Demanding Art

By Lukie Marriott

Artists are driven to create, oftentimes in far less than ideal situations. The following are documentaries and feature films based on real visual artists who have produced work despite challenging circumstances or disability.

  • The Cats of Mirikitani

    2008 by Linda Hattendorf

    Jimmy Mirikitani was a victim of the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. Years later, unwilling to take any government assistance, he was homeless but well known in his New York City neighborhood for the traditional brushstroke paintings he constantly produced. Then filmmaker Hattendorf got involved and Mirikitani’s life vastly improved! This film is a testament to the amazing work of those who help the homeless, and of the power of art to save a soul from complete isolation and despair. Keep your hankies handy!

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  • Marwencol


    Although Mark Hogancamp does not consider his work "art," it is certainly a creative expression that has given him a sense of security and control after a vicious beating left him brain damaged and afraid. This is a fascinating story unlike any other. Be sure to watch the deleted scenes as they are revealing of Hogancamp's feelings and, in my opinion, should not have been deleted!

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  • Cutie and the Boxer.

    2014 by Zachary Heinzerling

    When 19-year old Noriko married 41-year old Ushio Shinohara, the "boxer" (he literally punches his canvases with paint-drenched gloves), she didn't realize her own art would be put on hold while she became a mother, and Ushio's assistant. A fascinating profile of the 40-year union of two artists and Noriko's artistic revenge.

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  • Finding Vivian Maier

    2014 by John Maloof

    Vivian Maier worked as a nanny for several families, snapping images with her camera all the while. She never received recognition for her considerable talent during her lifetime but this didn't diminish her passion for her art. The film debates whether or not she would have welcomed this posthumous recognition. Is it possible that, as an intensely private person, taking pictures was the way she was able to enter the lives of others?

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  • Ai Weiwei Never Sorry

    2012 by Alison Klayman

    A vocal critic of the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei had his studio destroyed and was beaten and then jailed on trumped up charges for three months. He has only recently been allowed to travel outside of China, once again. His art includes immense constructions using various objects such as wooden stools, bicycles, and millions of sunflower seeds. He continues to make art and expose human rights abuses in China, despite the danger to himself.

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  • Rivers and tides Andy Goldsworthy working with time


    Using only natural materials found in fields, on beaches and riverbanks, Goldsworthy painstakingly creates gorgeous sculptures and designs. Then the grass grows, the tide comes in or the wind blows, and his creation disappears. But that's the whole point: Goldsworthy works with nature as a whole, embracing what is temporal and mutable. You will be amazed by his perseverance. I had seen photographs of his creations before, but witnessing the building - and destruction - provides a whole other level of appreciation.

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  • Big Eyes

    2015 by Tim Burton

    Based on a true story of art fraud, Margaret Keane painted in secret while her conman husband took credit for her paintings. Trapped by the deception, she was denied recognition and forced to make tremendous other personal sacrifices, as well. A pretty incredible story that, whatever you think of the art itself, will have you rooting for the artist.

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  • Dad's in heaven with Nixon


    Chris Murray is autistic. The story, told via older brother Tom and using Chris's own film footage, is one of both tragedy and courage, culminating in the astonishing revelation of Chris's artwork: architecturally detailed drawings of NYC buildings on small pieces of paper taped together to form enormous cityscapes. Chris Murray's focus, contentment and success with his art are inspiring.

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  • W.a.r. Women Art Revolution

    2012 by Lynn Hershman-Leeson

    In the 1970s, American women artists began protesting the complete lack of representation of their art in museums and galleries. Is it hard to believe that so recently in our history women's contributions were belittled, in fact completely discounted? Maybe not, but this documentary may still enrage and sadden you, as it did me. At least things seem to be a bit better for today's female artists. According to one critic: "The feminist art revolution is the most important art movement since WWII." Now that's what I like to hear!

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  • Against the Odds the Artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

    1994 by Amber Edwards

    Many talented black American artists received sponsorship and recognition in the 1920s and 30s, the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. This period came to an end with the Great Depression and some of the artists fell into poverty. The Harmon Foundation preserved much of the art of the Renaissance. Using newsreels and photographs, this documentary provides a gorgeous feast for the eyes.

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  • A man named Pearl


    The son of a sharecropper, when Pearl first tried to buy a house on one of the nicer streets of Bishopville, S.C., the neighbors were afraid he'd let his property go to ruin. Instead, Pearl taught himself the art of topiary and created a wondrous, fanciful garden that has become the pride of the town and a tourist destination. Pearl speaks at art schools, and inspires children and adults everywhere to trust their own expression, and to live a life of good will and hard work. A charming feel-good movie if there ever was one!

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  • Séraphine

    2010 by Martin Provost

    Taking her instructions directly from the Virgin Mary, Seraphine Louis was a humble, hard-working maid but, after hours, created her own paints from berries and blood and painted striking designs on wood panels. WWII and mental illness got in the way and Seraphine was only posthumously recognized as a "primitive modern" painter. A very affecting film.

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