With so many good documentaries about art available, it's time to update my list. Add them to your queue, watch them online when you can, or find clips on YouTube.
These are too good to miss.
Tops on My List
The PBS series art: 21. A pioneering series on artists making art today. Don't miss a single episode.
How to Draw a Bunny – The mysterious art, life, death of Ray Johnson. I haven't seen it in a long while, but it made an impact and is still at the top of my list.
The Woodmans – I watched this in 2011 and again in 2019–had to move it toward the top of the list. The artistic family of ceramist Betty Woodman, the tragic death of her talented daughter, photographer Francesca Woodman, and how their art triumphs. (The rest here are in no particular order.)
My Architect – The life of Louis Kahn, through his son’s eyes.
Glaring omission from the original list (thanks for catching it, John) – #20: Rivers & Tides – Follows “landscape sculptor” Andy Goldsworth as he creates ephemeral works of art using objects found in nature. Terrible website, by the way – not at all reflective of the film.
A documentary on Morris Louis that I saw in his traveling retrospective. But I have no title or resource for it. It's just terrific and I'd love to see it again. (I know it's not fair to leave you hanging like that.)
Painters Painting – An amazing 2-part film featuring key figures in American art from 1940 to 1970.
Helvetica -Yep, a whole film about the typeface. Very fun to hear all of these designers talking about typefaces and visual communication.
Herb & Dorothy – Who hasn't seen this lovely film about two unlikely art collectors?
Valentino: The Last Emperor – I adored this movie about fashion designer Valentino. It's gorgeous to look at.
Exit Through the Gift Shop – Banksy's film about street art. Is it a documentary or not? It certainly makes us question how art is made.
Waste Land – More than a film about art, this is about an artist (Vik Muniz) affecting social change through art. The stories are heartwarming, the people are beautiful
Others Worth Watching
Rothko’s Rooms – About Mark Rothko's Seagram paintings at the Tate Modern and the demand he put on exhibiting his work. Often available for viewing on OvationTV.
Any film about Christo and Jeanne-Claude – All of them show the amazing, unconventional (and laden with red tape!) process that these artists go through to make their vision a reality.
The Rape of Europa – The story of American GI's whose duty it was to return art stolen by the Nazis.
The Art of the Steal – Definitely a one-sided view of relocation of the Barnes Collection from Merion, PA to Philadelphia.
Sketches of Frank Gehry – The Sydney Pollack documentary about the famed architect.
Matthew Barney: No Restraint – An inside peek at Barney's work, with his partner and collaborator Björk, aboard a whaling ship. A little too bloody for my taste, if I recall.
Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow – About the personal universe created by German artist Anselm Kiefer on the grounds of his estate in the South of France. Haunting soundtrack!
Add your own art documentary choices in a comment.
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See also: fictional movies with an artist as the central character – real or imagined artists.