While researching material for A History of Art: A Timeline of the Art Students League of New York, I became curious about instructional art books written by artists who taught or lectured at the school over the past 138 years. How well could written language encapsulate the visual principles, techniques, and materials that art students observed firsthand and practiced with a master over years in a studio? Why did some artists publish books while others did not? Which books endured as classics while others disappeared from print, considered outdated or irrelevant? My research did not completely answer those questions, but did produce a list of nearly 200 titles. Some are still in print and remain staples for the art student. Most are out-of-print. A few are rare and valued enough that their brittle pages are preserved in library special collections.
These titles now form a virtual library—“The Artist’s Bookshelf,” a list to peruse on Pinterest. The subjects span different media, techniques, and styles. They include art history and philosophy. The early titles capture the ASL’s roots in French ateliers and the Munich Academy. And you’ll encounter titles on eclectic subjects: calligraphy, hand-colored photographs, projected scenery, trademarks and symbols. The shelf includes a clutch of anatomy and drawing books by George B. Bridgman, Kimon Nicolaides, and Robert Beverly Hale, still in print, whose influence extends far beyond the the Art Students League’s West Fifty-seventh Street studios. Of course, you’ll find the “artist’s bible,” Ralph Mayer’s thick Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques (1940), now in its fifth edition. The shelf’s earliest title dates from 1891, Anatomy in Art: A Practical Text Book for the Art Student in the Study of the Human Form by sculptor Jonathan Scott Hartley; its most recent is Ellen Eagle’s Pastel Painting Atelier: Essential Lessons in Techniques, Practices, and Materials, published this spring.
What books are on your shelf?