Home Art 8 Must-See Documentaries on Art

8 Must-See Documentaries on Art

by Tracy Finke

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have changed the normal activities and habits of most of us. Many art enthusiasts cannot visit galleries freely, and art auctions have been cancelled. But this is a good opportunity to view interesting art documentaries in your home.

By watching good art documentaries you can learn a lot about the background of specific artworks and artists. There are also documentaries available on related art topics. So whatever the topic you are interested in, there is most probably a documentary available.

When you watch documentaries you will get new perspectives on the arts. This could even influence your art buying habits, whether it is an original at an auction or a very good reproduction from an online gallery. To illustrate the wide variety of topics available, we’ve chosen eight documentaries as examples.

1. Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Source: patricktuck.com

This documentary is about the life of the Polish artist Stanislaw Szukalski (1893 – 1987). As a young artist, he lived and worked in both Poland and Chicago and was seen as Poland’s greatest living artist. In 1936, he returned to Poland, where the government gave him a studio and named it the Szukalski National Museum.

But when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, most of his art was destroyed. He fled back to the United States and settled in Los Angeles. The documentary tells this sad story about a great artist’s work being destroyed.

2. The Mystery of Picasso (1956)

Source: offscreen.com

This very interesting documentary captures Picasso’s creative process. The film director used stop-motion and time-lapse photography to bring Picasso’s work to life. He used transparent canvases to capture every brushstroke.

The film starts in black and white and Picasso creates 20 artworks. At the end of the film, all the vibrant colors are revealed.

Unfortunately, they destroyed all the original paintings after the film had been made.  To see the paintings you have to view the documentary! It is available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube.

3. Caspar David Friedrich – Limits of Time

Source: theartstory.org

Caspar David Friedrich – Limit of Time is a 1986 documentary film by Peter Schamoni, co-produced by the Federal Republic of Germany, the Democratic Republic of Germany and France. Caspar David Friedrich died and was buried. Doctor and painter Carl Gustav Carus, who had to treat Friedrich in the last few months of his life and endure his misanthropy many times, chased his casket.

Friedrich is not recognized as a painter during his lifetime, Caspar David Friedrich paintings do not meet the taste of the time ( this becomes clear again in the film. Although Friedrich’s financial situation improved somewhat when Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm bought some of his pictures and the poet Wassili Schukowski also bought several works for the Russian tsarist family, he didn’t get happiness. He repeatedly refuses to study abroad, cannot and does not want to submit to society, and enjoys lonely days in Saxon Switzerland with people. He rarely goes on hiking tours with Carl Gustav Carus.

Carus, in turn, inspired by Friedrich’s pictures, travels to northern Germany, visiting Rügen and Greifswald, where Friedrich’s birthplace is. He promoted an artist and sought to obtain a professorship at the Dresden Art Academy. But the professors tear up Friedrich’s work. It lacks joy and can always be seen in a uniform contour from the viewer to the person turning his back. After Friedrich’s death, his household items are auctioned off. The most valuable work is not his photo, but an old model ship.

4. Alice Neel

Source: sweetsabelle.com

In this documentary, filmmaker Andrew Neel, the grandson of artist Alice Neel (1900 – 1984), gives an overview of her artistic achievements and her personal life. She was a purveyor of expressionistic portraits of New York personalities. She had a passionate social conscience and understanding of the human psyche.

In the documentary, her family shares intimate personal stories and this makes it a special privilege to watch the film.

5. Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History, 2018

This documentary is about ignoring black influence and black artists in Britain’s art history. It is a thought-provoking film and follows the organizational process of an exhibition of black and Asian modernists in 2018 at the Manchester Art Gallery.

The film tells the story of how more than 2,000 works by many British black artists have been found – works and artists that have been “invisible” for long in a racist system.

6. Murs Murs

Source: filmlinc.org

The French filmmaker Agnes Varda was living in Los Angeles and was intrigued by the murals in the city.  She made this mesmerizing ode to the murals and mural makers of the city. In the film, residents, and mural makers shed some light on the origin and creation of the striking murals.

It is a study of public art and also of the diversity of the community.

7. National Gallery

If you’ve ever wondered what happens in an art gallery during any given day, this is a three-hour documentary you should view. It was filmed in the London National Gallery over 12 months but it is a film with no narrative.

The film shows how the guides are lecturing to schoolchildren, how and when the cleaners are cleaning up, how curators plan the exhibitions, etc. It is a documentary that could keep you in your seat for the full three hours!

8. Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World

Source: imdb.com

In this documentary artists and art industry administrators shed light on the increasing commercialization of the art world. In interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, and auction house specialists, the film beautifully unveils the forces at work behind the glamorous art market.

The film is an absolute crash course for a novice, but it has pretty informative content to supply knowledge even to the seasoned art professionals.


There are so many different documentaries regarding the arts, that you can keep yourself busy for a long time viewing the excellent content. By looking at the films you might even decide to purchase specific originals or obtain a reproduction from a trusted online gallery like 1st-gallery.com.