When the art and publishing worlds work in harmony, imagery merges with typography and innovative formats give us unexpected views of famous works. Through images and prose, our final five picks for 2012’s best art books gave us new eyes: 

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The Art Book, Phaidon- First published by Phaidon in 1994, The Art Book is as intriguingly tangled as ever in its 2012 edition. It’s an art history book made for creatives, its artists presented in alphabetical rather than chronological order. Seventy new artists join the pantheon, encouraging the crackling connections that only The Art Book could provoke. Where else would you find Duccio next to Duchamp or Manet in dialogue with Mangold?

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Always Looking: Essays on Art, John Updike- John Updike wasn’t an art critic, but the third, posthumous volume in his Looking series guides us through the crowds at notable exhibitions and along the arc of art history with signature elegance. The collection starts with Updike’s 2008 lecture on American art “The Clarity of Things” and includes 14 essays Updike wrote for The New York Review of Books and other publications.

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Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, Camille Paglia- Paglia kicks off Glittering Images by declaring her intent to help the masses, hypnotized by technology and riddled daily with thousands of disconnected images, understand and appreciate art’s compelling historical sweep. You can’t trust the inflammatory culture warrior for a minute, but that’s what makes the proceedings so fun. Paglia picks 29 of her favorite artworks, from Egyptian funerary imagery to George Lucas’ “Revenge of the Sith”, and presents them as pinnacles of humanity’s artistic legacy. Her selections are mostly confined to the West and heavily weighted to the 20th century, but her arguments are entertaining whether you agree with them or not.

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The Art of Not Making: The New Artist/Artisan Relationship, Michael Petry- Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Murakami Takashi, Ai WeiWei. They’re some of the biggest names in contemporary art, but could you call them artists? Petry examines the Renaissance-old dependence between art and craft—and the questions of authorship that it raises—with images from 115 contemporary artists who don’t always have a hand in creating their work. The book’s five chapters are intriguingly organized by material, a nod to the industries that brought these objects into existence.

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100 Ideas that Changed Art, Michael Bird- Art historian and broadcaster Bird is quick to caution that his numbered list of artistic turning points, from “narrative” (#7) to “street art” (#94), is anything but concrete in its essential properties. “No sooner has an idea changed art that art reformulates that idea, allowing it to recognize itself,” he writes. This collection of 500-word essays is particularly fascinating for the playful lines it draws between modern and contemporary art and works of old. Bird doesn’t shy away from party tricks like comparing Byzantine icons with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe images, and the results are charming for dilettantes and art experts alike.

Browse our first five selections here, and check out our Twitter and Facebook feeds for more insight.

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