Cover image for The American art book.
The American art book.
Publication Information:
London : Phaidon, [1999]

Physical Description:
512 pages : color illustrations ; 30 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N6505 .A57 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

On Order



On its publication in 1999, The American Art Book immediately filled a critical gap in accessible yet authoritative surveys on American artists of the past three centuries. With an A to Z format that departs from the usual emphasis on genres and time periods, it offers an unparalleled overview of the most influential and best-loved American artists from Colonial times to the present. The American Art Book presents 500 artists and their works, ranging from Puritan portraits to the luminous paintings of the Hudson River School and the American Impressionists, to the videos and digital works of today's most intriguing conceptual artists. Its alphabetic format generates intriguing juxtapositions: Jenny Holzer faces Winslow Homer, and Richard Avedon sits next to Milton Avery, encouraging readers to contemplate the connections between art and American history and popular culture. Each artist is represented by a full-page colour plate of a representative work together with an informative, engaging text that places the artist and the image in the context of contemporary movements and preceding traditions.

The book includes an easy-to-use glossary of artistic terms and movements, and a directory of museums and public collections across the United States and around the world with important holdings in American art. With its original format and fresh selections of artwork, this volume offers a stimulating way to approach this rich, varied subject. This book is now also available in a new mini version that presents the compelling content of this original edition in a highly portable format that is both useful as a serious work of reference and fun for on-the-go art enthusiasts.

Author Notes

This compilation draws together the research and works of a broad selection of curators, critics, artists, and academics.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The simple format of Phaidon's A to Z series has, in this instance, yielded a dazzlingly diverse and openhanded survey of American art from colonial days to the present. By presenting one well-chosen example of the work of each of 500 painters, photographers, sculptors, and folk artists in alphabetical order, the editors liberate their creations from chronology, regionalism, and the categorization of schools and movements, an approach that creates some wonderfully unexpected and revealing juxtapositions. An installation by contemporary word artist Jenny Holzer faces a nineteenth-century painting by Winslow Homer; a winterscape by Grandma Moses is shadowed by a black-and-white abstraction by Robert Motherwell; and an interior by Charles Sheeler is followed by a photograph by Cindy Sherman. Such unlikely pairings enable the viewer to see beyond the obvious and discover fresh connections as well as clarify differences in artists' perception, intent, and style. Referrals to kindred artists and the brief but informative accompanying texts offer just enough information to whet a reader's appetite for more, and the plates are superb. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

This volume continues the immensely popular but critically challenged series that began with 1994's The Art Book. Some 500 artists, organized alphabetically, are each given one page, which is filled by a large-format reproduction of one work, a 150-word essay, cross references to other artists, and rudimentary data on the artist and the work. For those seeking scholarly or even basic reference standards, the problems are manifold. No introductory materials describe how the artists or the representative works were chosen or what parameters were used (what qualifies as "American" art, anyway?). The unsigned essays are too short to define an artist's place in history, and, in any case, the essays are mostly given to descriptions of the single piece at hand. Potentially one of book's best features, the cross references are treated as a half-hearted afterthought. The publisher is largely correct in dismissing these concerns, however. This work is meant as an introduction and as such gets the facts mostly right, presents mostly defensible choices, provides a sweeping scope, and brings it all in at an unbeatable price. For small and medium general collections.ÄEric Bryant, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Here is an interesting idea: a picture book with a single "significant work"--painting, sculpture, photographs--by 500 American artists from the early 1700s to the 1990s, one to a page. As it is in alphabetical order, there are some strange and sometimes illuminating juxtapositions across pages (see Twachtman and Twombley paired, for instance). Occasionally there are peculiar choices, and a few well-known artists are omitted. All reproductions are about the same size, which is disconcerting even though sizes are given. Each work has a short paragraph above about it and its artist; specifics are below. The reproductions are of the very best quality with fidelity to the originals. Appended are a glossary of terms and a listing of artistic movements; both are rudimentary, but they include references to the artists in the book. Included is a directory of museums and public collections, here and abroad, from which the pictures came. Some choices were obviously made to include a variety of sources. This is a wonderful selection of well-reproduced American art works to brows through. General readers; undergraduates through professionals. W. L. Whitwell; Hollins College