The Year’s Most Beautiful and Interesting Art Books


We could argue about the future of reading until the end of time, but there’s at least one type of book that you will always need to hold in your hands: the art book. This collection of ten gorgeous books covers subjects as diverse as tattoos, clothes, space, dogs, glamour, and fishermen. Any of them would make a wonderful holiday gift.

Cheryl Strayed, Writer

Pen & Ink: Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them, Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton

Based on the beautiful Tumblr, Pen & Ink takes a brilliant concept — hey, what’s the story behind your tattoo? — and brings it to life with MacNaughton’s vivid illustrations and BuzzFeed Books editor Fitzgerald’s knack for getting true, fantastic stories. The respondents range from Wild author Cheryl Strayed to a warehouse manager’s explanation of why “PIZZA PARTY” is tattooed on her toes: “I really fucking love pizza.” The collected portraits are funny and sometimes heartbreaking, and they show human nature and experience in all its endearing colors.

Women in Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton

This book is a gorgeous document of how 639 women deal with clothes, image, and beauty in a world that’s often committed to inconsistent, weird messages regarding women and clothes. It is kind of like the platonic ideal of what a fashion magazine should be, with whimsy and beauty coming from Shapton’s extensive artwork and beautiful design. It’s a book that’s soothing, comforting, and thought-provoking.

Soviet Space Dogs, Olesya Turkina

Remember the tragic tale of Laika, the first Earth-born creature to enter space? A Russian street dog, she journeyed to the moon and never returned. This book compiles the story of Laika and other dogs, and the various Soviet ephemera and graphics that were used to make these brave creatures into heroes of the state for a generation of kids. Stranger than fiction and totally brilliant.

Vintage Black Glamour, Nichelle Gainer

Like diving into the treasure trove of your dreams, this Tumblr-turned-coffee-table-book is a cornucopia of black history that’s been lost to the Library of Congress. Vintage Black Glamour highlights the gorgeous 20th-century black actresses, dancers, and entertainers who simply didn’t get the press of their white counterparts, and Gainer does a wonderful job of showing us a world that isn’t talked about enough.

Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream, Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel

Dorothy and Otis Shepard, a married pair of graphic designers, influenced early American advertising and left their mark on American visual culture. (Clearly, the cover for bestseller Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a tribute to their work.) This book highlights the artistic highs and the complicated relationship behind the sharp lines and bright colors that we still see everywhere today.

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found, edited by John Maloof, text by Marvin Heiferman

The most talked-about photographer of the year, with the hit documentary Finding Vivian Maier telling the strange-but-true story of the reclusive nanny who left behind a cache of pioneering street photography after her death, Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found is a definitive monograph of her work. We see unpublished, new, and moving photos that range from Chicago to New York, some even in color, and learn more about this secretive talent.

Nick Cave: Epitome, Elvira Dyangani Ose,Nato Thompson, and Andrew Bolton

If you’ve only read about Nick Cave’s dazzling Soundsuits, Epitome is almost as good as seeing the staggering work in person. Prestel has done a beautiful job of capturing the joy, movement, and visual beauty that brings Cave (the American artist, not the Australian singer) to the forefront of today’s art world, and the essays about his work are nimble and sharp, too.

The Last Fisherman: Witness to the Endangered Oceans, Jeffrey L. Rotman with Yair Harel

Rotman has been an oceanic photographer for over 40 years, and he’s seen firsthand the way that the ocean’s bounty is changing as our climate shifts for the worse. Beautiful photos are juxtaposed with photos that bear witness to the way we’re overfishing and hurting the wildlife within the ocean, and this book provides a lucid and meaningful perspective on beauty, bounty, and destruction.

Nick Drake: Remembered For a While, Nick Drake and Gabrielle Drake

The only authorized look at the life and work of dreamy, whispering ’60s and ’70s folk singer Nick Drake, this comprehensive, beautiful coffee-table book shows us his life and his art, and how the two mixed. Letters, interviews, lyrics, and memories intertwine with color photographs, and they give new color to the man who penned the classic track “Pink Moon,” among a host of other gems.

This Equals That, Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin

Want the kid in your life to grow up with the mind of an artist? Give them Fulford and Shopsin’s delightful book. Through juxtapositions of two opposing images, like a shark and a triangle, in a series of whimsical portraits, This Equals That helps readers develop the kind of associative, creative, brainstorming brain that grows great ideas.