Documentaries often shine light on visual artists and their ways of life. They explore the depths of an artist’s work, and should not be dismissed as excellent teaching tools. Read on for a list of documentaries that focus on modern American artists.
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine
This iconic documentary presents an intimate glimpse into the day-to-day life of an artist. Produced and distributed by Zeitgeist Films, the piece was released just two years before Bourgeois’ death. The film sheds light on her inspirations, exposing audiences to the most intimate elements of her process. Viewers explore her spectacular home studio space, her haunting past, and her unparalleled flare for story-telling.
Sign Painters: The Movie
It’s often said that nearly anything can make for a fascinating documentary, if you know where to look. This piece proves just that as it takes on the subject of sign painting. Filmmakers Faythe Levine nd Sam Macon interview legends of the industry, as well as more fresh-faced artisans in this beautifully shot ode to a truly remarkable craft.
Finding Vivian Maier
This documentary maps out the life of Vivian Maier, winning Academy Award recognition in the process. Maier was a pioneer in the world of photography: a French-American woman who worked most of her life as a domestic assistant for a variety of Chicago families. Writer and director John Maloof stumbled across Maier’s negatives at an auction in 2007, inspiring a slew of news articles on the subject of her work, and ultimately a Kickstarter campaign to fund the documentary itself. It’s a fascinating piece of film, revealing how art can be found in the most unusual of places.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Marina Abramovic is arguably one of the most famous and influential artists today, and this documentary showcases her work in exquisite detail. The film provides an unprecedented level of access, and those interested in the process of an artist at work should enjoy the film immensely.
Maya Lin, A Strong Clear Vision: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its Inspiring Creator
This elegant and slick documentary follows the life and work of artist Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial design, and its 1982 execution in Washington DC. Lin was a Yale graduate, selected from 1500 candidates who applied to design the monument. Lin’s solution for the piece came under great pressure from key political figures of the time, such as Pat Buchanan, Ronald Reagan, and Henry J. Hyde. They viewed her approach as too stark and “nihilistic” to stand. This documentary is a story about an artistic who held her ground, sticking to her vision in the face of mounting pressure.
Double Take: The Art of Elizabeth King
Elizabeth King is an artist whose innovative style is difficult to describe. Her work sits somewhere between the worlds of classical sculpture, and uncanny automata, creating an aesthetic that blurs the lines between realistic and virtual experience. Double Take focuses on both her artistic and educational careers, as both are carefully intertwined.
The Woodmans: The Life of the Photographer
This is a rather difficult watch, but it’s one that will leave you to ponder the connections of art and loss. It follows the journey of an artistic family, as they navigate unspeakable tragedy and the posthumous fame of their 22-year-old daughter Francesca, whose haunting self portraits became the subject of great admiration following her suicide in 1981.
Which movies would you add to our list and why?