10 Art And Design Documentaries You Should Watch On Netflix

Industry Secrets Are Not So Secret Anymore

As visual communicators, our work has the potential to shape the beliefs of mass audiences. Whether you produce art for advertising or create art for the soul, this stimulating collection of art and design documentaries delivers powerful insights that you can apply to your next project. The best part about these documentaries is that they are all available for instant streaming on Netflix!

If you are thinking about pursuing a career in the media arts world, it is important to know where your talents lie. By studying the history that has helped shape the advertising and bizarre art world that we live in, we begin to understand the way our societal concerns have shifted based on the needs of the consumer. We are all consumers. We are all different types of consumers. Some people are more visual and others understand the world we live in through formulas and patterns. These movies not only explain the thought process behind some of the world’s greatest advertising campaigns or art pieces, it also puts these movements into a historical context in order to understand what outside influences helped shape these ideas.

1. “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
This script-flipping production starring filmmaker Thierry Guetta and legendary graffiti artist Bansky takes a satirical look at society’s subjective perception of modern art. During its exploration of the underground world of street artists, the witty documentary examines the controversial question, “What is art?”

Exit Through the Gift Shop

License: Creative Commons image source

2. “Eames: The Architect and the Painter”
Combining archival footage and contemporary interviews, this fascinating story provides an intimate look into how husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames became iconic figures in industrial design. Although the eccentric couple rose to fame in the mid-1940s for their work with modern furniture, they successfully dabbled in everything, ranging from architecture, film and photography to designing textiles, exhibitions and magazine covers.

3. “Objectified”
Learn how manufactured items, from cars and chairs to bicycles and remote controls, affect our daily lives. Featuring interviews with top industrial designers, who place a strong emphasis on sustainability, director Gary Hustwit explores the how and why of industrial design.

You Can Make an Object Beautiful

License: Creative Commons image source

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4. “The Art of the Steal”
Dr. Albert Barnes’ death in 1951 created a political battle for his multibillion dollar collection of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and hundreds of other valuable Post-Impressionist paintings. A suspenseful story filled with mystery, villains and heroes, the film ultimately examines the question of who should own culture.

5. “How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?”
This “superb, inspiring documentary” with “astounding cinematography,” as one reviewer notes, takes a look at the inspiring career of English architect Norman Foster. With a single-minded focus on improving quality of life through his works, he has risen from a working-class family to great prominence around the world.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh Mr. Foster

License: Creative Commons image source

6. “Just Like Being There”
In this enthusiastic documentary, director Scout Shannon allows us to meet a few of the contemporary artists who are expanding the design genre for gig posters, flyers and handbills.

7. “Helvetica”
Gary Hustwit takes a close look at how the font Helvetica has become the most popular in the world in an attempt to understand the power of typography and the ways our culture is influenced by graphic design. “Typefaces express a mood, an atmosphere. They give words a certain coloring,” notes Rick Poynor, one of the many quirky font designers who offer their opinions on styles and techniques. It’s a film that will cause you to look differently the next time you see fonts at work in color graphics, digital graphics, directional signage, even safety signs and construction signs.

Helvetica at the Height of Typography

License: Creative Commons image source

8. “Page One: Inside the New York Times”
Documentarian Andrew Rossi goes inside the New York Times to examine the massive changes occurring in the newspaper publishing industry. Rossi talks with on-staff journalists to discover the value of in-depth investigative reporting versus the ability to keep pace with Internet news.

9. “Urbanized”
In the last of Hustwit’s three films on design, he tackles the potential rewards and challenges of urban planning. The global discussion, which reaches from New Orleans to Beijing to Mumbai, focuses on how the design of our cities impacts the way we live, how safe we feel and how much we enjoy the communities where we work and play.

Urbanized: The Movie

License: Creative Commons image source

10. “Something Ventured”
Discover the hidden drama behind the building of America’s most influential companies in the 20th century. The film focuses on how today’s technology is just as much a product of the genius inventors as it is the daring venture capitalists who funded the early growth of Silicon Valley. The story provides some great insights on how to fund projects outside the traditional lending channels.

Alison Johnston is a writer living in the greater Denver area who likes visual communications and solutions. When she isn’t writing you will find her venturing throughout the neighboring mountains or snuggling up to a good book.

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