How to Write an Art Book – 5 Writing & Publishing Ideas

Posted on Aug 31, 2023

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It is always interesting when two mediums collide and the topic of this article is no different.

Writing an art book can seem especially hard. It may feel unusual to use language to convey information about a visual subject.

But this comprehensive article will serve as a guide for how to navigate the process.

From deciphering an artist’s background, style and significance through careful research, to strategically organizing content around themes or periods, we will take a deep dive into the key steps of the process. 

On top of that we will take a journey through time and look at how art books have evolved throughout the centuries, as well as touch on some of the greatest works to have been released within this genre.

This guide to writing an art book contains:

  1. What is art literature?
  2. History of art literature
  3. Notable works of art literature
  4. How to write an art book
  5. How to write an art book – final thoughts

What is art literature?

Art literature, often referred to as “art writing,” encompasses a genre of literary works that explores the world of visual arts. It involves the exploration, analysis and interpretation of various art forms, including paintings, sculptures, photography and more. 

Art literature bridges the gap between visual aesthetics and written expression, offering insights into artists’ intentions, historical contexts and the emotional resonance of their creations. 

Through critical essays, exhibition reviews, artist biographies and art historical narratives, art literature provides a lens to comprehend and appreciate the multifaceted dimensions of artistry, inviting readers to engage with art on both intellectual and emotional levels.

History of art literature

The history of art literature is vast and over time combines the evolution of artistic expression and the written word. Originating in ancient civilizations, texts like Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History” provided insights into artistic practices of the time.

The Renaissance witnessed the emergence of treatises and manifestos, with Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks exemplifying the fusion of art and observation. The 19th century brought art criticism to the forefront, championed by writers like John Ruskin and Charles Baudelaire.

The early 20th century saw avant garde movements engaging in experimental art writing, while mid-century art history became an academic discipline.

Today, art literature thrives through diverse media, from scholarly publications to online platforms, enriching our understanding of art’s contextual, cultural and emotional dimensions.

This timeline highlights how art literature continually shapes our perception of artistic achievements across eras.

Notable works of art literature

“The Story of Art” by E.H. Gombrich

“Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

“The Letters of Vincent van Gogh” by Vincent van Gogh

“Art Through the Ages” by Helen Gardner

“Lives of the Artists” by Giorgio Vasari

“The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri

“Concerning the Spiritual in Art” by Wassily Kandinsky

“The Shock of the New” by Robert Hughes

“The Painted Word” by Tom Wolfe

“Seven Days in the Art World” by Sarah Thornton

How to write an art book

Artistic context

Understanding the artistic context is crucial for writers when creating an art book. Delving into the historical, cultural and artistic details in which an artwork emerged provides a robust foundation for meaningful interpretation.

By researching the artist’s life, influences and socio-political environment, writers gain insights into the motivations and intentions underlying the work itself. Knowledge of prevailing artistic movements and trends offers a broader perspective, allowing writers to position the work within a broader context.

This contextual understanding not only enriches the book but also encourages readers to appreciate the artwork’s significance in relation to its time. 

Visual Analysis

A writer must have a firm grasp of visual analysis in order to write a great book about art. Through careful examination, writers decipher the visual language of an artwork, dissecting elements like composition, color, form and texture.

This acute observation enables them to articulate how these elements interact to convey emotions, narratives or concepts. Describing the placement of forms, hues and the tactile qualities of textures, writers can paint a vivid picture for readers who might not have the artwork before their eyes.

Such analysis deepens readers’ understanding, creating a connection between the visual and the written. 

Alongside this, as writers scrutinize each brushstroke or detail, they showcase the artist’s technical prowess, guiding readers through the creative process. In turn, the art book becomes a window into the artist’s world, with writers serving as the tour guide.

Art Terminology

A comprehensive understanding of art terminology equips writers with the language necessary to navigate the nuanced world of art in their book.

Precise and informed use of specialized terms, encompassing artistic techniques, mediums and concepts, creates clear and effective communication with readers. Writers proficient in this vocabulary can convey specifics that might otherwise be lost, emphasizing the technical aspects that contribute to a work of art.

Whether discussing chiaroscuro in Renaissance painting or kinetic art’s dynamic movement, employing accurate terminology enhances the depth of analysis and furthers the readers’ understanding. 

Additionally, writers can take part in insightful discussions with art enthusiasts, scholars and experts, building credibility within the art community. 

Research Skills

Having robust research skills is key for writers when composing their book. Thorough research goes beyond surface level information, involving the exploration of historical records, scholarly texts and critical analyses.

By taking a deep dive into primary and secondary sources, writers can unearth hidden narratives, contextualize artistic choices and offer fresh insights. 

Referencing previous interpretations and critiques allows writers to build upon existing knowledge, offering new perspectives that enhance the discourse.

Equipped with well researched information, writers can create a book that is not only informative but also intellectually engaging.

Audience Consideration

Tailoring content to the audience’s level of familiarity with art is crucial for writers when writing their book. Striking a balance between accessibility and depth ensures the work resonates with both novices and seasoned art enthusiasts.

Writers adept at this can employ language that welcomes newcomers while offering insights that intrigue and challenge more knowledgeable readers.

An art book’s success lies in its ability to guide diverse readers on a journey of discovery, demystifying complex concepts without sacrificing intellectual rigor. By understanding the varied perspectives of the audience, writers can ensure that their work both educates and entertains.

This sensitivity also involves selecting artworks that will be appreciated across different tastes and backgrounds.

How to write an art book – final thoughts

Writing an art book is by no means a simple task, but it is far from an impossible one. Doing so is a careful mix of contextual awareness, visual acumen, linguistic precision, diligent research and reader empathy. 

By following the above guide, as well as taking the time to go back and revisit some of the great literary works of the past, writers seeking to make their mark within this genre will have a great chance of writing a book that is a success.

The final note is to re emphasize the point that a book about art should be an enhancement of the art itself, not merely a factual explanation of what the art is.

The words must add to the images, not take away from them. If a writer is able to accomplish this, they can rest assured knowing their book has furthered both individual art works, and the art world as a whole, on its evolutionary journey. 

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