Fascinating Documentaries to Pique Your Interest in Art

 Yayoi Kusama, Parc Villette Paris, photo by austinevan
 Yayoi Kusama, Parc Villette Paris, photo by austinevan
 Yayoi Kusama, Parc Villette Paris, photo by austinevan

The list of fascinating topics and intriguing personalities that are the foundation of the art world is seemingly endless. From as far back as one can explore art history to contemporary art and modern-day influential artists, their stories are provocative, inspirational, heartbreaking, and compelling.


While an appreciation for art certainly adds value, you don't have to be an art addict to find yourself mesmerized by the hundreds of art documentaries that you can access via the online streaming universe. As part of our series on utilizing these resources to expand your art knowledge, we're taking a closer look at documentaries within the visual arts genre. With hundreds to choose from, knowing where to begin can be daunting, so we're highlighting several of the more interesting for your binge-able art documentary marathon.


Inspirational and Intriguing“Balancing Act” by UGallery artist Robin Okun

Kusama: Infinity

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is known for her "dots of the universe" which are a common theme across the range of works that she creates including paintings, sculpture, performance art, and installations. Through her creative process, she has freehanded amazing and intricate art designs over the many decades of her lengthy art career. While some were the result of hallucinations and troubling memories, they poured from her consciousness and onto the canvas as things of beauty. Kusama experienced a traumatic childhood with a domineering mother who took out her anger on her children and shunned Kusama's efforts to pursue art as a career.

As a young artist, Kusama found inspiration in the works of Georgia O'Keefe and sent examples of her watercolors to O'Keefe, expressing her desire to visit her in New Mexico and work under her tutelage. Overcoming tremendous obstacles, Kusama traveled to America in the late 1950s where she took up residency in New York City. It was the first of many examples of her persistence to make her way for which she soon became a prominent player in the pop art movement of the 1960s. This fascinating retrospective of her life includes her struggles with mental illness and her means of coping through the transformative power of art therapy.

Kusama: Infinity can be streamed on Hulu and Prime Video

The Universe of Keith HaringKeith Haring, image by qthomasbower

Keith Haring's work is among the most recognizable of 20th-century artists. One of the subjects interviewed for the Haring documentary film described his creative familiarity as "like a musician who has a particular musical signature that even within a few bars you know it's somebody's voice. You see just a few lines of Keith you know it's his hand."

Along with archival footage of the artist, the documentary film features numerous interviews with the people who knew him best. The film explores how this seemingly unremarkable kid from Reading, PA became a pioneer of the graffiti art movement in NYC. Despite a more conventional art education, Haring gravitated toward an alternative means of expression, for which his trademark drawings would ultimately become the stamp of the 80s era and beyond. Haring died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 31 but his legacy lives on in his iconic impressions.

The Universe of Keith Haring can be streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Controversial CharactersBanksy Hip Hop Rat by thetimchannel

Banksy Does New York

There are nearly a dozen documentaries about Banksy, and the fascination is understandable. Some of the most intriguing documentaries are Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art, and the film we're highlighting, Banksy Does New York.

Perhaps the most famous contemporary graffiti artist, the yet-to-be definitively unmasked tagger is known to pop up in major cities throughout the world. In doing so, he makes his presence known through the sudden proliferation of his signature style and themes painted upon the walls within various neighborhoods. The film tracks one such Banksy sojourn through NYC, and the reaction of the public to the scavenger hunt of sorts as many fans and devotees scramble to catch a glimpse of his works before authorities remove them.

Banksy Does New York can be streamed on Hulu, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video.


Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Robert Mapplethorpe gained notoriety in the 1980s when his controversial photography sparked the ire of Senator Jesse Helms. If you're not familiar with Robert Mapplethorpe's work, much of it can be reasonably described as unconventional, perceived as jarring even by some seasoned art critics.

Like other artists and art stories we've recommended, Mapplethorpe's personal life was as edgy and extraordinary as his work. The compelling documentary is a roadmap of sorts for the path Mapplethorpe took from a somewhat ordinary middle-class upbringing to a nomadic and uninhibited life for which he rejected any boundaries when it came to his own artistic expression. Among his peers with whom he shared a competitive nature were other important artists such as Andy Warhol, and like Warhol, he made a name for himself by photographing celebrities. His thirst for fame, recognition, and commercial success was a source of motivation up until the his untimely death at the age of 42.

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures can be streamed on HBO Max. The original program is rated TV-Mature Audiences for adult content including "strong sexual content."

Epic Installations“Light Escape” by UGallery artist Heidi Hybl

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the documentary takes a closer look at the works of Cai Guo-Qiang, whose "explosive art" for which he treats the sky as his canvas and fireworks as his pigment. A blend of performance art and immersive artistic experience, Cai Guo-Qiang's work has been transformative for the contemporary art world.

In this engaging story, the documentary film follows the artist as he pursues his next big project, to create his largest installation yet, which he calls the Sky Ladder. As a tribute to Guo-Qiang’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, he crafts the technically challenging visual by blasting a bounty of fireworks climbing over 1,600 feet into the air. As a child of the Cultural Revolution, the film also reflects how his heritage impacted his approach to art.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang can be streamed on Netflix.

We hope we’ve added value to narrow down your “must see” list of art-related documentaries. If you’re in the market for original art, you can view works by talented artists updated weekly on our site.