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The Best Art Books to Read for Free on the NYPL’s New eBook App

Entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The New York Public Library just released a iPhone and Android app that lets anyone with a library card freely download any of the 300,000 eBooks in its collection. Called SimplyE, it allows you to “borrow” the texts for a period of 13 days, after which they’re automatically returned (no late fees!).

Reading on a tiny screen can’t beat flipping through hardcopies of big, shiny art books with full-color illustrations. But the app does make it possible to read tiny versions of these unwieldy books on the subway, or while standing in line at the grocery store, or while waiting for the Pokemon Go servers to start working again. For art history nerds with long commutes, here are five art e-books available for free download via the NYPL’s SimplyE app.

Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, Edited by Maura Reilly (Image via Thames & Hudson)

Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader 

The first comprehensive anthology of maverick art historian Linda Nochlin’s work, published last year by Thames & Hudson, features 29 essays, from the classic 1971 feminist tract “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” to musings on Mary Cassatt, Louise Bourgeois, Cecily Brown, Kiki Smith, Miwa Yanagi, and Sophie Calle.

Dave Hickey, “Air Guitar” (Image via Amazon)

Dave Hickey, Air Guitar

Considered a plain-talking art critic, Hickey’s 23 essays (or “love songs,” as Hickey calls them) in this volume reflect on a “vast, invisible underground empire” of record stores, art galleries, jazz clubs, and surf shops, and offer takes on Norman Rockwell, Robert Mapplethorpe, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, and Perry Mason.

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Robert Hughes, “The Shock of the New” (Image via Thames and Hudson)

Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New and The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings

“I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense,” Robert Hughes, who was an art critic for Time magazine for 30 years, wrote in The Spectacle of Skill, answering to accusations of snobbery by his fellow Aussies. “I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work, or a good carpenter chopping dovetails, or someone tying a Bimini hitch that won’t slip. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones … Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate.”

This brand of brutal honesty runs throughout this compilation of Hughes’ writings on art, architecture, religion, and culture. The Shock of the New, illustrated with 250 color photos, is a hundred-year history of modern art, spanning from cubism to pop art to avant-garde, that accompanied the BBC documentary series Hughes hosted of the same name.

Toby Lester, “Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image” (Image via Simon and Schuster)

Toby Lester, Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image

Historian Toby Lester tells the story of Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” one of the world’s most famous images, inspired by the Roman architect Vitruvius, who suggested that the human body could be made to fit inside a circle, long associated with the divine, and a square, associated with the earthly and secular. Placing a man inside both these shapes at once, he thought, would imply that the human body could be a blueprint for the universe’s mysterious workings. Da Vinci reasoned that, if the human body was divine, studying the anatomy more thoroughly (and illegally) than ever would yield unprecedented knowledge of the cosmos. Lester follows Da Vinci’s quest to understand the enigma of the Vitruvian man.

The Andy Warhol Diaries, Edited by Pat Hackett (Image via Penguin)

The Andy Warhol Diaries

Spanning the mid-1970s to just a few days before his death in 1987, The Andy Warhol Diaries compiles more than twenty thousand pages of the artist’s diary, which he dictated daily to his friend Pat Hackett. Much of it is a list of name-drops of “everybody” he hung out with, including Jackie O, who “thinks she’s so grand she doesn’t even owe it to the public to have another great marriage to somebody big;” Yoko Ono (“We dialed F-U-C-K-Y-O-U and L-O-V-E-Y-O-U to see what happened, we had so much fun”) and “Princess Marina of, I guess, Greece.”

Also available in the app’s art ebook section: a guide to Tibetan CalligraphySteven Heller’s The Education of a Graphic Designer, Judy Chicago’s Institutional Time (an autobiographical, critical look at higher education in art), and more.

SimplyE is available for free download from the app store.

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