Top 10 art documentaries

By Beatriz Rodrigues

Are you going through a creative block? Do you want to take a break from binge-watching your favourite series? Art documentaries have the incredible ability to makes us delve into an artist or content creator’s mind, provide a creative way into problem-solving or simply make us dream. More than ever, the necessity for a bit of escapism and daydreaming, which includes the possibility to rediscover some of our favourite artists, access their studios and get a glimpse of the process behind our favourite pieces is a true privilege – and all of this whilst in the comfort of our own homes. 

From visual art to a splash of design and architecture here are the top 10 art documentaries to get your creative juices flowing. 

 

1. What Artists Do All Day? (2013)

Each episode follows a British artist through its process and the intricacies of creating art in our time. MTArt’s Mahtab Hussain is featured in one of the episodes reflecting on his photography and the Muslim representation on the art world and the media. Cornelia Parker, Anthony Gormley, and Peter Jackson are also featured on this BBC 4 documentary.

 

Mahtab Hussain art documentariesWhat do Artists Do All Day (BBC 4)

2. Kusama: Infinity (2018)

From the artist’s infinite rooms to the endless dots of Kusama’s universe, this documentary tracks the life of the Japanese artist, her courage to confront trauma and the struggle of succeeding in a predominantly western, male art world. 

Kusama: Infinity (Madman Films)

 

3. Ways of Seeing (1972)

The already classic book on visual culture incurring on an analysis of the ways people see was first a documentary. Now available on YouTube, it still is one of the most influential documentaries on the cultural relationship between the history of art, cultural production, advertising, and the effect of the human gaze.

Ways of Seeing (another)

4. Gerhard Richter: Painting (2012)

Gerhard Ritcher refers to the act of painting and producing art as something which cannot fully be captured with words. In this documentary, we have the incredible opportunity to understand his process, the mystery, the discovery, and the beauty of it, and finally grasp what words may not be able to provide.

Gerhard Richter: Painting (PopUp Painting)

5. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012)

Marina Abramovic revolutionized performance art, challenged the relationship between the audience and the artist, and became the number one reference in becoming art. In ‘The Artist is Present’, the 2010 performance at MoMA portrayed in the documentary, Marina engaged physically, mentally, and artistically with the visitors in what one of the participants described as “a transforming experience—it’s luminous, it’s uplifting, it has many layers, but it always comes back to being present, breathing, maintaining eye contact. It’s an amazing journey to be able to experience and participate in the piece.”

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (realeyz)

6. Bauhaus Spirit: 100 years of Bauhaus (2018)

The centenary anniversary of the most influential school of art, design and architecture of the 20th century provided the opportunity for an interesting reflection on its past and its achievements. And created the necessary space for reflection on the current and future challenges of architecture, urban design, and visual culture. 

Bauhaus Spirit: 100 years of Bauhaus (Prime Video)

7. Abstract: The Art of Design (2017)

This last one comes in a docuseries format with each episode dedicated to a specific type of design. Olafur Eliasson is featured on the design of art, Christoph Niemann on illustration, and Ruth Carter on costume design thus providing a holistic and highly inspiring portrait of design and its place in society. Available on Netflix. 

Abstract: The Art of Design (Casa Brasil)

8. Boom for real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (2017)

An impressive portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat which is also a testament to his early days of creative freedom and a recollection of a golden period of artistic expression in the streets of New York city in the 70s. The prophetic ambience of the documentary can be a source of inspiration for many young artists trying to succeed in the art world.

Basquiat: Boom for real (Butterfly Art News)

9. Oscar Niemeyer – Life is a Breath of Air (2007)

One of the most interesting architects of his generation talk us through his work, the process of creation, his story of life and the many histories that made him a renowned name in the history of architecture. Available on YouTube. 

Oscar Niemeyer: Life is a Breath of Air (Fragmentos da Arquitetura – Blogger)

10. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)

‘The Beijing Andy Warhol’, as Ai Weiwei has been called, reveals the artist’s defiance and spirit of resistance. In this documentary, not only can we watch his artistic process, but the intricacies of his acts of resistance pushing the boundaries of what the art and activism are, from China to the world.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Smithsonian Institute)

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