BOOKS: Used Book Treasures

Used Books

“What we read and why we do so defines us in a profound way. You are what you read, I suppose. Browsing through someone’s library is like peeking into their DNA.”

-Guillermo del Toro

I received a very special St. Valentine’s Day present from my wife Michele Bledsoe. For the first time in several years we attended the annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association Used Book Sale. On Sunday February 14 we spent the morning at the Phoenix Fairgrounds, going through an immense exhibition hall crammed full of super affordable used books.

We are thrifty people, so it worked out great Valentine’s Day was Half Price Day. Michele and I share a love of books. We’ve even written one together, “The Secret Kingdom,” which was quite an adventure in itself.

Once inside the VNSA Book Sale we both went to the Art section, excitedly showing each other new discoveries. Eventually Michele headed off to explore some other favorite topics, but I stayed, determined to see everything. By the time I left the section, I had already found so many books it was hard to carry them.

Art books are very important to me. Art is a continuum; what we are doing now in art right is part of an on-going story as old as humanity itself. I love to see what was done before, because real art is always remains relevant, no matter when or where it was made. I find it inspirational, plus exposing myself to all those pictures and ideas is crucial to the process I call “feeding the image bank.” I never know when what I see might trigger the visions so vital to my own work.

We found many other wonderful books that day, books on faith, history and nature, and some fiction as well. But the most exciting part for me were the volumes on art. All told, we probably spent less than $30 on an immense boost to our art library. I was very selective. I put much more back than I actually bought.

In review of my purchases, I can see now how what I actually picked was influenced by a growing concern in my life: the nature of the American artist. What is the art of this very special place, and what does it look like in these times? You’ll never find out by looking at the offerings of the art establishment. That’s why contemporary art is suffering a crisis of relevance. That is why Remodernism is rising to sweep away the corrupted old hierarchies and renew the art spirit.

Here is a list of our Art Book finds that day, and some notes on their significance. Listed roughly in order of size:

  1. Thomas Hart Benton – mostly black and white images from the American Regionalist painter
  2. Dali Jewels – color photos of jewelry designed by the great Surrealist
  3. Oskar Kokoschka – brief biography and mostly color images by the Expressionist painter
  4. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbolism – as a painter in the Symbolist tradition, I am very aware that at its best my art is full of archetypal meanings that come upon me from outside of myself. Like in a dream, I’m shown a picture that is full of significance. Afterwards, looking up the visions that appear to me is very educational, and help me understand what is being conveyed.
  5. Rodin: His Sculptures, Drawings, and Watercolors– Biography, commentary, and black and white images from across the range of Rodin’s artistic output
  6. Great Housewives of Art – a fun collection of domestic themed art
  7. O’Keeffe & Stieglitz – biography on one of the great romances and partnerships in art, between Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer/gallerist Alfred Stieglitz
  8. Alfred P. Ryder – A real score, a color and black and white illustrated book on one of my favorite artists, Alfred Pinkham Ryder
  9. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America by Robert Hughes – another real score, a book I’ve wanted for years, by my favorite art critic. Even when I’ve seen it used at other locations, I considered it too expensive ($20+). Here I paid $3.50 for a pristine hardback version. I was thrilled.
  10. The Mode in Costume – drawings of clothing styles from 3000 BC to the 1940’s, when the book was made. This will be a great resource for me, as I love evoking history in my paintings, and outfits provide a powerful time reference.
  11. Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance – a lavishly illustrated overview of an exciting movement in the Modern Art era
  12. Russian Lacquer Legends and Fairy Tales – beautiful color photographs on the bold, graphic style of Russian miniature paintings
  13. Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present – a wealth of information and images on Outsider art, including the amazing Thornton Dial
  14. An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art-full color book on a talented family of painters
  15. The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures by Writers – as an artist who writes, it is very interesting to see the results when they come at it from the other way around

6 thoughts on “BOOKS: Used Book Treasures

  1. Again, I beg to differ. All of this art is readily available, and has been written extensively about. It’s not unusual, hard to find, or outside “mainstream” art. The establishment talks about these artists and movements all the time, but not exclusively, thank goodness. You don’t have to like everything that’s promoted or everything that’s shown or put in galleries or museums…in fact it would be crazy if you did. But I still don’t get what remodern is rebelling against. Just do what you like! but look at everything, don’t limit yourself. The world is full of wonderful things, surprises everywhere. Instead of excluding certain things, you should always be looking for more.

  2. Nice to know you are a Robert Hughes fan. Hughes on Koons, Hirst, and Warhol is priceless. Speaking of Hushes, I’d love to find a copy of his book on Frank Auerbach. Enjoy your reading. I’m sure you’ll get lots of new ideas and insights as you poor through those volumes.

  3. I keep looking at the photo thinking there is a book-spine poem in there somewhere, unfortunately can’t read the titles sufficiently well to make it out.

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