Literature and the visual arts have a long history of inspiring one another, from John Everett Millais painting Shakespeare’s Ophelia in 1852 to the plot of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning novel revolving around “The Goldfinch” (1654) by Fabritius.
The books on this list either have artist protagonists or centre around art itself.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), Anne Brontë
Not desirous of sharing Mr. Boarham’s company for the whole of the morning, I betook myself to the library, and there brought forth my easel and began to paint. The easel and the painting apparatus would serve as an excuse for abandoning the drawing-room if my aunt should come to complain of the desertion, and besides I wanted to finish the picture. It was one I had taken great pains with, and I intended it to be my masterpiece, though it was somewhat presumptuous in the design.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), James Joyce
The object of the artist is the creation of the beautiful. What the beautiful is is another question.
To The Lighthouse (1927), Virginia Woolf
She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: “But this is what I see; this is what I see,” and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her.
Cat’s Eye (1988), Margaret Atwood
There were no men in this painting, but it was about men, the kind who caused women to fall. I did not ascribe any intentions to these men. They were like the weather, they didn’t have a mind. They merely drenched you or struck you like lightning and moved on, mindless as blizzards. Or they were like rocks, a line of sharp slippery rocks with jagged edges. You could walk with care along between the rocks, picking your steps, and if you slipped you’d fall and cut yourself, but it was no use blaming the rocks.
Girl With A Pearl Earring (1999), Tracy Chevalier
He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.
The Goldfinch (2013), Donna Tartt
And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion. Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.
One thought on “Reading List: Art”
As an art student and an avid reader, I will defiantly check this books out. I read The Goldfinch this year and it became one of my favorite books. I have read several passages over and over.