Book and Movie Recommendations

Reviews of Books and Movies are written by docents for docents. This is another way in which information on art related topics can be shared. Whether the books and movies inform or entertain, docent reviews are a good resource. Enjoy them and send your recommendations to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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A blog post about books written for the museum education field the author wanted to read in 2017 caught my eye. The list of 9 books includes a one-paragraph description of what each book is about and an explanation of why it’s on the list. Some of the books are more appropriate for museum professionals, but some of them look like they would be of interest to docents/guides as well. For example, the first book on the list, “The Manual of Museum Learning,” offers advice for creating successful learning experiences in museums and other institutions including galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. You can find the post at:

Books I Want to read on Museum Education in 2017 (original blog post by Lindsey Stewart)

Jan Thorman, Walters Art Museum, March 2018


An A to Z Guide to the Art World
By Kyung An and Jessica Cerasi

"Contemporary Art can be hard work." If you agree with authors Kyung and Cerasi that contemporary art can be difficult to comprehend, this guide may be of interest to you.

In alphabetical order, the authors cover 26 plus aspects of the contemporary art world. You'll learn how curators, gallerists, collectors and critics decide which artists are brought to our attention, determine which work to validate and predict which art is likely to endure over time. The role contemporary art museums, art fairs, biennials and prizes play in the global art market is covered as well. Conceptual, installation and performance art are discussed with examples as well as video and other art created with technology. The challenges of conserving such art is another matter for the authors' consideration.

The Muralist is set against the sweeping political backdrop of America's emergence from the Great Depression and Germany's anti-Semitism and WWII jack-booting. The book's central character, Alizée Benoit, is a young Jewish American artist painting murals for the Works Progress Administration (WPA.) She enters the circle of formidable young New York artists including Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and Mark Rothko. By day they dutifully paint representational murals for the WPA. At night they drink, debate, argue and struggle with their feelings and emerging statements of art. Alizée begins to paint her feelings, increasingly colored by politics and the dire conditions in Europe, in a new, excitingly abstract way and encourages the others to do likewise.

As news from her Jewish family describes their worsening plight and increasing panic to get out of German occupied France, Alizée explores all avenues to help them immigrate to the United States. A chance encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt presents two potential opportunities for Alizée. Might the First Lady be able to facilitate the immigration of her family? And, could her support open the eyes of critics and the public to new, non-representational art?

Bridging the Two Cultures by Eric R. Kandel

Neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel examines what scholars believe to be the pillars of Western intellectual life: Science and the Humanities (Literature and Art), determined to show how the divide between the two cultures might be bridged. Both fields of inquiry seek to advance knowledge and benefit humanity. Science does so by studying the physical nature of life and the universe and the Humanities by examining human experience. Kandel believes that Science and Art already share common methodologies and goals through reductionism (from the Latin reducere – to lead back). The concept does not imply limiting, but rather a heightened focus on certain aspects of a complex inquiry or endeavor. For instance, scientists might study a simple organism in order to understand the mechanism of a human problem.

The author finds the perfect example of reductionism in art in the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. These painters turned the art world upside down by rejecting traditional representational art and by reducing images to their basic elements of form, color, line and light.

"The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper".
Author Unknown.

This quote, on the title page of the book, Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman, sums up the content and purpose of the book. The author believes that everyone has the innate ability she calls "visual intelligence". Visual Intelligence is the process of looking, understanding and responding to the world around us.

The book is a distillation of the course, The Art of Perception, which the author created in 2000 using artwork in the Frick Collection.
The book offers a series of exercises, based on looking closely at works of art, to assist the reader in discovering and improving their own visual Intelligence. The book contains many pictures of works of art which, unfortunately, are too small to show the details needed for the exercises. Readers will find it easier to complete the exercises using larger format versions of the works of art.

This spirited biography of the career of Abstract Expressionist Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) careens through the life of the only female artist included in many important midcentury exhibitions, such as the Museum of Modern Arts' The New American Painting, which toured Europe in the late 1950's.

Born in New Jersey to a psychologically abusive mother, author Cathy Curtis follows Grace to New York City where Grace forms key relationships with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Frank O'Hara, and other artist-patrons of Greenwich Village's fabled Cedar Tavern. Confident and strong willed, but privately full of doubts, Hartigan "always had to be the star of her personal show" which complicated her love life with various male artists - but it also pushed her painting into new territory. From her career in New York City to her marriage and relocation to Baltimore, Curtis takes us through Grace's struggles with money, with alcoholism, and with selling her art.


Attention All Docents,

If you are looking for a juicy read I recommend you select Richard Meryman’s “Andrew Wyeth – A Secret Life”.  

Richard Merryman has interviewed many luminaries including Marilyn Monroe two days before her death.

He worked on this book for 30 years, which is amazing because Andrew Wyeth was so private!  Merryman portrays all the Wyeths and their interesting artistic talents.  You become acquainted with the interesting Wyeth family tree.  He begins with NC Wyeth who was a loving and controlling father who had an impact on all the four children.

Timothy Egan
2012, paperback 384 pp
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There have been many books and some movies that are of interest to docents.  For more reviews take a look at “Movie and Book Reviews” under the “Resources” section. If you have any that you would like to add to our collection, please send them to us.

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis is a vivid recounting of an American original by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Timothy Egan. Egan is an American author and journalist. For The Worst Hard Time, a 2006 book about people who lived through The Great Depression's Dust Bowl, he won the National Book Award for Nonfiction[3][4] and the Washington State Book Award in history/biography.  In 2001, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for a series to which Egan contributed, "How Race is Lived in America".   He currently lives in Seattle and contributes opinion columns as the paper's Pacific Northwest correspondent.

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