A reading list for World Art Day

Books on form, theory, and modern artists for World Art Day

This year for World Art Day, we explore theories of artistic form—including an exploration of the connection between drawing and cognition, and a study of how modern art humanizes migration—as well as the modern artists making an impact in the field. Read on to explore these books and more from the MIT Press.

Books on form and theory:

Drawing Thought: How Drawing Helps Us Observe, Discover, and Invent by Andrea Kantrowitz

Drawing is a way of constructing ideas and observations as much as it is a means of expressing them. When we are not ready or able to put our thoughts into words, we can sometimes put them down in arrangements of lines and marks. Artists, designers, architects, and others draw to generate, explore, and test perceptions and mental models. In Drawing Thought, artist-educator Andrea Kantrowitz invites readers to use drawing to extend and reflect on their own thought processes. She interweaves illuminating hand-drawn images with text, integrating recent findings in cognitive psychology and neuroscience with accounts of her own artistic and teaching practices.

“Brilliant, playful, and bursting with wonderfully imaginative drawings.” —Nick Sousanis, San Francisco State University; author of Unflattening

This Great Allegory: On World-Decay and World-Opening in the Work of Art by Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter explores the relation between two worlds: the world in which an artwork is created, that is, a world that over time perishes or decays beyond interpretive understanding, and the new world that the artwork opens up. This book examines the multiple relations between these worlds in the works of a number of central thinkers and in various modes of aesthetic production, including poetry, painting, music, film, literature, and photography. It is precisely in and through the work of art, Richter shows, that central elements of the thinking of world as world are negotiated in the most essential and moving ways.

“A stunning display of thinking that moves effortlessly between philosophical texts, artworks, and poetry.” —Dimitris Vardoulakis, University of Western Sydney

Art for Coexistence: Unlearning the Way We See Migration by Christine Ross

In Art for Coexistence, art historian Christine Ross examines contemporary art’s response to migration, showing that art invites us to abandon our preconceptions about the current “crisis”—to unlearn them—and to see migration more critically, more disobediently. Viewers in Europe and North America must come to see migration in terms of coexistence: the interdependence of beings. The artworks explored by Ross reveal, contest, rethink, delink, and relink more reciprocally the interdependencies shaping migration today—connecting citizens-on-the-move from some of the poorest countries and acknowledged citizens of some of the wealthiest countries and democracies worldwide.

“Ross’s extraordinary analyses are vitally important to understand if we are to move forward productively.” —Santiago Zabala, Universitat Pompeu Fabra; author of Why Only Art Can Save Us and Being at Large

Postsensual Aesthetics: On the Logic of the Curatorial by James Voorhies

In this original work of aesthetic theory, James Voorhies argues that we live in the shadow of old ways of thinking about art that emphasize the immediate visual experience of an autonomous art object. But theory must change as artistic and curatorial production has changed. Voorhies advances the theoretical framework of a “postsensual aesthetics,” which does not mean we are beyond a sensual engagement with objects, but rather embraces the cognitive connections with ideas that unite art and knowledge production. The idea, and not just visual immediacy, is now art’s defining moment.

“A beacon for curators and institutions navigating our culture’s insatiable appetite for contemporary art.” —Natasha Becker, Curator of African Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young

Now in paperback: A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See by Tina M. Campt 

In A Black Gaze, Tina Campt examines Black contemporary artists who are shifting the very nature of our interactions with the visual through their creation and curation of a distinctively Black gaze. Their work—from Deana Lawson’s disarmingly intimate portraits to Arthur Jafa’s videos of the everyday beauty and grit of the Black experience, from Kahlil Joseph’s films and Dawoud Bey’s photographs to the embodied and multimedia artistic practice of Okwui Okpokwasili, Simone Leigh, and Luke Willis Thompson—requires viewers to do more than simply look; it solicits visceral responses to the visualization of Black precarity.

“In this beautiful volume, Campt disrupts the normative passivity applied to art and artistry to build an (inter)active, intimate, radical and necessary Black gaze. “ —Ms.

Books on artists:

Cheyney Thompson: Passages by Christian Schaernack

Cheyney Thompson’s (b. 1975) work responds to a long history of debates about how art depicts the world, and about how we come to know the world visually. In these meditations on the artist’s work, Christian Schaernack shows that for Thompson, reality is something that we can know only in terms of probabilities, not absolutes. Thompson often produces work that explores contingency at the formal level, sometimes in his artistic process itself (as Jackson Pollock once did), and sometimes through the use of external constraints such as computer algorithms, which he subverts as often as he follows.

Hugh Hayden: American Vernacular edited by Sarah J. Montross

Hugh Hayden is best known for creating hand-hewn wooden picnic tables, fences, and chairs from which countless tree branches seem to grow maniacally outward—as if nature herself is lashing out in self-protection from these unthreatening icons of leisure and domesticity. In other bodies of work, Hayden creates sculptures related to athletics, faith, education, and cuisine—enterprises that together express how American myths and values shape one’s sense of self and achievement. He surveys many dimensions of American life, noting, “All of my work is about the American dream, whether it’s a table that’s hard to sit at or a thorny school desk. It’s a dream that is seductive, but difficult to inhabit.”

Allison Katz: Artery edited by Sam Thorne and Martin Clark

London-based Canadian artist Allison Katz has been exploring painting’s relationship to questions of identity and expression, selfhood and voice, for more than a decade. Animated by a restless sense of humor, her works articulate what the artist has called a “genuine ambiguity.” Artery—a book that situates itself somewhere between a monograph, exhibition catalog, and an artist’s book—is an exploration of what is within and below, and of the infrastructural arteries that connect all of us.

Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere edited by Caroline A. Jones, Natalie Bell and Selby Nimrod

The texts and artworks in Symbionts provoke a necessary conversation about our species and its relation to the planet. Are we merely “mammalian weeds,” as evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis put it? Or are we partners in producing and maintaining the biosphere, as she also suggested? Combining documentation of contemporary artworks with texts by leading thinkers, Symbionts offers an expansive view of humanity’s place on the planet.

Explore more books on art from the MIT Press