Doing a Van Gogh by Geesien Postema

9 Films That Contemporary Artists Should Watch

Aliyah Lashley November 01 2023


Artist films can help us understand the creative process better and ought to inspire your imagination. Here is a selection of documentaries and biopics on artists to stream.

Frida (2002)

Frida is a biopic on the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, their turbulent relationship, and her rise to fame. It highlights Frida's hardships and strong will to succeed despite them in the art community while living in the 20th century. With performances from Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, and Antonio Banderas, the film depicts the true nature of a painter and the politics that influence the culture.

Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent is an oil-painted animated film that tells the tale of a young man who visits Vincent van Gogh’s village to deliver the artist’s last letter whilst looking into the circumstances of his death. It is the first fully painted animated film, and a team of 125 painters from around the world used the same techniques as Van Gogh did to make each of the 65,000 frames in the film. It’s a unique experience that everyone in the art community should see.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

An 18th-century female painter in France is forced to paint a young woman's bridal portrait while also developing a (mutually felt) attraction to her. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an intimate and nuanced study of how two people can fall in love in this period piece. With amazing cinematography and actors to match, this film depicts the stunning form of its subjects like a living, breathing painting coming to life.

Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary that shines a long-overdue spotlight on its subject's previously unseen brilliance, concerning the late Vivian Maier, an American street photographer whose hidden collection of 150,000 photos was discovered after her death. Narratively engaging and unique, Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary worth your time.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

This documentary is about French amateur filmmaker Thierry Guetta's journey into the art world and his rise to popularity under his moniker "Mr. Brainwash." Directed by street artist Banksy, it's a lighthearted, fun, and interesting look to see how street painters create their works. It also raises important concerns regarding the nature of art as a commodity.

My Left Foot (1989)

My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown is about a man named Christy Brown, born with cerebral palsy, who learns to paint and write with his left foot, his only controllable limb. The film is adapted from Brown’s memoir of the same name as actor Daniel Day-Lewis gives a scintillating performance, giving this character's suffering great authenticity that leaves the viewer glued to the screen.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)

This documentary follows Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Director Alison Klayman offers a nuanced look at Weiwei as he prepares for a museum exhibition while using his artwork and social media to draw attention to China's autocratic regime. Klayman shows that no matter the obstacles he has faced -including bribery, imprisonment, and physical assault, nothing can keep Weiwei down.

The Painter and the Thief (2020)

In this documentary, Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova befriends Karl-Bertil Nordland, a thief who stole her paintings from an art gallery, as this film paints a canvas of compassion, redemption and forgiveness. While it may seem fictional, the personalities of the title characters leave one entranced as any good painting should be. It forces the viewer to reconsider familiar subjects in a fresh light and leaves you more knowledgeable for it.

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)

Griet, a peasant girl, is hired by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in the 17th century to serve as both his assistant and the subject of his painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. It is based on the book of the same name by author Tracy Chevalier. Girl with a Pearl Earring is a subdued film that portrays the art world in a somber fashion that’ll leave any artist intrigued.

So grab some popcorn, candy, drinks and experience a new wave of ideas while you have a good time!

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