute advice on the topic at hand.

Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist

Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon started out as a hobbyist and transformed her passion into a business that lets her make a full-time living as an artist. In this practical guide, she uses this firsthand experience to lay out a framework for taking your artistic career to the next level. This book details specific strategies and tools to help enhance your business acumen and turn your creative drive into a profitable business. Congdon goes into detail about best practices to market and promote your artwork, navigate the world of galleries and collectors, and get a handle on the legal side of things.