Creativity can take many shapes and forms. The following documentaries explore creativity and how a variety of artists channel their inner genius. After all, there is no one definition for what it means to be an imaginative creator.
Documentaries and Shows Exploring Creativity
Abstract: The Art of Design (2019)
Running for two seasons on Netflix, Abstract: The Art of Design profiles distinctive artists and explores the experiences that molded their unique perspectives and the processes they employ to create new forms of expression. The entire series is now available to watch for free online.
Creators spotlighted include: artist and stage designer Es Devlin, graphic designer Paula Scher, interior and furniture designer Ilse Crawford, designer and professor Neri Oxman, and costume designer Ruth Carter.
Hilma af Klint was an abstract artist before the term existed, a visionary, trailblazing figure who, inspired by spiritualism, modern science, and the riches of the natural world around her, began in 1906 to reel out a series of huge, colorful, sensual, strange works without precedent in painting.
af Klint was for years an all-but-forgotten figure in art historical discourse, before her long-delayed rediscovery. Director Halina Dryschka’s dazzling, course correcting documentary describes not only the life and craft of af Klint, but also the process of her mischaracterization and erasure by both a patriarchal narrative of artistic progress and capitalistic determination of artistic value.
Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Finding Vivian Maier follows the life of Maier and her hidden talent. Although she was born in New York City, she spent most of her youth in a small village in France. Upon returning to New York, Maier took up caregiving as she had a deep love for children. At the same time, unbeknownst to anyone, she also began to venture into street photography, capturing mundane human life and turning it into an art form.
Maier was an extremely private person whose work never came to light until after she died in 2009. John Maloof discovered her photographs in an auction where he came upon over 100,000 negatives capturing her life’s work. Finding Vivian Maier hints at the ever-recurring question, what is considered art and what is not? Maier’s work stands on its own, with The New York Times calling her “one of America’s more insightful street photographers.” You can now see some of her complete Contact Sheets on a mobile-friendly website.
Teaching to See (2012)
Teaching to See is an educational documentary film about graphic design and the teaching of Inge Druckrey and some of her students and colleagues. Druckrey is a designer and educator who brought the Swiss school of design to the United States. The film is available to watch for free online.
Iris Apfel is a New York fashion icon who began her textile career. In 1950, she and her husband, Carl Apfel, launched Old World Weavers. They practiced making new fabrics, taking inspiration from around the world to create patterns. With her background in interior design, Iris and Carl landed projects in the White House throughout the terms of nine presidencies. Iris also became known for her bold fashion choices as she traveled the world acquiring non-western clothing and jewelry.
In the documentary IRIS, legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles shows Iris’s ability to step outside the box. She never shies away from bright colors or large jewelry, and her style has become a legacy the fashion world continues to celebrate. The film evaluates how curiosity and thinking beyond what’s been done is, in fact, what creativity is all about.
Everything is a Remix Remastered (2015)
Most people assume that to be creative, you must develop an original idea. One that no one has ever seen or heard before. Everything is a Remix, made by Kirby Ferguson, challenges this idea. Through the lens of music, film, technology, and science, Ferguson studies how a lot of innovative thinking stems from borrowing an idea or concept and expanding on it.
The film reveals that original thoughts are rare. Ferguson explains that there are three essential elements of creativity: copy, transform, and combine. Taking mutually exclusive ideas and fusing them to make something inspiring is what creativity is. The art of being an innovator is not about the ability to create something new. Instead, it is about having drive to build off what’s been done in the field you choose to pursue. The film is available to watch for free online.
Raising Creativity (2014)
Raising Creativity revolves around the idea of maintaining creative minds as we continue our education and grow older. Sir Ken Robins states that we are “educating people out of their creative capacities.” As the arts remain at the bottom of the totem pole in American education, this documentary discusses how we can foster the importance of creativity in our school system.
The five-part series created by Rebecca Zak evaluates how Americans subtract creativity from their curriculum. Zak explores how what we learn in school is not as valuable as cultivating creativity in the long run. Which brings about the question, how do we integrate creative thinking into our schools? Zak has made the full documentary available for free on YouTube.
Kusama: Infinity (2018)
Yayoi Kusama overcame impossible odds to bring her radical artistic vision to the world stage. For decades, her work pushed boundaries that often alienated her from both her peers and those in power in the art world. Kusama was an underdog with everything stacked against her: the trauma of growing up in Japan during World War II, life in a dysfunctional family that discouraged her creative ambitions, sexism and racism in the art establishment, mental illness in a culture where that was particularly shameful and even continuing to pursue and be devoted to her art full time on the cusp of her 90s.
In spite of it all, Kusama has endured and has created a legacy of artwork that spans the disciplines of painting, sculpture, installation art, performance art, poetry and literary fiction. After working as an artist for over six decades, people around the globe are experiencing her installation Infinity Mirrored Rooms in record numbers, as Kusama continues to create new work every day.
Compiled by Amaya Coleman and Erin Prather Stafford
Top image by photo by Sam Lion from Pexels