Books for Celebrating World Art Day

Today is World Art Day! The date was selected in honour of Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday: April 15, 1452. It is a wonderful time to celebrate art and to check out some of the intriguing art books that WPL has to offer. Here are a few of my recent favourites. Enjoy!

The Art Museum

edited by Diane Fortenberry for Phaidon


If you are looking to do a deep dive into the history of art, The Art Museum might be the perfect book to start with it. It works on the premise of what if you could visit all the greatest works of art in one dream museum, art from many civilizations and time periods all in one place?  The book is presented as a museum guide with 25 different “galleries” and 440 different “rooms.” It is a tome, curated over 10 years by a team of 100 specialists.

The pieces are presented based on chronology and geographic location; you get everything from Painting of the Ming Dynasty to Dutch Still-Life Painting to Contemporary Abstraction. I’ve been taking pleasure in just randomly turning to a page and exploring a different period or style of art, where each piece is identified and accompanied by a short description. Because this is such a big book, some images are smaller than I would have liked, but it acts as a great jumping-off point. If something captures your imagination, as Canadian Indigenous Art did for me, you can always explore a little deeper, which is what I did with my next suggestion.

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Early Days: Indigenous Art from the McMichael

edited by Bonnie Devine, John Geoghegan, and Sarah Milroy


Early Days: Indigenous Art from the McMichael is a breathtaking art catalogue celebrating the exhibit of the same name. It is filled with large, high-quality reproductions of a wide range of Indigenous work; 180 artworks and 70 accompanying essays. The title of the exhibit refers to many things, in part that it is early days for the McMichael Gallery (it is only 50 years old) and also that meaningful reconciliation and repatriation in Canada are still in their preliminary stages.

Edited by Anishinaabe artist, Bonnie Devine, many of the essays are written by what she describes as “Indigenous cultural stakeholders” – indigenous scholars, artists and knowledge keepers. They provide context for what in many cases are cultural artefacts as well as works of art.  Instead of essays, some pieces are presented with interviews, which turns out to be a wonderfully insightful way to explore their meaning. In the case of two wooden goose decoys (unattributed and not dated) Devine interviews Violet Chum, an artist and member of Moose Cree First Nations, about the use of an object like that in her community. Chum explains that these geese would be used as a decoy in hunting and as she hunts herself she provides an interesting firsthand take on an item that while beautiful was not meant to be a work of art.

Interviews like this take a very different approach to traditional art history scholarship which often works to interpret images and draw connections between the art and artists who came before. There still are essays like that here, which prove to be very enlightening for artists such as Kent Monkman, who references a lot of traditional European painting in his very contemporary work. Monkman’s art explores themes of colonization, sexuality and Indigenous experiences throughout history, using his two spirit alter-ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Two essays are provided for his work one by a “settler curator” and the other by an indigenous artist and scholar. Addressing these works of art from so many different angles makes for a very enlightening reading experience.

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All Things Move: Learning to Look in the Sistine Chapel

by Jeannie Marshall


All Things Move: Learning to Look in the Sistine Chapel by Jeannie Marshall is a personal and reflective book about her experiences with the Sistine Chapel. Marshall is a Canadian, who has been a long-time inhabitant of Rome and during the COVID pandemic decided that it was her chance to start to really “look” at the Sistine Chapel paintings by Michelangelo. She had been living in Rome since 2002 but always avoided the Sistine Chapel knowing it to be a tourist trap as pre-pandemic 5 million people a year would visit it. Coming out of the pandemic she had the chance to experience it with attendance restrictions, being one of only a dozen people in the room.

Marshall’s book is filled with lovely reminiscences of people and places in Rome, as well as historical facts about the biblical images depicted and the culture and time that the work was created.  Michelangelo took four years to paint the ceiling, from 1508-1512, and then revisited the work when painting the wall of The Last Judgement in 1536. In previous visits, she had felt a “sense of personal failure,” feeling that she was missing something in not being swept up by the art. In her continued visits to the chapel, she explores a wide variety of issues such as people’s reaction to art, the impact that religion had at the time of Michelangelo, and the fact that despite this work of art being 500 years, we in contemporary times can still find ways to connect to it. Marshall writes a well-researched and contemplative narrative, presenting a book that really got me thinking…about art and a lot of different things.

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This Book Will Make You an Artist

by Ruth Millington


We don’t want to leave the kids out of the fun of exploring art, so with that in mind, This Book Will Make You an Artist by Ruth Millington is an excellent choice for kids. Millington provides children with interesting art projects related to 25 different artists. In the “Now It’s Your Turn” sections children are encouraged to make mosaics, cubist collages, optical illusions or creative projects like “Decorate Your Hair with Flowers Like Frida Kahlo.” Illustrated by Ellen Surrey with bright colours and fun cartoonish characters, each activity is also presented with a biography of the artist and an image of one of their actual works of art.

What I love most about this book is Millington’s attempt at embracing a wide range of diverse artists.  We, of course, get to learn about traditional male, European artists like Picasso and Van Gogh, but we also get introduced to Judith Scott, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Yayoi Kusama…and if you haven’t heard of these artists they are all definitely worth checking out.

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The Story of Art Without Men

by Katy Hessel


Lastly, I already have my next art read lined up: The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel.  WPL has it on order and I’ve already added my name to the hold list. Hessel’s book poses the question: “How many women artists do you know?” I am very much looking forward to delving into a more diverse historical perspective with this book too!

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Kelly I.
Library Assistant, Main Library

Kelly has the great pleasure of spending her time as a Library Assistant at the Main Library. Her favourite things about working at WPL are getting to experience amazing new books all the time, and then write about some of her favourites for the Check It Out blog. When she is away from the library, Kelly loves spending time with her family, who are big into hiking and taking in the great outdoors. Kelly majored in art history at university and so she also loves to immerse herself in all things arts and culture. Her favourite way to spend a Sunday is at an art gallery and then lounging at a café afterwards with a latte in one hand and a great book in the other.