Books of the Year 2012: Art

From art to sport, poetry to nature, travel to food, history to music: our writers select the best of the year’s books in a comprehensive guide to the highlights in every shade of the literary spectrum – except grey

When faced with the enigma of contemporary art, fewer street cries are more familiar than: "my kid could have done better than that!" Susie Hodge tackles that charge in Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained (Thames & Hudson, £9.95), plucking out 100 works, from Jean Arp to Carl André, and explaining why the seemingly outrageous often deserves careful attention.

Artists' own words are given a great deal of attention in two new books of their opinions. In My View: Personal Reflections on Art by Today's Leading Artists (Thames & Hudson, £19.95; edited by Simon Grant) asks 78 living artists which work of art has been most influential in their lives, and in doing so throws interesting light on their own attitudes towards art-making. Sanctuary: Britain's Artists and their Studios (Thames & Hudson, £48) presents Hodgkin, Turk, Rego and 40-odd others in the creative squalor/order of their private sanctuaries, and asks some interesting questions. "Where do you find moments of peace?" the interviewer asks Michael Landy. "I should box, really, in a ring. Probably being hit by somebody would be good. But good boxers don't get hit."

Those who commission art often get hit – and sometimes very hard. All to the good, then, that there is a very readable new book by Louisa Buck and Daniel McClean called Commissioning Contemporary Art (Thames & Hudson, £18.95). What do artists think of the purchasers of their works? How easy is it to negotiate with the man with the flaming brush? This book is a very thought-provoking read.

How contemporary is contemporary art, though? Alexander Nagel's Medieval/Modern : Art out of Time (Thames & Hudson, £29.95) reminds us, throughout the skilful weave of his argument, that there is much more medievalism in the art of the present, and much more contemporaneity in the art of the distant past, than we often realise.

Much art of the past and present has simply disappeared as a result of war, theft, vandalism and much else. Céline Delvaux's The Impossible Museum: the Best Art You'll Never See (Prestel, £16.99) takes us on a journey through centuries, and presents, for our poignant delectation, images of great works that we can never hope to see, from the Buddhas of Bamiyan, blown up by the Taliban in 2001, to Rubens's "Bacchanal", which went up in smoke in May 1945 (when the Friedrichshain bunker in Berlin was mysteriously destroyed), along with more than 400 other masterworks from the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin.

Those who might wish to get a little closer to Rubens by finding out exactly how he did what he did are advised to dip into Rubens Unveiled: Notes on the Master's Painting Technique (Ludion, £22.50). Various works from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp have been scrutinised with the aid of macrophotography, infrared reflectography and X-radiography. Take a peek over Rubens's shoulder.

There is a great deal of interesting close-scrutineering of artworks in The Unfinished Painting by Nico Van Hout (Ludion, £40), which analyses dozens of paintings from the 15th century to the present which, for one reason or another, never got finished. It argues what a profound influence this lack of closure has had upon modernity's thinking about the nature of the artistic enterprise. Art not only needs science. It increasingly seems to depend upon cutting-edge scientific endeavour for its subject matter, as we discover in Stephen Wilson's Art and Science Now (Thames & Hudson, £19.95). A clever technical device called the camera obscura radically changed the nature of painting hundreds of years ago. This is just one of 100 Ideas that Changed Art (Laurence King, £19.95), a lively, entertaining, loosely chronologically examination by Michael Bird of the ways that art-making has been re-shaped down the centuries.

No account of the most interesting art books of the season would be complete without one or two the best monographs. Though costly, Johannes Grave's presentation and elucidation of the works of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (Prestel, £80) is worth the investment. The text does the man justice, and the full-colour reproductions have the necessary panache. Also to be recommended for the deep-pocketed is The Book of Kells (Thames & Hudson, £60), ably interpreted by Bernard Meehan. With great cogency and clarity, this book unlocks, spread by full-colour spread, that glorious, Dublin-based treasure-house of symbolic mysteries from the way-back-when of the eighth century.

Further reading

Books of the year 2012: Fiction

Books of the year 2012: Crime and thrillers

Books of the year 2012: Music

Books of the year 2012: Celebrity

Books of the year 2012: Natural history

Books of the year 2012: Food

Books of the year 2012: Travel and place

Books of the year 2012: Sport

Books of the year 2012: Children's books

Books of the year 2012: Memoirs

Books of the year 2012: History

Books of the year 2012: Poetry

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?