The Importance of Reading for Artists
Artists and creatives work in many different ways, some conduct months of in-depth research before any art is made, others pick up a paintbrush and let the creative juices flow. But the one thing that connects all artists – and perhaps people – are books.
There are many reasons why reading is so important for us as individuals, books can be a true companion and they allow us to internalise, respond, react and transform.
The richness of the world is in books and in a busy world, with constant communication and many pressures, books help us to clarify our thoughts.
Whether these are theorcial texts, historical papers or stories heaped in fantasy we all get inspiration from the words, actions and thoughts of others – moments of reading can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in the world or share the best way to peel an onion!
Reading fiction helps us to build empathy and shows us a different world; it can take you somewhere you’ve never been which can be extremely helpful if new ideas and creative gestures are key to your work. Sharing your favorite books is part of the enjoyment of reading, to invite someone else to have the intimate experience of escape that you have experienced and that only a book can offer.
The Villa Lena Foundation Artists’ Library
The Artists’ Library is a collective book sharing project. Started in 2020 by the Villa Lena Foundation, the Artists’ Library is a physical resource that is made up of books that have been recommended by artists who have taken part in the residency programme over the past few years. This diverse collection of books includes poetry, cook books, classic art texts and contemporary fiction and acts as a trace of ideas and conversations that happened at Villa Lena.
Read books in the collection
Recommended books are purchased and made available for future residents and guests of Villa Lena to enjoy and be inspired during their stay. Which means you can curl up with a classic novel fireside in the Fattoria or explore the very beginnings of creativity by the pool. These recommendations also become part of the VL Foundation’s online Goodreads account, so you can enjoy the collection from wherever you are.
Stories behind the books and why they were chosen
As the collection builds we want to share the stories and anecdotes around each book in the collection, starting with the selection below which truly shows the scope of books available
The painter Katy Kirbach who was in residence in October 2020 recommended Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets”, Katy has an academic and in-depth relationship with colour, which you can read more about in this interview piece – she was the Creative Contributor during her time on the residency and shared the teaching of Josef Albers with participants over the course of a number of workshop, so this choice of book felt very fitting. About the book she says ‘Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets” is a collection of prose-poems, an extended love letter to the colour blue. It is unapologetically subjective writing on specific blue hues. Interspersed with these meditations on blue, Nelson confronts heartbreak and loss, implying that our visual perceptions are irrevocably intertwined with the messiness of our lives. While I was an artist-in-residence at Villa Lena last October, I kept thinking of “Bluets”, not because of the colour blue, but because of the innumerable greens in the landscape around me.
This green palette is imprinted in my memory as inseparable from the experience of my month at Villa Lena; a soft, dusty green immediately conjures the olive grove, but also breakfasts, studio visits, and dancing in the Villa.’
Marina Esmeraldo is a multidisciplinary artist with a practice drawing on her tropical upbringing and a Modernist training in Architecture. Marina was part of the Villa Lena residency in 2020 along with her partner and sometimes collaborator James Vincent, a writer and musician. She picked Scott Belsky’s “Making Ideas Happen”– a practical tool that helps creatives to make their ideas happen. Marina recommended Making Ideas Happen because “many years ago, it gave me the foundation, structure and mindset to get my own projects moving. It’s geared specifically toward creative people, who often have a tendency to be more dedicated to artistic and subjective thinking than objective, actionable approach. I recommend it in my course The Creative Map and believe it’s a great resource for artists at any point in their career”.
Ines Neto dos Santos wanted to share Thom Eagle’s ‘First, Catch’ – a cookbook without recipes! Ines has a practice that stands between performance and installation, she uses food, people and spaces as metaphors and prompts for discussion and conversation. Ines will be participating in the residency in 2021, returning to explore her research in fermentation and creative writing around food. She explains that First, Catch “takes you through stories, history and memories. It is, in a way, the most beautiful manifesto for a whole experience of food: from peeling onions, to conversations, sharing tables, eating and drinking together. It awakened me to the hidden potential of recipe writing as a creative writing!”
The artist Rory Menage who was on residency in 20219 at VL recommended DH Lawrence ’Etruscan Places : Travels Through Forgotten Italy’. He says ‘I read DH Lawrence’s Etruscan Places while at Villa Lena, which was wonderful. I wish I had read it a month before arriving, as I would have then had time to properly prepare a trip down to Tarquinia and see the Etruscan heartland with their alabaster sarcophagi and painted tombs.’ Rory works with raw materials, examining the position of object-making in a digitally biased era, during his time at Villa Lena he visited Carrara and worked with the world-famous white marble and Sandstone.
He goes on to say ‘That’s why I spent so much time in nearby Volterra. I remember he contrasts the music and dance loving Etruscans with the militant Romans who he calls the ‘Prussians of antiquity’, what a put down.’
Amanda Keeley took part in the residency in 2019 and is a visual artist, curator, and writer. She founded EXILE Books, an independent publishing house specializing in artist’s books. Amanda wanted to share Mina Stone’s ‘Cooking for Artists’, which she describes as a
“stunning book about how food brings together community. The ethos of food is a vital anchor and speaks to the relationship we have with food, and with food to us. Life at the Villa is very much about sharing beautiful meals prepared with local ingredients from the garden and meeting new friends!”
The social aspect of the Villa Lena residency, including shared meals, is often as important as studio time so it’s fitting to have a book that recognises this. Amanda worked with a poet and chef in residence to create an Edible dinner experience as her donation to the Villa Lena Foundation – this event brought the community together in a unique and beautiful way.
Billie Muraben recommended Jennifer Clement “Widow Basquiat” – “A sort-of memoir, based on conversations with, and the notes and diaries of, Suzanne Mallouk, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s lover and muse. It’s about their relationship, where they’d cross over and diverge; it’s about making work, New York City, and the chaos that lit up that time. In a lot of ways, the pace and energy of the book opposes the experience at Villa Lena, but something about it connected.
One of our group had brought it with them, and once they’d finished, we each took it in turns to read the book in a day.”
Billie is an arts and culture writer, editor and lecturer, and is Assistant Curator of the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial. During her time at Villa Lena she worked on a book project, which involved drawing, printmaking, and party-planning, as well as working with other artists and creatives to realise collaborative projects.
The painter Bradley Kerl recommended ‘Kenneth E. Silver with Stephanie Guyet’ Catalogue Summer with the Averys. He explains “Leading up to my residency at Villa Lena, I debated many approaches to the work I might make during my month-long stay. In an ideal world, I would have been able to make a series of immersive, large-scale oil paintings as is the norm in my practice. However, due to the constraints and logistics inherent to international travel, I opted for a scaled down approach and amassed a stack of works on paper. Since my time in Tuscany, the works on paper, photographs and memories have all served as very fruitful sources for dozens of more fully realized watercolors and canvases. As it turns out, this is the exact method the Avery family developed to inform their individual painting practices. Each summer, they would travel — to Europe, Mexico, or elsewhere in the US — and spend their days out-and-about drawing and making watercolors of their experiences. Once they returned home to New York for the colder months, they had plenty of source material for their paintings. I love the practicality of this process and the way each silo (watercolor/drawing & painting) informs the other.”
He also offers some sage advice to all future artists who come to Villa Lena – “keep your eyes open and soak up as much as possible while you are in residence. Don’t necessarily fret about getting a ton of work done, because in my experience, you have plenty of time to unpack the literal and figurative baggage in the years to come.”
To learn more about the Artist’s library project you can visit the VL Foundation’s online Goodreads account, or if your staying with us ask at reception.