Art Documentaries to Kickstart Your Creativity


For most of us, watching artists in action is a rarity.

While we’re used to seeing finished artworks that hang in art galleries, museums and homes, we don’t often have the opportunity to enter into artist’s inner worlds. The mystique is real. Thanks to social media, however, we’ve seen the rise of internet artists who share photographs of their progress and videos of themselves at work in their studios, allowing us a glimpse into their creative process. But where does one go beyond captions of 2,200 characters and glitching live streams? To art documentaries streaming on the world wide web, of course. Here are a few of our picks.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child

Made from a collection of never-before-seen footage that was originally stowed away in a drawer for twenty years, director Tamra Davis pays homage to her friend and renowned New York City artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, in The Radiant Child. Filmed over the two years before his death in 1988, the documentary is a thoughtful and intimate portrayal of the artist at the height of his career, and delves into his iconoclastic neo-expressionist painting style and the challenges he faced being a Black artist in a predominantly white field. One of the most important artists of his generation, be charmed and enchanted by Basquiat in this exceptional film.

Finding Vivian Maier

What would you do if you bought a box at an auction for $30 only to discover 100,000 negatives and 700 rolls of undeveloped film inside? Develop it all and uncover the genius work of a mysterious photographer who worked in secret her whole life, duh. Finding Vivian Maier follows the story of director John Maloof who purchased the box in question and decided to investigate the photos inside of it, ultimately putting together the pieces that lead to American street photographer Vivian Maier. Having worked as a nanny her whole life, Maier was a woman who lived a very private existence. Until this film, that is. Too often female artists haven’t been celebrated for their work until after their death, but in Maier’s case, perhaps she never intended for her photographs to be shared in the first place.

The Price of Everything

‘There are a lot of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing,’ says art collector Stefan Edlis wisely, smiling knowingly past the camera in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn. A deep dive into the world of buying and selling contemporary art, this documentary investigates the role of art today in our consumerist society. In conversations with curators, critics (including the man, Jerry Saltz), auction-house executives, and artists George Condo, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Jeff Koons, Marilyn Minter Larry and Larry Poons, The Price of Everything provides a rare glimpse into the bewilderingly transactional nature of the art market.

Warrnambool’s wombat street art is a happy accident

Coming in at 4 minutes and 58 seconds, this isn’t exactly a documentary, but it is the story of unsung Australian hero Phil Hoy. Set in the Victorian town of Warrnambool, this tale is about a bridge, a painting by pet portrait artist Jimmi Buscombe, and one man’s dream to preserve an artwork, forever.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei is an artist who blurs the boundaries between art and politics, and is not one to shy away from the controversial. Never Sorry is the inside story of ‘a dissident for the digital age’ and China’s most famous international artist, whose use of social media to express his outspoken views and rally people has led him to be beaten up, held in secret detention and to have his new studio bulldozed by the Chinese authorities. While working as a journalist in China, first-time director Alison Klayman gives a detailed portrayal of contemporary China and one of its most enigmatic figures.

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