Whether it’s through painting, photography, or dance, it’s obvious that artists see and approach the world differently from the rest of us. If you are in need of a little inspiration that takes you out of your own universe, step into the inner lives of some of the 20th century’s most influential artists with these outstanding biographies and memoirs.
Basquiat, by Phoebe Hoban
Jean-Michel Basquiat first made a name for himself as a graffiti artist on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1970s. Less than 10 years later, he was an internationally in-demand painter. In 1988, Basquiat died at the age of 27, due to a heroin overdose. Hoban’s biography chronicles Basquiat’s humble beginnings and his lightning speed ascent to fame alongside a fascinating portrait of the 1970s Manhattan art scene.
Georgia O’Keeffe, by Roxanna Robinson
As a female artist working in the early 1900s, Georgia O’Keeffe began her career as an outsider, and went on to become the most famous female painter of the 20th century. The first biographer to be granted access from the family, Robinson’s book tells of O’Keeffe’s intense relationships (in particular, with her husband—the photographer Alfred Stieglitz) and her struggle for independence as an artist and as a woman in the male dominated world of artistic modernism.
Diane Arbus, by Patricia Bosworth
Diane Arbus is well known for her disarming portraits of carnies, twins, and transvestites, as well as for her tragic suicide in 1971. Biographer Patricia Bosworth takes readers into Arbus’s personal life, her early marriage to Allan Arbus, and the suffocation she felt in their collaborative work as fashion photographers. Once her marriage ended in 1960, Arbus was finally able to pursue the kind of work she had so longed for, and for the last 10 years of her life produced some of the century’s most arresting photography.
Andy Warhol, by Wayne Koestenbaum
Enter the strange world of Andy Warhol through the brilliant eyes of critic Wayne Kostenbaum. Despite being one of the most famous celebrities of the 1960s, Warhol himself was a mystery even to those who thought they knew him best. Even though he achieved icon-status as a “pop artist,” Kostenbuam argues that Warhol was one of the most influential thinkers of our time—based on the the way he thought about American images and their hidden meaning.
Close to the Knives, by David Wojnarowicz
Performance artist, writer, filmmaker, and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz began as a mixed media artist in the East Village and was one of the most controversial artists of the New York art scene in the 70s and 80s. When his partner died of AIDS in 1987, Wojanowicz moved into more radical, politically charged work, and was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 1985. Though he died of AIDS-related illness in 1992, Wojnarowicz’s work left a lasting mark on the New York art scene. Read more about his life in this aptly titled memoir, Close to the Knives.
Gluck, by Diana Souhami
Born into a life of privilege, Hannah Gluckstein (who would later be known as Gluck) rebelled against her conservative parentage and society when she took to wearing pants and having affairs with well-known women on the path to becoming a successful painter in England during the 20s and 30s. Diana Souhami’s thoughtful biography of Gluck champions the work of an artist whose lifestyle was just as unconventional as her paintings.
Nijinsky, by Richard Buckle
Vaslav Nijinsky remains the most famous dancer in the world, despite the fact that he died over 50 years ago. For dancers, his work laid the foundation for modern dance. In this biography by Richard Buckle, readers will learn more about his tumultuous relationship with the great ballet impresario Diaghilev, his frenzied rise to superstardom, and his descent into madness—diagnosed with schizophrenia, never again to dance in public. Drawn from conversations with those who knew him personally, Buckle’s biography is the definitive work on Nijinsky’s life and influence.