The best art books provide knowledge, inspiration and tutorials for professional, expert and beginner artists alike. Whether you’re a drawer, painter, illustrator, sculptor or any other type of artist, art books can help further your artistic career, provide inspiration from the greats and improve your artistic skills (even if you struggle to put pencil to paper!).
In this guide, we’ve found the best art books for all your artistic needs, including general art, art history and concept art. If you’re interested in any of the titles you see below, click the retailer links to buy directly from the retailer.
With years of art and design writing experience, Creative Bloq and our contributors have read, reviewed and ranked many of the best art books on the market. We’ve compiled all that knowledge into one place (right here!) and have found the best recommendations to help you become a better artist, from old classics to recent publications.
The best art books to buy in 2023
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Best art books overall
The best art book for the full history of art
+ Over 2500 of the most influential paintings and sculptures
+ Plenty of themes and genres to explore
+ Covers the full history of art
For a full timeline of art, the Art: The Definitive Visual Guide contains over 2500 of the most influential artists, paintings and sculptures throughout the history of art. Full of themes and genres from the art world, this title also goes into detail with dedicated spreads and examples of how artists use colour, composition and the era of the time into their art.
The best art book to collect
+ Regularly updated with new artists from all periods
+ Fun to collect all of them
+ Notes on each piece and its artist
The Art Book (which at time of writing has three editions) is a fun book to collect, as it’s regularly updated and expanded with new artists and works. Each piece is accompanied by text on the artist, what they’ve created and how it’s left its mark on the art world. This title is a great coffee table book and is perfect for people who love art and want to continue expanding their knowledge on it throughout the years.
The best art book for understanding artists’ thoughts and process
+ 40 personal essays and interviews
+ Inspiration for young and aspiring artists
+ Brutally honest
For aspiring artists, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life is a brutally honest book about the reality of being an artist in the modern day. The book has 40 essays, interviews and statements from big artists that speak about their successes, failures, processes and experiences. It’s a great source of inspiration and information for art students and young aspiring artists.
The best art book for drawing tips
+ Analyses 100 drawings from popular artists
+ Full of diagrams, captions and illustrations
+ Explains basic problems like line, light and anatomy
Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters is a classic art book that’s become more and more popular since its original publication in 1989. It’s the ultimate manual of drawing that features diagrams, captions and illustrations, while also explaining basic art problems that artists face while creating. Also within the pages are 100 drawings to take inspiration from, including works from Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and many more.
The best art book for art enthusiasts
+ Fun coffee table book
+ Text on each painting from artists, curators and critics
+ The best paintings from around the world
Even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, it’s always nice to appreciate good art, which is where 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die comes in. Another book for art enthusiasts and collectors, this book is all about the images and shows off the most memorable and important paintings that have ever been created (so far, that is). Alongside the images, you’ll find text from artists, curators and critics that illuminate the painting and the creator.
The best art book for helping artists find inspiration
+ Advice and projects from 50 artists
+ Full of inspiration and exercises to get you out of a rut
+ Great for students and creatives
The super visual Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas is a great title for any artist to own, including students and new creatives. The author has interviewed 50 international artists for their advice and tips on how to conquer creative blocks and get out of a rut. The book is also incredibly visual with plenty of images and examples to take inspiration from.
Best art history books
The best art history book for art historians
+ Covers the entirety of art history
+ 16 editions and modified adaptations to choose from
+ Illustrations from famous figures
For aspiring or current art historians, Art Through The Ages is a must-have. Originally written and published in 1926, this book covers a chronological and comprehensive history of art and covers work from iconic artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Jackson Pollock, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and more. The newest addition features more illustrations and colour, and clearer and more detailed maps and timelines.
The best art history book for new artists
+ Full timeline of art history
+ Easy to read
+ Great for new artists
The Story of Art has been popular since its publication, covering the full timeline of art history in a condensed and easy to read book. It goes into everything you need to know about artists, their works and how pieces made an impact in the world of art. The newest version of The Story of Art has more vivid illustrations and images, making it even easier to understand and peruse through.
The best art history book for understanding art
+ Concentrates on how we look and experience art
+ Written by renowned art critic and painter
+ Classic art book
Adapted from the BBC television series of the same name, Ways of Seeing concentrates on how we look and experience art. The book is made up of 7 essays with plenty of images, and has been described as “one of the most stimulating and influential books on art in any language”.
The best art history book for art students
+ Best for art students
+ Has since expanded to include artists that were previously ignored
- Very big!
Janson’s History of Art has long been used in most Art History courses at schools and universities. The chunky title covers the entire history of art, including drawings, paintings, sculptures, architecture and more. In its first edition, the author overlooked female artists and minorities, but the newer additions have been expanded to include artists that were previously left out.
The best art history book
+ Focuses on Italian Renaissance artists
+ Full of facts, theories and anecdotes
+ Written by historian, painter and architect
The Lives of the Artists was written by Italian Renaissance painter and architect, Giorgia Vasari. With his insights and knowledge of the Renaissance era, The Lives of the Artists is full of facts, theories and anecdotes about Renaissance life and its well known artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto and Brunelleschi.
The best art history book for modern art
+ Goes into major movements of modern art
+ Covers works from the 19th century and beyond
- Pretty big
The History of Modern Art covers works and artists from the 19th and 20th century. This book looks at the trends, movements and influences of the ear and despite its incredible size, it uses easy-to-digest text and illustrations. Plenty of artists are included in the pages, and paintings, architecture and sculptures are explained in copy, annotations and images.
Best concept art books
The best art concept book for multiple art forms
+ Advice for those wanting to get into mixed media art
+ Over 500 photos for inspiration
+ Plenty of art projects, techniques, examples and exercises
For those wanting to get into mixed media art and techniques, The Complete Book of Mixed Media Art is the best concept art book for you. The pages are full of advice and materials for drawing, painting, stitching, collaging, journaling and more. It’s also filled with step-by-step examples and art projects for you to try your hand at to find your own personal style.
The best art concept book for artist experiences
+ Insights into the entertainment industry
+ Looks at how different artists are inspired by the same stimuli
- More of a journal than an instructional book
The Skillful Huntsman, The Visual Development of a Grimm Tale is a unique look into how artists use the same inspiration to create their own art and visuals. Using a tale from the Brothers Grimm, three artists create their own original designs and offer insights and critiques into their creative process. The book is more of a journal than an instructional guide but it’s a great read full of images, colours and notes.
The best art concept book for beginner concept artists
+ Incredibly detailed
+ Best for beginners
Art Fundamentals is a detailed look into the basic ideas and theories of concept art, like light, colour, composition, perspective, emotions, and much more. The book encourages beginners and aspiring artists to create powerful stories through their images. Written by experienced game and film industry professionals, it’s a great book to have if you’re new to concept art, although it’s got quite a big price tag.
The best art concept book for the drawing process
+ Helps artists understand drawing
+ All about perspective
- Can be a little tricky
Written by Scott Robertson, How to Draw takes both new and professional artists through the prospective drawing process. At times it can be a little tricky to read but it concisely communicates and teaches its readers how to draw and express themselves through their art, from the basics to the complex.
The best art concept book for video game illustration
+ Best for budding gaming artists
+ Covers how to get into the industry
+ Fun images
If you’re a budding gaming artist, whether you’ve left school or not, The Big Bad World of Concept Art for Video Games takes readers through the entire process, from picking classes to creating a portfolio. This book is encouraging, extensive and is full of exercises that can help you develop your style and career in the video game industry.
The best art concept book for science fiction and fantasy art
+ Beautiful imagery
+ Best for science fiction and fantasy artists
+ Practical methods, exercise and advice
For science fiction artists, Imaginative Realism: How To Paint What Doesn’t Exist is a go-to book for understanding how to bring life to creatures that don’t exist. Fantasy artist and creator, James Gurney offers his own tips, techniques and practical methods for creating images of aliens, dinosaurs, and more. The book finishes off with advice on how to get into the illustration industry so it’s a truly insightful title.