15 Finest Audiobooks in the World of Art

A refined appreciation of art is not necessary to enjoy audiobooks about the world of art. In fact, listening to fiction or nonfiction about artists and the mysteries that lurk in the art underworld just might make you a fan even if you weren’t one before.

While many art audiobooks tend to be thrillers, there are plenty that explore the history of the artists or the time period when the art was created. Whatever your motive for listening to audiobooks about art, you will find a genre that fits your needs and lets you linger in the creative space of others for a while.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Narrated by Treat Williams, Anne Heche, and a Full Cast

My introduction to Elizabeth Kostova came through her debut novel, The Historian, an absolute must-listen in its own right. The Swan Thieves, her second novel, dives into the art world when psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe treats Robert Oliver. Oliver is a celebrated painter who attacked a piece of art hanging in a gallery and won’t give the reasons for this destruction. 

Kostova is an expert at taking readers on journeys across time and locations without ever losing the ability to present a focused story that builds to a satisfying end. Whether or not you know anything about art or French Impressionism, you will be consumed by this art mystery as it unravels. A cast of talented narrators lend their voices to this story.

Length: 17 hours 56 minutes

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

The book that inspired this list is Dominic Smith’s novel about art forgery, females in the art world, and love complicated by disguise. Ellie Shipley paints a fake of de Vos’ At the Edge of a Wood when she is a graduate student trying to survive in Manhattan. Half a century later, she has to face what she’s done as both the fake and the original threaten to surface in the art world.

Smith takes readers from 20th-century New York to Holland in the 1600s. She explores family, loss, and the relationships that both make and betray us. Exquisitely created, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is a work of art in its own right, and Edoardo Ballerini brings it to life with his animated narration.

Length: 9 hours 57 minutes

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Narrated by David Pittu

When Theodore Decker loses his mother at the age of 13 in a horrible accident, he holds onto a small painting he took the last time he saw her alive. The misguided choice of a child leads him into the art underworld and sets the trajectory for the rest of his life.

Settle in for an epic tale since this Pulitzer Prize winner is over 30 hours long. You will follow Theo through his childhood as an orphan taken in by friends to his life as an adult who is in danger due to his obsession with the art he possesses.

Unforgettable characters and a tight wire of suspense make this a listen you will think about years after you hear the last word.

Length: 32 hours and 24 minutes

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

Narrated by Susan Lyons

It’s impossible to put Laing’s work in a definitive genre. She weaves research, personal experience, and social commentary into her essays that always leave me walking away with a better understanding of myself and the world around me. 

The Lonely City dives into the work of six artists and their lives and the loneliness that impacted their creations. Focused on Manhattan, an island where millions of people live in a state of loneliness while never truly being alone, Laing asks what loneliness means and what it does to our lives, our art, and our connections to our society at large. This book led me to art museums, New York City, and to the heart of how I feel when I’m lonely as opposed to simply alone. 

Length: 9 hours and 55 minutes

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

Narrated by Carlotta Brentan

Journalist Jules Roth is tasked with finding a piece of art that was stolen by the Nazis decades before. A famous designer seeks this painting for his own reasons, but his life is coming to an end. Jules needs to find it in time, but she’s not the only one looking for it.

Margaux de Laurent, a wealthy gallerist, also wants the painting titled Woman on Fire. She is ruthless and cunning, and she doesn’t let other people get in the way of something she wants. As Jules races to find the painting before Margaux, we discover that everyone has secrets. This historical fiction story set in the art world is a thriller that will keep you gripped until you hear the last word.

Length: 11 hours and 59 minutes

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Narrated by Sneha Mathan

The first book in The Jaipur Trilogy, The Henna Artist introduces listeners to Lakshmi, a teenager escaping her abusive marriage during the 1950s. She makes her way to Jaipur where her unique talents as a henna artist help her set up an independent life. Unfortunately, her past is not something she can share as she strikes out on her own. 

Her past comes back for her when her estranged husband finds her and informs her of familial ties she didn’t even know she had. Lakshmi has to find a way forward for herself and those she loves.

Length: 10 hours and 56 minutes

Still Lives by Maria Hummel

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

Another mystery set in the art world opens with an exhibition that goes off the rails. Kim Lord’s show receives tons of hype and expectations. The problem is that Kim never shows up, and her current project centers around her creating self-portraits of famous women who have been murdered. Could the same fate have found her?

Maggie Richter, who was pinning the gallery’s hopes on Kim Lord’s show bringing in positive attention instead of an investigation, starts to look into Lord’s disappearance herself. What she finds is a web of deceit that leaves her suspicious of people in her inner circle. This book spotlights the violence done to women and reaches an unexpected climax as Tavia Gilbert narrates.

Length: 9 hours and 35 minutes

Never Anyone but You by Rupert Thomson

Narrated by Kate Reading

A historical fiction novel with lesbian protagonists who use their artistic powers to resist Nazis? Yes, you can have it all! Listen to the story of artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, lovers who became stepsisters in a random twist of fate and carried on a love affair throughout their lives. Follow their journey in Paris as they meet famous talents like Hemingway before retreating due to the rise of anti-semitism. On an island trying to stay safe, they still find ways to resist through their art, but resistance comes with a price.

I knew about Claude Cahun’s art before I found this novel, and I loved hearing it come to life. Cahun and Moore’s political work using their artistic talents left me listening to this one late into the night.

Length: 11 hours and 9 minutes

Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari

Narrated by Jim Meskimen, Stacey Glemboski, and Nicol Zanzarella

It does make me feel a tad old when the flashback part of the novel takes place in the late 1980s, but at least I recognize the references. Lattari sets part of her story in the Maine woods at an art school for the talented kids who create. Around a campfire one night, secrets are shared and lives are irrevocably changed.

Fast forward to 2018 when Audra invites art professor Max Durant to view her thesis collection. Max walks in assuming he is deserving of this invitation to Audra’s internal world when he is really just walking into the trap she has set for him.

Dark Things I Adore is a revenge fantasy with the art world as a backdrop, and it is thrilling and disturbing in equal parts. A great choice for fans of dark psychological thrillers.

Length: 12 hours and 30 minutes

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

Narrated by Xe Sands

Painting prodigy Carey Logan took her life in Pine City, a retreat for artists known for its parties and glamorous side. When a young artist loses important work she needs for an exhibition in a fire, she retreats to Pine City to try to recreate it as soon as possible. 

Secrets surface as the artist works to remake her work, and she starts to question what she thought she knew about Carey’s death. Satirical and psychologically thrilling, Fake Like Me takes readers into a darker side of the art world and holds them in suspense. 

Length: 10 hours and 47 minutes

So Much Blue by Percival Everett

Narrated by Patrick Lawlor

So Much Blue started my addiction to Percival Everett for good reason. Kevin Pace is working on a painting that he keeps a secret from everyone. While he works on it, we journey through his past to visit an affair he had years earlier and the consequences of that decision. As his memories pull him back to a trip he took with a friend to El Salvador in the 70s, the reality of the secrets Kevin is keeping and how they led him to a place in his life where he is unwilling to reveal his work to those closest to him are shared with the listener.

Simmering with the uncurrent of regret and longing that accompanies us through life, So Much Blue is still my number one pick by this exceptional author.

Length: 7 hours and 44 minutes

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Narrated by Patricia Rodriguez and Eric Meyers

How often is women’s art overlooked while a man’s work is praised as genius? That’s what Harriet Burden tries to find out when she hides her contribution to the art world behind the names of three male artists. When one man refuses to come clean about the art unfairly credited to him, Burden becomes entangled in a high-stakes game that will lead to one person’s death.

The format Hustvedt uses to tell this story will draw you in or push you away. Told from multiple perspectives using a collection of texts, you have to pay attention for the story to come together cohesively. The effort is worth it, and The Blazing World offers a searing look at how misogyny still impacts the world of art.

Length: 14 hours and 46 minutes

The Portrait by Ilaria Bernardini

Narrated by Justine Eyre

Valerie Costas is a famous writer entangled with a married secret lover. When her lover suffers from a stroke, she is desperate to find a way to spend time with him in his last days of life. Costas decides to have his wife Isla, an artist, paint her portrait. This ensures Costas a way into her lover’s life, and she assumes his wife doesn’t know about her.

Taut, beautiful, and heartbreaking, Isla and Valerie live together as the portrait is completed, learning about each other’s lives and secrets. This is a suspenseful story about love, betrayal, and the bonds women share.

Length: 10 hours and 33 minutes

Talk Art: Everything You Wanted to Know About Contemporary Art but Were Afraid to Ask by Russell Tovey and Robert Diament

Narrated by the Authors, Jerry Saltz, and James Corden

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Talk Art podcast that brought real, understandable art discussions to the everyday listener. If not, you can still absorb all the wisdom offered in this audiobook. The goal is to help anyone interested in art, novice or experienced, find the topic accessible so real conversations can take place.

Having only taken one art history class in college, I love turning on the podcast or listening to this book to dive deeper into a world I’ve looked at with fascination for years. I don’t feel ignorant or lost as Tovey and Diament lead me into non-snobby knowledge that helps me truly appreciate how art impacts the world.

Length: 5 hours and 43 minutes

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

Narrated by Karen White

Fans of Renoir’s work will love this historical fiction account of how one of his most famous paintings came to exist. Vreeland researched the people, friends of Renoir’s, who appeared in Luncheon of the Boating Party, and she introduces listeners to them as the story unfolds. 

While this is a work of fiction, Vreeland’s historical research will leave you with a knowledge of Renoir, Impressionism, and France during this artistic period. It’s a long listen, and the descriptions can sometimes feel heavy, but it’s a great choice for anyone who likes to explore the minds of artists and the worlds they create.

Length: 16 hours and 54 minutes

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