I like to think of the mythical Netflix Marathon as the process of accumulating inspiration, but it could be more realistically dubbed procrastination. Either way, it has become a talent I’ve honed to perfection, one that I desperately need to figure out a way to work into my résumé.
One of my personal favorite genres on which to cinematographically gorge myself is the art documentary. Here’s a list of 10 documentaries on art and visual culture available to stream on Netflix (in no particular order) that will fill you with creative inspiration — or, perhaps more accurately, help you delay the project with an impending deadline just a little bit longer.
1. Style Wars (1983) >>
Style Wars has become an iconic film with an almost cult following in young creative communities. Its ubiquity aside, Style Wars is a great documentary on the graffiti movement in New York City and has been followed up with numerous others covering graffiti in other parts of the world such as Piece by Piece, Graffiti Verite, Next, and Bomb It.
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) >>
This documentary tells the story of street art from our current decade, with the focus on Shepard Fairey and Banksy. The playfully rebellious nature of these graffiti artists is bound to inspire your inner angst-filled teenager to want to write on your bedroom walls something lamenting “The System.” The film also has a vaguely self-deprecating tone, which keeps it from being pretentious.
3. Beautiful Losers (2008) >>
Beautiful Losers opens with photographer Ed Templeton playing an accordion in front of (presumably) his suburban home. I’ll let you judge where that would lie on the continuum of hipsterdom. Regardless, this documentary features some of today’s great artists, who talk about everything from childhood dreams of being a garbage man to finding a friend’s head in Dragon Park. The artists in this documentary, including Barry McGee, Harmony Korine, Mike Mills and Aaron Rose, represent the aesthetic that our generation will likely be posthumously recognized for: a DIY combination of punk, graffiti, and skateboard culture.
4. Bill Cunningham’s New York (2010) >>
Before there were dozens of blogs with street photos by self-appointed fashion experts, there was Bill Cunningham, a staple in the New York fashion scene known for snapping photos of the fashion-conscious throughout New York City. Although typically his lens’s focus is on the beautiful fashionistas he documents for the New York Times Style Section, this documentary focuses on the photographer, highlighting his warm persona, small apartment, and meticulous attention to detail.
5. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010) >>
Another documentary that transports viewers back to 1970s and ’80s New York, this documentary exposes Jean-Michel Basquiat’s experience in lower Manhattan. Basquiat’s work is now regarded as some of the most influential and important work of his era. His rapid escalation into fame left him disoriented, depressed, and addicted to drugs, and although he died prematurely, his work remains.
If this time period in New York is of particular interest to you, try to follow it up with Limelight, a documentary about club owner Peter Gatien and how Rudy Giuliani took the fun out of everything.
6. Our City Dreams (2008) >>
This film follows the creative paths of three female artists living in New York City. Each of the artists presents a unique work process and style and discusses her indestructible ties to the city. There is something TED talk–ish about this film, with a very intimate, feminist, pro–New York message. Watch this one if you are looking to get some inspiration to paint — I practically ran to my sketchpad when it ended.
7. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) >>
The extremely talented and controversial Ai Weiwei was thrown into the international consciousness when he spoke out against the Beijing Olympics after designing its centerpiece. The conversations with the artists and studio assistant in the film create a portrait of the Chinese artist that’s more intimate than his usual depictions in Western media. And like Ai Weiwei himself, the interviewees are witty, opinionated, and often dissidents in their own right.
8. Indie Game: The Movie (2011) >>
Game designers are artists, and anyone who doesn’t believe that should see this film. This movie documents the creation of Meat Boy and Fez, two highly anticipated independent games that are slowly driving their creators insane. The film reveals the creation process, highlighting how stressful this combination of right-brained coding and left-brained design work is.
9. The Woodmans (2010) >>
The haunting photos of Francesca Woodman made a New York appearance in an exhibit at the Guggenheim last year. Woodman’s untimely suicide only enhances the mysterious and dark beauty of her images. Her family members, who are all accomplished artists as well, talk about her naturally provocative temperament and the way this translated into her work.
10. Waste Land (2010) >>
In this documentary, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz travels to one of the world’s largest landfills in Rio de Janeiro and reappropriates trash to create intricate portraits of the Brazilian trash pickers, who live off of the recyclables they find. He incorporates them into the creative process, making the film as much about them and their introduction to art as it is about Muniz himself.
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.
Ten Painful Stories of the Dutch Colonial Slave Trade
The Rijksmuseum’s traveling show strives to remind us that we are all, in some way, a part of this chapter of human history, whose legacy continues today.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Textured Histories at Shiprock Santa Fe
The Santa Fe gallery features Indigenous textiles and jewelry from the early 19th century to today.
Renaissance Portrait of “Ugly Duchess” Likely Depicts a Man
A curator at London’s National Gallery believes the subject of painter Quinten Massys’s painting “is most likely a he.”
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Hokusai’s “Great Wave” Makes a Splash at Auction
An edition of the iconic woodblock print broke records when it sold for $2.8M this week.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Back With an Inflatable Dolphin
Episode four, in which artists tackled themes of justice and injustice, was the most lifeless of the reality TV show so far.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture
Parents complained that the famous sculpture was shown to their sixth graders.
Tickets to Sold-Out Vermeer Show Are Going for Hundreds
The online resale market for the Rijksmuseum’s smash exhibition is booming, with tickets selling on eBay for over $2K.
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
I would Add Art 21
I would put Beauty is Embarrassing in my top ten.
Don’t forget Edward Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes….
To add a non-contemporary piece: The Rape of Europa.
A Model for Matisse. Was the aging artist in love with a nun?
How to draw a bunny is a great doc. can’t include everything I suppose.
it’s never been on netflix the many times i’ve looked. not on amazon instant either. boo.
It’s embarrassing that Beauty is Embarrassing is not on this list.
Degenerate Art would be another one.
Two movies should be on top of this list. Marwencol and The Art of the Steal. Marwencol shows the redemptive power of art probably better than any other documentary. The Art of the Steal should be seen by anyone who cares about art.
Agreed, these were the two that came to my mind. Really good.
Heard ‘Brief Encounters’, the doc on Gregory Crewdson, just got added
Watched it and loved it. I saw many of his works, offline and online, but never paid enough attention.
Herb and Dorothy.
“Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies” is great.
This one is incredible – the story is told so well (the link between Cubism and the rise of cinema) – and by Scorsese, no less.
Love this selection, agree Marwencol should be added. Andy Goldsworthy’s Of Rivers and Tides definitely in my top 10, for the experience of watching him create work designed to vanish.
The image for Style Wars is not from the movie Style Wars FYI
pretty sure its these dudes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHvrcLyDRV0
Why would anyone want to watch a documentary about a bunch off hoodie wearing thugs who vandalize property, refuse to grow up, create nothing of lasting value, have no articulable political agenda, and don’t care about anyone but themselves and their infantile so-called “art” form.
Between the Folds will blow your mind
The Anselm Kiefer doc “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow” was recently added to Netflix Instant. It is simply mind blowing.
Orson Wells’ F is for Fake http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWZUG0-nn_Q
One of the best Art Documentaries of all time is The Art of Storytelling. Can be found on youtube in parts or as a whole and on several other websites. Probably best and most game changin film since style wars, shows the artists, the way of life, and the art that literally covers most of the world but very few are even aware of. Will change the way you look out the window and see the world for the rest of your life.
This list is awesome. I’ve seen the Indie Game movie and was surprised by how beautiful I found it. The docs listed in these comments are a helpful jumping-off point. One correction though–in the indie gaming blurb, the right brain is typically the ‘creative’ side, the left brain is more associated with logic/coding.
Heres the trailer for a doc I am editing. Any thoughts?
check out the trailer for a documentary called “Artistic Savant”
Comments are closed.