Free Art Books Just a Click Away

A spread from "Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition" by Thomas M. Messer. This book, along with many other titles, is available for free from the Guggenheim's online archive.

I have always had a slightly obsessive love of books. I like to keep lots of them around because they are often my first stop when I want to learn something new. Frankly, it’s a love I inherited from my father, a doctor and a man of science and ideas. Growing up, our house was crammed with books. They were everywhere — in his study, our bedrooms, the basement, the kitchen, even the garage. In fact, at one point, my dad ran out of space and plopped them in the upstairs bathtub. (It was rarely ever used.) It was just temporary, he said, although it always led to some intriguing questions from my friends.

My brother and I had lots of jokes about “diving” into a novel or “soaking up” some new ideas from those bathtub books. But I believe the reason he kept so many books around was that he wanted instantaneous accessibility to any idea he thought of or came across.

A snapshot of the free art-related titles in the University of California Press e-books collection

Today, much of the world is plugged into the Internet, and you no longer have to keep so many actual, physical books in your house. You can store hundreds on your Kindle or iPad. Plus, there are tons of ways to get free info from the books we love, or even e-books themselves.

Nowadays, you can find many art books online that offer preview sections for free. Take one art education book that I’ve always loved: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which is a great book on learning how to teach drawing to someone who knows nothing about the process. On the website for that book,, you can find examples of exercises and some info about the theory behind that book. And on, you can preview various pages.

Some publishers have gone a step further and made many books available, in the form of e-books or PDFs. For instance, University of California Press has a whole bunch you can view for free. So does the Guggenheim.

Of course, books aren’t the only way to learn something. Check out my latest State of the Art column in the August/September 2015 issue of Professional Artist (hitting newsstands on July 10), where I explore some of the ways that online education websites, such as, are forging new ground in the online education experience.

Terry Sullivan is the former editor of Professional Artist magazine and the former technical editor at American Artist magazine. He currently is an editor at Consumer Reports, where he covers digital cameras, camcorders, smart phones, printers and digital imaging. He is also an artist and musician. Follow him on Twitter: @TerryCR.