The 25 best art documentaries of 2010-2014: Painting, photography, architecture, writing, theatre and dance

This list and top contains the 25 most interesting art documentaries of the 2010’s. It’s always fascinating to know the story behind a great artist but it’s difficult to make a compelling and worthwhile documentary about the person. The following films are all entertaining. They become more impressive when arriving the top, which is pretty obvious.
Documentaries about film and music are not included because they deserve their own particular lists for being so large in amount. Here in this list, it’s about painters, photographers, writers, theatre, dance, mostly graphic, conceptual and performance arts.


Art documentaries to watch out for in 2014 & 2015

First, a couple of documentaries to be yet released. After that, we’ll start the top 25 of the 2010’s.


Art and Craft (Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman en Mark Becker, 2014)


More than thirty years, Mark Landis has forged art and ripped off many museums, pretending he is some anonymous donor. He has been unmasked.


National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, 2014)


Being one of my favorite documentarians and a master at direct-cinema, I am looking forward to see this film about the National Gallery in London. His last one about the staff At Berkeley (2013) was splendid, as usual.


The Salt of the Earth (Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders, 2014)


A Brazilian photographer, Sebastião Salgado, has traveled forty years to document things as conflicts, hunger and exodus. The last eight years he spended on a project called Genesis, photographing uncivilized populations around the world.


Everybody Street (Cheryl Dunn, 2013)


Street photography is very popular at the moment, as you will discover in my list. This documentary would shine its light upon many different photographers of the streets of New York City.


Top 25 art documentaries of the 2010’s

26. Anton Corbijn Inside Out (Klaartje Quirijns, 2012)

Artist: Anton Corbijn

Art: Photographer, director


Famous because of his typical and unique, black-and-white, grim and sturdy. We get to know the man more personally and his family as well. Next to an intriguing thriller with Clooney, he made a classic film about Joy Division, Control (2007). The dutch guy made famous and prize winning photos of the real group at the time and many other musical artists.


25. Pina (Wim Wenders, 2011)

Artist: Pina Bausch

Art: Dance choreography


If you like watching dance films, this might be your thing. Pina herself is deceased already but the great Wim Wenders tried to visualize her creative choreography at nice locations with nice music.


24. José e Pilar (Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, 2010)

Artist: José Saramago

Art: Writing


He is the most famous writer of Portugal (probably most known for his novel Blindness, 1995) and has received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. I do not like his wife that much and he himself seems not to be that great or smart, which is a little bit disappointing really because I read his Blindness long ago and liked it back then. But all in all, this is a good, sobering insight into the tiring, touring life of an acclaimed writer.


23. For No Good Reason (Charlie Paul, 2012)

Artist: Ralph Steadman

Art: Painting, drawing


Johnny Depp visits Ralph Steadman for no good reason. Ralph was the regular draftsman of influential writer but lunatic Hunter S. Thompson, author of the classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and inventor of ‘Gonzo journalism’. Obviously, Ralph has many stories to tell.


22. A Brief History of John Baldessari (Ariel Schulman / Henry Joost, 2012)

Artist: John Baldessari

Art: Conceptual art

A very brief history (5:55 min) indeed. Just watch above.


21. Eames: The Architect & the Painter (Bill Jersey, 2011)

Artist: Charles and Ray Eames

Art: Architecture, design


An Eames chair costs about 5.000 US Dollars.


20. The Arbor (Clio Barnard, 2010)

Artist: Andrea Dunbar

Art: Playwright


Andrea Dunbar had a miserable childhood in a poor British neighborhood and had three different children with three different men. At the age of fifteen, she began writing plays about her life, family and friends. She died at the age of twenty-seven. This documentary has actors lip-syncing relatives’ testimonies and performing her storyboards in the middle of the streets.


19. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013)

Artist: Elaine Stritch

Art: Theatre, musical


Going on 87, she’s a spunky lady that’s still performing although she struggles with diabetes and a desire to resume her alcoholism. She has a clear opinion about everything and that’s what it makes an enjoyable watch, even if you don’t like her. The casual drop-in of some celebrity she knows is quite frequently.


18. Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, 2013)

Artist: Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara

Art: Painting


The life of unsuccessful artists can be hard, especially if your partner is in the same boat. Alcohol, depression, frustration, conflict, … perfect sources for good art off course.


17. Finding Vivian Maier (Charlie Siskel / John Maloof, 2013)

Artist: Vivian Maier

Art: Photography


What would you do if you found some anonymous, cheap negatives on an auction and they turn out to be really marvellous? John Maloof experienced it and went out to search for the artist, a certain Vivian Maier. Next to an ordinary nanny, she seems to be also a fabulous street photographer.


16. Bert Stern: Original Madman (Shannah Laumeister, 2011)

Artist: Bert Stern

Art: Photography


Bert photographed a lot of splendid women: Madonna, Catherine Deneuve, Audrey Hepburn, etc., even a naked Marilyn Monroe and he got the opportunity to film some of the greatest jazz musicians ever in Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960). Together with him, we look back upon his life.


15. Lixo Extraordinário [Waste Land] (Lucy Walker, 2010)

Artist: Vik Muniz

Art: Conceptual Trash Art


The ‘Jardim Gramacho’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is world’s biggest waste dump. Vik Muniz went there and made some nice, expensive art. He created it together with the poor, recycling ‘catadores’ there, and sold it to support their community.


14. Magic Trip (Alex Gibney / Alison Ellwood, 2011)

Artist: Ken Kesey and his band of ‘Merry Pranksters’

Art: Ken is a famous writer but here he is just taking drugs. Still, Tom Wolfe wrote a book about Ken’s experiences.


Tom Wolfe wrote an important, controversial book called The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 1967 and defined the hippie and drugs culture at its height. It’s about One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) writer Ken Kesey and a couple of friends taking a trip on a bus, both literally and figuratively, through the States from West- to Eastcoast. They tried to document it with film.


13. William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (Yony Leyser, 2010)

Artist: William S. Burroughs

Art: Writing


Next to Ginsberg and Kerouac, William was also part of the ‘Beat Generation’. You probably know him from classics as Naked Lunch (1952) and Junky (1953). His ‘cut up’ technique delivered absurd but great books and had an immense influence. He was a homosexual, drug-addicted, had a love for guns, shot with paint, had six cats and killed his wife. Still, he was a pretty cool guy that knew a lot of great other artists. Some of those contributed to this ode to him. A nice documentary about a legend.


12. McCullin (Jacqui Morris / David Morris, 2012)

Artist: Don McCullin

Art: War photography


He has probably seen all wars since World War II. That resulted in gripping, captivating photos but made himself a broken man. On one side he was disgusted, on the other he was addicted. He saw as many misery as a man could see in his lifetime.


11. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Alison Klayman, 2012)

Artist: Ai Weiwei

Art: Conceptual art


As a Chinese artist and activist, he collides a lot with his government. This film follows him in his procedures he has to undertake to get his refreshing art exposed.


Top 10 on the next page…