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Find more Top 10 Arts Books
Many of the ten best arts books reviewed in Booklist over the past year reclaim or more fully appreciate artists whose legacies have been neglected or minimized due to their gender, sexual orientation, or race, while other titles offer new perspectives on icon figures and music itself.
Alive Still: Nell Blaine, American Painter. By Cathy Curtis.2019. Oxford, $34.95 (9780190908812).
Curtis intimately portrays artist Nell Blaine from her rise in 1940s New York to her life after polio left her seriously disabled yet determined to keep creating her gloriously vibrant paintings.
Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey. By Mark Dery. 2018. Little, Brown, $35 (9780316188548).
In this vivid and fascinating biography, Dery does right by Edward Gorey, whose distinctive personality and unique drawing and writing styles made him a cultural icon.
Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly. By Joshua Rivkin. 2018. Melville, $32 (9781612197180).
Rivkin presents a stealthily dramatic inquiry into the enigmatic life and work of artist Cy Twombly, decoding Twombly’s atmospheric paintings and attendant “binaries” and controversies.
Chamber Music: Wu-Tang and America [in 36 Pieces]. By Will Ashon. 2019. Faber & Faber, $24 (9780571350001).
Celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ashon’s thoughtfully provocative study explicates the influential hip-hop band’s work within a rich cultural context.
Charles White: A Retrospective. Ed. by Sarah Kelly Oehler and Esther Adler. 2018. Yale, $50 (9780300232981).
This magnificent volume presents Charles White as a teacher, activist, and artist of superior skills, empathy, and originality who was committed to addressing the realities of African American life.
The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando. By William J. Mann. 2019. Harper, $35 (9780062427649).
Mann’s compelling and insightful reassessment of Marlon Brando explores the complexities and ironies of his tumultuous life, tortured ambivalence about acting, and dedication to social activism.
The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. By Mallory O’Meara. 2019. Hanover Square, $26.99 (9781335937803).
Film producer O’Meara’s candid and passionate biography about her little-known idol, pioneering special-effects designer and animator Milicent Patrick, includes an inquiry into why Patrick was for so long overlooked.
Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power. By Aaron Cohen. 2019. Univ. of Chicago, $20 (9780226653037).
Some of the biggest names in African American music populate Cohen’s vivid history of soul music in Chicago as he traces its evolution and profound and far-reaching social and artistic impact.
Music: The Subversive History. By Ted Gioia. 2019. Basic, $35 (9781541644366).
Gioia’s extensive historical inquiry asks and answers the question, How does music change people’s lives?, in a sweeping and enthralling account of music as an agency of human change.
The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History. By Nathalia Holt. 2019. Little, Brown, $29 (9780316439152).
Holt portrays Disney’s long-hidden female artists and writers, addresses the sexist discrimination they faced, and celebrates the creativity and resiliency they drew on to create beautiful art and alluring characters, from Snow White to Moana.
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