7 documentaries about American artists

Documentaries have always been able to shine a light on visual artists and to showcase their work and their way of work. They are therefore an interesting introduction into the art form for many who don’t know much about it.

The documentaries can also go in depth in exploring the work of an artist and they shouldn’t be dismissed as a teaching tool. Here’s a list of documentaries that focus on modern American artists that you should check out.

Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine

This iconic documentary presents an intimate peek into the life of an artist. It was made and distributed by Zeitgeist films in 2010 just two years before the artist’s death. The film sheds light on her inspirations by exposing audiences to the most intimate aspects of her process, viewers are introduced to her spectacular home studio space, haunting past, and unparalleled flare for story-telling (plus, an assortment of very exciting outfit choices).

It was filmed for over 14 years, making it one of the longest and most fruitful collaborations of that sorts put to film. It’s a detailed examination of a creative life.

Sign painters: The Movie

It’s often said that everything can be made into a fascinating documentary if you decide to look close enough. This documentary proves that since it takes on a subject of sign painting which doesn’t seem to be that rich or at least not rich enough to explore and it proves those who doubt wrong.

As hand-painted signage makes a modest, artisinal comeback in a sea of monotone automated lettering, filmmakers Faythe Levine and Sam Macon interview legends and newcomers side by side in this beautifully shot ode to a remarkable craft.

Finding Vivian Maier

This documentary maps out the life of Vivian Maier and it has won the academy award for during so. Maier was pioneer of the photography as an art form and she came to that position from a background that’s somewhat unusual.  She was a French-American woman who worked most of her life as domestic for a variety of Chicago families.

A writer director John Maloof came across her negatives at an auction in 2007, inspiring a spate of news articles and a success Kickstarter campaign for the documentary itself. It’s a fascinating documentary showing that there’s art to be found at unusual places.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Marina Abramovic is probably one of the most famous and most influential artists working today and this documentary showcases her work and the process through which it comes about. The film provides an unprecedented level of access and those who want to see how an artist works should enjoy this film immensely.

It captures her life and work at a time of her 2010 at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the centerpiece of which involved a live durational performance wherein she silently stared at visitors across a table.

Maya Lin, A Strong Clear Vision: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and it’s 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 at the time and she was selected from a 1500 candidates that have applied to design the monument.

The monument and the solution Lin had for it came under great pressure from important political figures of the time such as Pat Buchanan, Ronald Reagan, and Henry J. Hyde. They said her approach was too stark and “nihilistic” to stand. It’s a story about an artistic holding her ground and sticking to her vision.

Double Take: The Art of Elizabeth King

Elizabeth King is one of those artists that is so innovative that it’s difficult to even describe the art form in which they operate. She’s somewhere between the worlds of classical sculpture and uncanny automata.

By doing so, she’s made the aesthetic of her own by blurring the boundaries between actual and virtual experience. The film focuses on both her artistic and educational work because the two are intertwined and one of the same.

The Woodmans: The Life of the Photographer

This is a rather difficult film to watch but it’s one that will leave you thinking about art and lose and how the two are connected. It’s about an artistic family’s journey through unspeakable tragedy and the posthumous fame of their 22-year-old daughter, Francesca, whose haunting black-and-white self-portraits became the subject of great admiration after her suicide in 1981.

The film goes deep into a life of a family destroyed but also one that has had problems before and that has gained artistic inspiration from it.

Which movies would you add to our list and why?


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