You’ve seen the classic imagery: devil on one shoulder, angel on the other. The angel is dressed in white, wrapped in a glowing halo of tranquility; the devil is red, sometimes angry and always talkative, encouraging the listener to do bad, bad things.
In the arts world, we call the angel a muse. And oh, how we love the idea of a muse. But the devil? He doesn’t get much play in creative circles, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. The devil is creative block – an artistic deadlock that drags us down, robs us of our creativity, and then makes us think we don’t care. That devil dude is dangerous, and he plagues all artists at one time or another.
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There are lots of ways to knock the anti-creativity devil off your shoulder, but one of our favorites is good, old-fashioned artistic inspiration. The following five films are striking, visual journeys – and they’re all about art, about creation, about the things we love. And they’ll invite your muse back, guaranteed.
 

 

The Cool School
With a subtitle like, the Story of the Ferus Art Gallery: How LA Learned to Love Modern Art, you know The Cool School is going to get your creative juices flowing. This documentary tells the story of how a few renegade artists and one gallery groomed the Los Angeles art scene, transforming a now recognizable group from idealistic beatniks into the brilliant artists we revere today: Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Wallace Berman, Ed Moses and Robert Irwin, among them.
There’s plenty of intrigue and emotion in the film, which brilliantly showcases a hopelessly tangled web of passion, ego, art and money, but it makes our list for another reason: inspiration. We dare you to watch The Cool School without coming away completely enthused, your creativity stoked and your mind firing on all cylinders.
 
Painters Painting
Have you ever wondered who the greats were before they were great? This extraordinary 1973 documentary from Emile de Antonio is described as, “a vibrant collective portrait of the legendary figures who powered the tumultuous post-war New York art scene.” What it offers is incredible insight into the lives of last century’s greatest creative’s – Abstract Expressionists through contemporary pop artists, from deKooning to Warhol.
Painters Painting is a candid history of the New York Art Scene from 1940-1970, and thus showcases many of your favorite contemporary artists – before they were famous. Interviews with the great minds themselves reveal gut-grabbing, unforgettable gems – Barnett Newman opines, “I believe that art theory is to me as an artist what ornithology must be for the birds.” – but what we found most inspiring of all are the raw, before-they-were-famous looks at some of our favorite artists. The sometimes gentle, sometimes in-your-face reminder that today’s Big Names were once small potatoes, is almost guaranteed to propel you through any creative rut.
 
A Walk into the Sea
In the mid-60s, Danny Williams was a filmmaker and artist linked to Andy Warhol and the Factory. Thirty-five years after Williams’ disappearance, his niece, Esther Robinson produced A Walk into the Sea, a documentary story told as a series of interviews with the people who knew Williams best: Billy Name, Gerard Malanga, Chuck Wein and John Cale, to name a few.
The result is a film that is thought provoking and inquisitive, if vaguely eerie (Williams is rumored to have committed suicide, hence the title). An homage to talent and legacy, it will hurl you back in time, introducing you to yesteryear’s artists and to a world you may not know – and to a few short works by Williams, who was clearly a master of light and artistic filmmaking.
 
Living Portraits: New Mexico Artists & Writers
This series of three short films is a little different from the picks above. Instead of featuring household names whose art hangs on museum walls, these selections explore the studios, hearts and minds of artists whose names you probably don’t know. And that’s the beauty of it: Living Portraits introduces us to people who could be our friends, our contemporaries. They’re brilliant, they’re well spoken, and they’re completely inspiring.
The films feature Lonnie Vigil (Nambé), a pottery maker; Beverly Singer (Tewa-Diné), a filmmaker, author, and educator; and Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara), a sculptor.
With each new introduction, we learned something about creativity and art, and rediscovered something about ourselves. We watched, we laughed, we empathized. And when the films were over, we created.
 
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And now, for our scheduled break: a bit of armchair traveling – a stunning, visually spectacular tour of Paris, the city that never fails to breath life into even the most uninspired among us. The twelfth chapter in Chanel’s film series, Paris by Chanel takes us on a tour of five iconic locations, each a Parisian landmark that is important to the fashion house.
Somewhere along the way, what could be a simple, albeit beautiful travel documentary becomes something more: it is a journey for your soul, for your creativity. It is an invitation to take inspiration from the everyday, to never take for granted the little and big details that comprise your day. It is a film that reaches inside, grabs you by the guts, and rattles your senses, sending you back into the world a little different than you were before you watched. I dream of

Your turn! Tell us, have you watched any great art films lately? What are your favorites of all time?

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