The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri
Written over a hundred years ago, this book never fails to hit on some spiritual truths as far as any art practice—but it is especially geared toward painting. Henri was a legendary teacher in New York’s Art Student’s League, a free academy open to anyone—including women and laborers— interested in studying art, which is still in operation today. Much of this open enthusiasm and sense of intellectual equality is communicated in this book, a collection of comments made by Henri while in the act of teaching. Truly one of the top most inspiring books an artist will ever read.
Letters to Theo, by Vincent Van Gogh
The collected editors of the famed artist and famously tortured soul, Vincent Van Gogh, to his brother, friend and financial backer, Theo. To be read not only as a glimpse into an artist’s life and way of thinking, but also for the beauty of Van Gogh’s language and vision of the world. The way he thinks of apples, color and day-to-day people sticks with you long after you first read the book.
Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland
A slim little volume with a scary title that really speaks to the heart of the matter of what it is like to be an artist working in today’s world. Written by two working visual artists, it grapples with what artists deal with psychologically when they sit down at their easels or typewriters. A world where it has been pronounced more than once that, “art is dead,” where there is no longer very much by way of external award offered to those who are true to their own voice. An underground artist’s classic and must read for anybody who has ever doubted, or given up at any point.
The Courage to Create, by Rollo May
Wise, hopeful—sort of the Barack Obama of humanistic psychologists—Rollo May never fails to impress with ideas that will truly expand your ideas about what it is to be human and creative. A taste: “Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt,” and “America is among the most violent of the so-called civilized nations…. An important cause of this is the influence of that frontier brutality of which we are heirs. We need a new find of physical courage that will neither run rampant in violence nor require our assertion of ego-centric power over other people.” He makes the argument that imagination and creativity are THE reasons for our existence, rather than just ‘niceties,’ and something less important to mainstream life. Not enough good things can be said about this book.
The Artist’s Way Workbook, by Julia Cameron
A guided tour through getting your artistic mojo back, basically, with designated tasks and check-in exercises that offer an actual program that you give yourself. Cameron lauds the idea of journal writing, personal exploration, and expansion of your mental horizons to unblock and become open to your own creativity. The best thing about it is that is amazingly non-judgmental in the way it is written, and the exercises are almost childlike in conception, which makes it all the more approachable and doable.