Top 10 Art Books of 2012: Part I

What follows is a list of the top 10 books that have inspired me in the first half of 2012. The list is in no particular order except for Robert Irwin interviews (#1), which is one of the most thought provoking art books I’ve read in a long time. Have you read anything outstanding this year? Feel free to add a comment or connect on

  1. Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees – One of the most inspiring books about an artist that I’ve ever read. Robert Irwin has had a lifelong interest in creating art that asks questions about perception. Reading about the evolution of his work from abstract expressionism to altering space itself will change how you see the world. Highly recommended for all visual artists.
  2. Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – A new translation of the classic 1972 Russian sci-fi novel that was the basis for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker. A really compelling story, even if you don’t typically read sci-fi. Some key plot differences from Stalker make this a really fun read if you’ve seen the film. In the afterword, Boris Strugatsky talks about how one of the original words for the stalkers was prospectors — a great metaphor for those interested in exploring mysterious ruins.
  3. Talking Heads’ Fear of Music – Jonathan Lethem has been on a roll lately and his homage to Fear of Music is no exception. At times the album is really just a point of departure for Lethem to wax poetic about growing up in New York in the late 70′s, and the joy of finding music that speaks to you.
  4. Blue Desert – Charles Bowden has a deep understanding of the effects of development on the Southwest. Recommended reading for desert rats.
  5. Reframing the New Topographics – Don’t be put off by the seemingly academic trappings of this book of 8 essays. There is some very insightful and accessible writing here, and this book is an excellent companion to the book that accompanied the 2010 re-staging of this landmark show.
  6. Daniel Clowes: Conversations – Fifteen interviews over a 20 year period. If you’re a fan of his work, and especially if you draw, this book is a really interesting read. Clowes is sarcastic, funny, and has some great insights into the evolution of his style over time.
  7. The Pond – John Gossage’s book is considered by some to be one of the most important photo books in the post-New Topographics continuum. I find Robert Adams’ landscape work to be too subtle sometimes, but The Pond speaks to me. What a unique sense of framing, sequencing, and ultimately place.
  8. Lee Friedlander: Self Portrait – I don’t like self portraits as a genre. This book is the one exception. Friedlander expresses the pure joy and amusement of making shape, line, shadow, and reflection into a picture.
  9. First Pictures – A collection of 140 photos in 4 bodies of work made by Joel Sternfeld between 1971-1980. It would be easy for this book to be overshadowed by Sternfeld’s next phase that culminated in American Prospects. But First Pictures isn’t just early work that’s interesting when considering the development of an important and influential photographer – there are some amazing, raw, exciting photos here. The printing on the NY street work that was shot with open flash is especially fine – lushly dark, with no midtones. And the photos of people at malls holding up their purchases are hilarious for a child of the 70′s. Highly recommended.
  10. Headlands: The Marin Coast at the Golden Gate – If you’ve hiked around the bunkers and seacoast fortifications in the Marin Headlands, this book is a must see, and can usually be picked up for under $10 used. The historic photographs of the batteries being built are amazing. Mark Klett’s black and white Type 55 photos are wonderful, and some of the other contributors include Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel.

4 thoughts on “Top 10 Art Books of 2012: Part I”

  1. How do you find out about these books? I guess I will just keep finding out from you. Ordered 4 of them to start.

    1. Hey Dave – I find out about books from friends, connections on, blogs, the new releases shelf at the library, amazon, photo-eye, and best of all — browsing in used bookstores. Glad some of these were interesting to you!

  2. Hey Joe,

    Nice collection. I’m putting a few on my list. I just finished Writing the Picture by David Hurn & John Fuller. Interesting words to images. Then another I enjoyed, William Eggleston’s Guide. I admire his work so much and he is one of my epiphanies. I have been engaged with Dennis Hopper’s, book; Photographs 1961-1967…. Hope you’re well.

  3. Hey Maureen –

    I hadn’t seen the Hurn/Fuller book — thanks for the tip! I’m also going to see if the library has the Hopper book. Eggleston’s Guide is a classic. Los Alamos and 5×7 are really great, too. The documentary “William Eggleston in the Real World” is well worth watching.

Comments are closed.