10 Books You Need to Add to Your Reading List Right Now

As an art teacher, finding extra time to do, well, just about anything can seem like an impossible feat. However, last month, I had the opportunity to interview a guy that seems to have it all figured out. You may remember that Danny Gregory, author of Art Before Breakfast, shared some fantastic tips with us about how to find time to make art.

Today, however, I’m talking about something that might feel even MORE indulgent than taking time to create your own art: reading. As in, when was the last time you sat down with a good book? Can’t remember? Let’s work to change that starting today.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” While I haven’t given Danny an IQ test, he seems pretty dang smart to me. So, I decided to pick his brain. What would the author of such celebrated titles as The Creative License and A Kiss Before You Go have on his own reading list? I’m glad you asked. Danny’s new book Shut Your Monkey doesn’t come out until December. So, while you wait patiently, here are 10 other picks that he thinks are worth your time.

Here are the 10 books you need to add to your reading list right now.


On Artists

On Artists

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This is a whopping 6-volume biographical novel by one of Norway’s most celebrated authors. According to Gregory, this book gives the reader an intense view into the inner life of an artist, which is something we can all relate to.

David Hockney: The Biography, 1937-1975 by Christopher Simon Sykes

This book is the first in a series of two about the life and work of artist David Hockney. If you’re a Hockney fan, or if you’ve ever wanted to see the detailed inner workings of a famous artist’s life, this is the book for you. Combining interviews, images, and findings from Hockney’s personal archives, this book paints a thorough, intriguing picture. If you’re most interested in Hockney’s later work, you may want to skip to book two, A Pilgrim’s Process.

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Are you a Van Gogh super fan? Then you’d better pick up this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning duo Naifeh and Smith. They’ll take you inside Van Gogh’s tumultuous life in a way you’ve never seen before. After reading, be sure to check out AOE’s class Integrating Art History, where you’ll learn innovative ways to bring all of your new knowledge into your classroom.

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

If you’re looking for even more Van Gogh goodness, be sure to check out Lust for Life, a fictional account based on Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. Considered a biographical novel, this book seamlessly blends fact and fiction into a riveting read.

On the Art World

On the Art World

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson

The Amazon review for this book starts out as such, “Why would a smart New York investment banker pay $12 million for the decaying, stuffed carcass of a shark? By what alchemy does Jackson Pollock’s drip painting No. 5, 1948 sell for $140 million?” To find out the answers, read this fascinating, in-depth study about the contemporary art world.

What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art by Will Gompertz

Refresh your memory about art movements while diving deep into the methods of contemporary artists. All the while, you’ll be learning to answer the question, “But is it art?” According to Gregory, this is another book that will teach you a huge amount about the contemporary art world.

On Creating

On Creating

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp is one of the world’s leading choreographers and argues that in order to live a creative life, you must work at it. Being successful in the endeavor requires practice, preparation, and effort. According to Gregory, this book is one to revisit time and time again.

The Element by Ken Robinson

We’ve sung The Element’s praises on AOE before, and for good reason. Ken Robinson’s first book aims to help you find your own element, the place where your unique skill set and passion intersect. Gregory says it’s, “incredibly useful for thinking about creativity and education.” We agree!

How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery by Kevin Ashton

This book echoes Twyla Tharp’s argument that creation requires work. It also argues that anyone can create if they put in enough time and effort. Taking a look at some of mankind’s greatest creations, Ashton details how each took persistence and failure before ultimately achieving success.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Do you fear that you’re not living up to your creative potential? When it comes to creating, are you reluctant to get started for fear of failure? If you answered yes, then this book is for you. Pressfield will help you identify what’s preventing you from success and give you a concrete plan to go about pursuing your dreams. This is a must-read for any creative person.

Thanks so much to Danny for sharing his reading list with us. If you’re looking for even more reading suggestions, check out these other AOE articles.

And, if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out Danny’s website and Sketchbook Skool for a whole lot of ways to engage with your creative side.

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What books have inspired you lately? What would you add to the list?


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Amanda Heyn

Amanda Heyn is AOEU’s Director of K–12 PD & Media and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She enjoys creating relevant and engaging professional development just for art teachers.

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