Review
Book Shorts

A collection of 50 contemporary artists’ favourite works of art

Book looks at what they like and how they think it helps their own work

Agnes Pelton, Awakening: Memory of my Father (1943) Photo by Blair Clark

Only a couple of thousand years ago, we were warned by our Roman forebears, “De gustibus non disputandum est”—when it comes to taste, there’s no point in arguing. Of course, this has not stopped us from battling away in every generation. Jori Finkel, the American arts journalist—and regular contributor to The Art Newspaper—has put together in this book the remarks of 50 contemporary artists on their favourite works of art. None has had the chutzpah of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (who chose only her own recordings for Desert Island Discs) to self-select, but each writes about 400 words to a page about the chosen work on the facing page. About a third of the book is taken up with the artists’ biographies. Each of the artists has things to say about his or her chosen work; most comment directly on how their chosen works relate to their own works (Judy Chicago says of Agnes Pelton’s Awakening: Memory of my Father (1943): “…until the advent of abstraction, women artists were not free to convey their experiences directly. Abstraction opened up the visual landscape for us to invent forms to convey out internal reality”). These comments will, no doubt, come in handy for critics and art historians who need to explain artists’ working methods, ideas and borrowings, and will be helpful to readers who want insight into the works. It seems obvious, however, that artists should take notice of other artists’ works, but perhaps a more interesting book might have been made of artists’ choices of reading or music or other arts “they can’t stop thinking about”.

  • Jori Finkel, It Speaks to Me: Art that Inspires Artists, Prestel, 160pp, £19.99 (hb)