Despite museums being closed worldwide, the conversations around art never stop, and there are many great art-related books, podcasts, and movies out there. We asked our team to recommend their favorites.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Chosen by: Abigail Cramer, Digital Asset Manager and Digital Archivist
What it’s about: A rare books conservator performs the analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images, rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian War.
Why it’s recommended: As the conservator removes foreign fragments from within the book’s binding (insect wing, wine stain, salt, hair), the narration veers into the story of each fragment, thus telling the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah as the conservator pieces it together. The story is based on real events, and it brings to life both the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah itself and the more modern history of the Bosnian War. Both were fascinating and richly told.
Sunflowers (A Novel of Vincent van Gogh) by Sheramy Bundrick
Chosen by: Heather Linton, Curatorial Assistant for Special Exhibitions and Publications, Division of European and American Art
What it’s about: This novel fictionalizes a relationship between Vincent van Gogh and a young fille de maison (brothel worker) in Arles, each troubled in their own way.
Why it’s recommended: Though a completely imagined story, Bundrick’s novel offers a suspenseful escape into the world of Van Gogh in his last years. Included are references to the artist’s brother, Theo, fellow artist Gauguin, and yes, the severed ear.
READ & WATCH
The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary
Chosen by: Tony Sigel, Senior Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
What it’s about: This novel (and its adaptation as a movie starring Alec Guinness) is about the life of a difficult artist in the mid-20th century.
Why it’s recommended: Brisk, touching, and hilarious. Both the book and the (technicolor!) movie are wonderful.
READ & WATCH
Chosen by: Rachel Saunders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art
What it’s about: This award-winning site offers videos and essays on art history.
Why it’s recommended: Open-access online videos and webpages with bite-size introductions to histories of art by leading authorities on a massive range of topics, representing many areas of the world. Produced by a superb team led by founders Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Chosen by: Bridget Hinz, Curatorial Assistant for Special Exhibitions and Publications, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art
What it’s about: Stories about objects in the Smithsonian collections.
Why it’s recommended: Many of the podcasts I normally listen to are focused on news, so when I need something a little lighter, I’ve been turning to old episodes of Sidedoor. It is lighthearted (and sometimes pretty corny), but you learn about the stories behind objects in the Smithsonian collections. It has become more meaningful to me now that we don’t have access to the objects in our collections.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Chosen by: Bill Kipp, Museum Attendant
What it’s about: Two young siblings run away from home and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Why it’s recommended: It’s a great book to read to, or for, young art lovers. It has a little history and intrigue and is something light and fun for a change.
How I Built This with Guy Raz
Chosen by: Mary Booras, Weekend Supervisor, Visitor Services
What it’s about: How I Built This is an interview-format podcast featuring entrepreneurs of successful, often groundbreaking or industry-disrupting companies (including artists and designers), sharing the story of how they started and grew their businesses.
Why it’s recommended: I love hearing about the often very humble origins of highly visible brands and companies. It’s fascinating to hear what sparked the idea of a business or product directly from the founder(s).
Nature, Form & Spirit: The Life and Legacy of George Nakashima by Mira Nakashima
Chosen by: Elie Glyn, Assistant Director for Exhibitions
What it’s about: Told by his daughter, the story at the heart of this beautifully illustrated volume is of Nakashima’s life, the furniture and architecture he designed, and the philosophical and spiritual underpinning of his work.
Why it’s recommended: Nakashima synthesized venerable traditions of Japanese woodworking with early 20th-century American Modernism. His belief in “the soul of a tree” comes through in personal anecdotes, art historical snapshots, and page after page of furniture eye candy. One comes away from this book with the feeling that Nakashima himself possessed a beautiful soul.
What is This? by Tamara Shopsin
Chosen by: Zak Jensen, Design Manager
What it’s about: All the things a scribbled line might be.
Why it’s recommended: 1. It’s smart. This book playfully illustrates how differently something can look, depending on perspective and context. 2. It’s cute. It’s a hardcover for little hands! Works well in big hands, too.