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27 Incredible Books for the High School Art Room

As art teachers, it’s fair to say that we never have enough time. Whether that be time for ourselves, time to make art, or even just time to kick back with a good book, it always seems to be in short supply. We’ve saved you a little bit of work here, however, by compiling a list of some of the best books out there for your high school art room.

Whether you are looking for new lessons for the classroom, information about artists, or just something to read for enjoyment, these 27 books should give you some great ideas and suggestions.

stack of books

Resources

  1. From Ordinary to Extraordinary by Ken Vieth
    This book, written by artist and teacher Ken Vieth, is an engaging set of projects and exercises to help develop students’ visual problem-solving skills. The dynamic ideas help students look at things in new ways and encourage them to try things they likely haven’t thought of before.
  2. 250 Tips, Techniques, and Trade Secrets for Potters by Jacqui Atkin
    I’m not sure that any beginning ceramics classroom needs a textbook, but if it did, this would be the one. It has it all: beautiful photos and illustrations that explain almost every basic technique, simple instructions for projects, troubleshooting tips, and even extensions for advanced students.
  3. The Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen
    So few students actually know how to use colored pencils to their full potential, and this book remedies that problem in a big way. It’s time-consuming, and it’s difficult, but learning proper techniques can make for some incredible drawings.
  4. The 500 Series
    Published by Lark Books, each book in The 500 Series is, simply put, beautiful. Whether it is 500 Cups, 500 Teapots, 500 Bowls, or any other book in the series, you know that the work will be a collection of inspiring ceramic images.
  5. Papier-Mache Monsters by Dan Reeder
    Most high school teachers think of paper mache as trite or elementary. Dan Reeder flips that idea on its head. He shares tips and tricks for materials, construction, details, painting, and much more through helpful, step-by-step illustrations.
  6. The Ceramics Bible by Louisa Taylor
    This book has great illustrations and instructions for all types of forming, throwing, and finishing techniques. It also delves deep into more advanced concepts and amazing artist profiles. Finally, it has an extraordinary list of resources at the end, making it a valuable tool for your advanced students.

shot from colored pencil bible

Entertainment

  1. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
    Teacher Man is witty, honest, and inspiring. McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, looks back at his lengthy teaching career to see what life lessons he has learned spending every day in front of a classroom.
  2. Reluctant Disciplinarian by Gary Rubinstein
    In this book, the author hilariously and honestly lays out all of the problems from his first year of teaching. He had the drive when it comes to being a teacher, but none of the skills or know-how. His transformation into a successful and skilled classroom manager is so relatable and a story worth reading.
  3. Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb
    It’s easy to get lost in the story of sculptor Camille Claudel and her tumultuous relationship with Auguste Rodin set in 19th-century Paris. The sculpture, art, and artists are secondary to the love story, but an interest in these things make you appreciate the research and writing of the novel even more.
  4. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
    One of Vermeer’s most famous paintings is brought to life in this story. Chevalier takes you into the world of the 16-year-old girl who had a short encounter with Vermeer and became immortalized in the process.
  5. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
    This novel is an enthralling story of love, art, and history. Young heroine Alessandra is living in Florence during the Medici state in an arranged marriage while longing for a relationship with a painter who is her true love.

Part of the cover of "Duchamp"

Artists

  1. Naked by the Window by Robert Katz
    This is the enthralling story of the death of performance artist Ana Mendieta and the arrest and subsequent trial of her husband, sculptor Carl Andre. It reads like a crime novel, as the reporting done by Katz is second to none.
  2. Boundaries by Maya Lin
    Visually, this might be the most engaging book you will own. It is a beautiful survey of Lin’s work. You’ll find the memorials that made her famous, her later work in architecture and design, and everything in between.
  3. Duchamp by Calvin Tomkins
    If you are a Duchamp fan, it doesn’t get any better than this. This book is the definitive biography of the artist, his thoughts, his life, and his work; it reads incredibly quickly and incredibly well for nonfiction.
  4. Banksy in New York by Ray Mock
    In October 2013, Banksy invaded New York City, creating a new artwork almost every day. Mock beautifully photographed this book. Even if the art doesn’t fascinate you, the story of the chaos that surrounded Banksy undoubtedly will.
  5. Ever Yours: The Essential Letters (multiple editors)
    Most of what we know about van Gogh and his life comes from his letters to his brother, Theo. This book is a collection of almost one-third of those letters. We see van Gogh search for his destiny, deal with relationships with his brother and father, and yearn for the recognition as an artist that never came during his lifetime.
  6. The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett
    Warhol’s diaries are less about art and more about him being a self-absorbed, vulnerable hypochondriac that talks way too much about celebrities . . . but it really is great reading.

photo of "Art As Experience"

Pedagogy

  1. Art as Experience by John Dewey
    This is not a book that could be described as “light reading.” But Dewey’s pragmatic, thoughtful approach to art, aesthetics, and experience can give every teacher insight into what expression and artmaking can mean to us and our students.
  2. The Element by Sir Ken Robinson
    Robinson talks about creativity and innovation in a way that almost insists you start following your dreams. It will make you think differently about helping yourself and your students find the passion and creativity needed to move into the future.
  3. The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer
    Palmer’s book is an inspirational read that deals with reclaiming your passion for teaching. It helps you connect with the reasons you became an educator and shows how your integrity and identity can help make you the best teacher you can be.
  4. Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson
    This book encourages teachers to reflect on their classroom practices, developing a mindset based on basic principles and real-world examples. Its lessons can be taken into your classroom and will help your teaching almost immediately.
  5. Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston
    The words we choose to use with your students can teach them so much. Johnston demonstrates how you can use those words to build a culture in your classroom based on positivity and productivity.
  6. Project Flop by Ian Sands
    Ian, a former Art of Ed writer, is one of the most creative and distinctive voices in art education today. His journey to teaching art, his love for experimentation, and the way he embraces failure are all sure to inspire your teaching. He will make you think about what you do in your classroom, why you do it, and what you can learn when your projects flop.

Other

  1. A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne
    We may never fully understand the situations faced by many of our students outside of school, but this book can be a resource to work with students and families to develop the skills and tools needed to break out of poverty. The book is well-written, researched, and thorough. If this book piques your interest, it would be worthwhile to also look at Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol.
  2. Girl Reading by Katie Ward
    Ward takes compelling images of girls reading from the Renaissance to the coming future and weaves them into a novel. The book is about the connections between art, life, and even the importance of reading, drawing parallels with the connections we make every day in our classrooms.
  3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
    I’ve shared before how I love to read aloud to my classes, and this is my favorite book to read. Sedaris shows his wit and wisdom through dozens of hilarious short stories. Make sure you preview it, however, as not every story is appropriate for school.
  4. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
    This book is over 60 years old, but it still offers lessons applicable to kindergarteners, adults, and every age in between. I actually teach an entire lesson to my high schoolers based on this book. Harold is not just an artist–he is someone that can create an entirely new world. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.

There is no shortage of good books for your classroom, whether you are looking for references on techniques and media, books about art and artists, or even something to read to your class to prompt a discussion. And even if you don’t bring any of these books into your classroom, there are some great options here to read on your own time. Enjoy!

Which books on this list have you read? What did you think about them?

What other books would you add to this list?

Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

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