Musebooks — a Great Online Source for Art Books

I’ve been meaning to let you know about a great site for finding digital books about art and artists.  Musebooks has a growing collection of digitized books on art history and contemporary artists.  Some books are as little as $3.00.

I am presently reading a book on Kerry James Marshall, whose work I love.  I’ll review the book when I have finished it.




I have started my own shelf of books about everything from art nouveau to How to Read Art.  They give you free samples to check out before you buy.   You get access to exhibit catalogs and books that you might not find anywhere else.

And although some of the books are very expensive, most are affordable and cheaper than you can get them from any other bookstore.  Also, you get a free book just for signing up.

Check it out and see what you think.  I highly recommend them.

Here’s a video of their site and how the books work.  I particularly love the zoom features.

The essentials of Musebooks from Musebooks on Vimeo.

And here’s information about them from their website:

About Musebooks

Musebooks is the first digital reading experience specially designed for art lovers. Easily switch between reading the text, leafing through the pages and zooming in on images — and never lose your spot in the book. Your books are stored in your personal online library, MyBooks. Discover now the alternative to e-books that is revolutionizing the way we read about art. Sign up to get your first book for free.

Musebooks Founders

The trio of Belgian innovators behind are publishing professional Peter Ruyffelaere, marketing mastermind Noël Slangen, and information technology ingénue Dominique de Rijcke.

Dominique De Rijcke (38) is an experienced tech entrepreneur, owning several IT firms. Dominique and Noël have worked together many times, creating several international IT platforms for multinationals and organisations. 

Noël Slangen (52) has been a successful entrepreneur in the communication industry in Belgium and the Netherlands for nearly 30 years. He is used to managing large teams, working with stakeholders and advising major clients.

Peter Ruyffelaere (57) has a track record in producing art books at Ludion, was responsible for the merchandising of the Magritte Foundation, and has worked with some of the world’s most important museums in co-productions of museum catalogues.


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Madam & Eve: Women Portraying Women — Book Review

Just Wow!


I was blown away by the range and depth of this collection of contemporary portrait and figurative art by women.

I’d been looking for a good book on post-1960s portrait art for about a year.  There was nothing in my library about that at all.  The world has become more vibrant and diverse place in the past 60 years.  Art materials have changed, art styles have changed.  More people than ever have access to art materials.  More styles of creativity are seen as art.  We’ve begun to remove blinders and see the world and each other all over again.

I see a lot of contemporary art online, but nothing in depth, or that pulls it all together in a meaningful way.  All the books I could find in my library were histories of portraiture that featured only the classic realistic styles and much art done for wealthy patrons.  Which is fine, but what about what’s happening all over the world now?


I found the book Madam & Eve: Women Portraying Women by Liz Rideal and Kathleen Soriano about a month ago, and have been consulting it almost daily ever since.  There’s so much to absorb from the paintings, photographs, constructions and performance art represented and discussed here.   Some of it is gorgeous, some of it grotesque but all of it is new and intriguing to me.


In the Forward, the authors said they conceived of this from their personal views:


What I found in the book seemed a universal view, a wide range of what a portrait can mean in addition to a mere representation of what a person looks like.  And women’s vision, historically, has been ignored, but it’s always been a most powerful view of who we are.



The first section of the book covers some history of women in the arts, beginning with Clara Peters, Still Life with Goblets, 1612,  where her self-portrait is slyly hidden in the reflection on a goblet:



The book features one work by each artist represented, a brief descriptions of her work, and a bit of the story behind the image.  It not only illuminates the particular painting, but gives insight into modern portraiture, and how women fit into the larger issues of the world — both the ideal and the reality:


It shows how women perceive themselves and each other, but also how we think society perceives us, and the way that distorts how we see ourselves.















There is such a wide range of work in these 220 odd pages that it’s hard to go through the whole book at once, but it’s easy to come back to it.  It’s also a good book to sit with by the computer and look for more work by the artists.

Liz Rideal is an artist and Reader at Slade School of Fine Art, University College London and has worked for over thirty years with the National Portrait Gallery, London. Her artwork is held in public collections including Tate, V&A and the Yale Centre for British Art, USA. It has been exhibited widely in Europe and the USA. She is the author of Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, Insights: Self-portraits, and How to Read Paintings.

Kathleen Soriano is an independent curator, broadcaster and Chair of the Liverpool Biennial. Formerly, Director of Exhibitions and Collections, National Portrait Gallery, London; Director, Compton Verney; and Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.


I’ve requested that my library get a copy of this book.  I don’t know how successful it will be since they have a low budget, but it’s worth a try because our libraries should have great books like this available for everyone.

This book was published by Laurence King Publishing in London.  They have an incredible list of up-to-to date art books.  I hope you look at their site and learn more about the art and books that are being produced now.  How living artists see us is illuminating:  we can find new visions of ourselves, new mysteries, and new questions.

Laurence King also published the fun storytelling card set I reviewed, The Mysterious Mansion, which you can read about here.

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Rock, paper, conscience


Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letter and Photographs from the Petrified Forest, edited by Ryan Thompson and Phil Orr, is a fascinating peek at the ephemeral nature of human life and the permanence of stones.  There’s a myth that says if you remove a rock from the Petrified Forest, you will be cursed.

Editor Ryan Thompson took a trip to the Petrified Forest and its Rainbow Forest Museum, where a few letters of conscience were displayed.  Drawn to their “humor, heartbreak, and humility,” he began the project that lead to this book.  He sifted through 1200 letters, the first from 1934, that spoke of the misfortune that followed those who left the forest with illegal souvenirs.

002People are concerned that the rocks be returned to the place they were taken from, but because of “their unknown provenance, these specimens can not be scattered back in the park;” Thompson writes, “to do would be to spoil those sites for research purposes.  They are instead added to the park’s ‘conscience pile,’ which sits alongside a private gravel service road, a bit of dramatic irony that only furthered my interest in the phenomena.”

The conscience pile

I can’t tell you how much this book delighted me.  It has several of my favorite elements – ephemera, stones, and space.  As it unfolds it becomes a poignant look at how people interpret the concept of luck.  What causes sorrow and hard times?  Throughout our lives, we are faced with many, many difficult situations.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was as easy to solve as getting rid of a cursed stone?


The letters change as they move more towards the modern era, where an awareness of our impact on our natural resources and our parks is more defined.

005There’s an insightful interview at the back of the book with Matthew Smith, Museum Curator at the Petrified Forest National Park.  He manages “an extensive collection of objects that encompasses one of a kind plant and animal fossils, cultural artifacts and the conscience letter archive.”  The way people remember the forest on return visits is skewed.  It reveals both the inaccuracy and the embellishment of memory.  The early managers of the forest have added to the confusion by manipulating photographs to “persuade the public to help them preserve the National Park and not see the wood disappear.”


The layout of this book is gorgeous.  The photographs of the petrified wood on clean white space are breathtaking.  There are random blank pages that made me pause.  There is room in this book to ponder the material, the ephemeral nature of our letters and sorrows, and the permanence of the stones, no matter where they eventually land.


I so enjoyed reading the various hand written letters.  They’ve become rare in the past few decades and seeing them in all these different manifestations was touching.  I was fascinated by the types of paper and the way each letter was composed.  It felt like an archaeological expedition into the concepts of luck, confession, and even redemption.


Bad Luck, Hot Rocks has a website where you can see some of the letters and photographs, but the book itself is most lovely and engrossing.


Ryan Thompson lives and works in Chicago, IL where he is an artist and Associate Professor of Art & Design at Trinity Christian College. His current research examines various powers humans ascribe to the events and ephemera of the geologic. His work has recently been included in Cabinet Magazine, Fotograf Magazine, Making the Geologic Now (Punctum Books), Reframing Photorgraphy (Routledge), and Format P Magazine. More at:

Phil Orr loves building things, particularly out of the discarded, salvaged, unwanted, or forgotten. Much of his work focuses on these objects and the complex relationships surrounding them. He makes a living as a carpenter in Urbana, Illinois where he lives with his growing family.

Bad Luck, Hot Rocks is published by Ice Plant, an independent press based in Los Angeles that focuses on small print run artist books, with an emphasis on photography.  Their designs are impressive and result in books that feel good in your hands and your head.


Draw What You See: Benny Andrews

I got to hear the artist Benny Andrews speak in the 1980s in Memphis, when the Brooks Museum of Art had an exhibition of his work.  His art is so vibrant and unique, the elongated characters practically walked off the canvas, shook your hand, and told you their story.  
I’d first seen his drawings when I read books written by his brother Raymond Andrews.  Raymond was the author of a series of books about Black communities in central Georgia, and their close but dangerous relationship with the White community.  Benny’s line work was amazing — simple but expressive with a narrative all it’s own.  

Benny and Raymond were from a family of 10.  Their father was a sharecropper but also a painter who sparked a creative fire in his children.  Benny told a story about his father painting practically everything in the house.  His mother had to hide her Sunday shoes to keep him from painting them.
Kathleen Benson, Project Director at the Museum of the City of New York. has written a wonderful picture book  Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, (Clarion Books, 2015).
As a child, Benny drew his family members and the life around him.  He went on to become a major influence in American art.  
The book opens with a story of Benny as an adult teaching art to children who lived in camps in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  The story then moves back to his childhood.

“In grade school, Benny was always the class artist.  He copied the comics from the daily newspaper.  He drew the stories he heard on the radio and the stars in the movies he went to see in town on Saturdays. 
“After school, Benny worked carrying water to the laborers in the fields. At planting and harvest time, he didn’t go to school at all.  None of the black children in Plainview did, because they were needed on the farms.  Their school year was only about five months long.”

Though most of his friends left school to work in the fields full time, Benny longed to go to high school.  His mother prevailed upon the farm’s White boss to allow Benny to go. 
After high school, he joined the air force.  When he got out, he had the means to go to art school.  He’d traveled all over the world, learned new ways of looking at things, but, “Home was always in his heart.”  He was inspired by the people around him.  “With lots of practice, he became a master at capturing movement on the still canvas.”

I love that he emphasized that you draw what you see because his vision was uniquely his own.  He couldn’t stay confined to absolute realism.  He saw things with imagination and style.  He saw the vibrancy of open spaces.  He added texture to his work by sticking paper and cloth on to the canvas.  
He was a “people’s painter.”  He taught.  He shared art.  He illustrated children’s books.  He opened doors for other underrepresented artists.    

 Draw What You Seeis a gorgeous book.  Without being didactic, the story makes it clear how difficult it’s been for Black people to get an education and to pursue art.  Benny wanted to make it easier for all people to become artists.

Unlike many pictures books about artists, this one uses Andrews’ own art work.  Kathleen Benson and Benny Andrews worked together before.  He illustrated her book John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, which won the NCSS Carter Ge Woodson Award. 
This is a great picture book to introduce kids and aspiring artists to the work of Benny Andrews.  
It’s a delight to look through no matter what your age.  It’s like having a little gallery of Andrews work at hand, work that welcomes you in to the beauty and mystery of his vision.  There’s excellent additional information and a time line of his life in the back pages.
If you’d like to learn more about Benny Andrew, The School Library Journal has an excellent interview with Kathleen Benson here
You can learn a bit about his brother, writer Raymond Andrews, and life in Plainview for their family here.

Follow your vision and thanks for reading my blog!