10 Best Art History Movies

Wednesday, February 16 by Karen Murdock

Whether you live for gallery walks or you just want to impress an arty girl at the office, these 10 best art history movies will teach you about important artists and give you serious cocktail conversation fodder. More than that, these art history movies reveal how exciting and socially relevant art truly can be.  

  1. “Basquiat”  Whether you love Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street-style paintings or you have never even heard of him, “Basquiat” is a compelling art history movie. In this biopic, Basquiat goes from living in a cardboard box to being discovered by Andy Warhol. But this art history movie reveals the dark side of the art world, too, and Basquiat ultimately meets an untimely end.  
  2. “Camille Claudel”  Study art history long enough, and you will discover story after story of female artists stuck in the shadows. “Camille Claudel” is a rare art history movie about precisely that problem, telling the true-life story of Camille Claudel, an assistant to Auguste Rodin who fought to become a respected sculptor in her own right.
  3. “The Da Vinci Code”  In college art history classes, deep symbolic meaning is the Holy Grail. In this art history movie, symbols literally lead to the Holy Grail.  What’s more intriguing than that?
  4. “Frida” Salma Hayek earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of artist Frida Kahlo, but beyond its awards, see the movie for the inspiring story. Nobody turned tragedy into art the way Frida Kahlo did. The woman overcame crippling injuries to revolutionize art and earn a respected place in art history.
  5. “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus”  Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus, a frustrated wife who finds herself attracted to a man suffering from werewolf syndrome, aka excessive hair? That alone will intrigue you, but even more, you will be amazed by Diane Arbus photography of the so-called “freaks” of society.
  6. “Girl With a Pearl Earring” You have to love an art history movie that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The film centers on the mysterious woman who posed for Johannes Vermeer’s most famous work, “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” Scarlett Johansson will amaze you with her resemblance to the maid in the Dutch masterpiece.
  7. “Pollock”  Both stars of this art history movie earned the honor of Academy Award nominations—Ed Harris for Best Actor and Marcia Gay Harden for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, with Harden scoring a win. But awards aside, this movie shows you how the brilliant creative process of Jackson Pollock changed everything for American art.  
  8. “I Shot Andy Warhol” Lili Taylor is so compelling as 60s radical feminist Valerie Solanas that she won special recognition from the Sundance Film Festival for her outstanding performance. What does a radical feminist have to do with art history? Solanas shot the one and only Andy Warhol because he refused to produce her play, thus worming her way into art history forever.
  9. “The Mystery of Picasso”Most art history movies let you witness an actor playing the part of a famous artist, but in this gem, you get to watch Picasso himself. Not only that, but he paints on a transparent canvas so nothing will block your view. Imagine the insight you will gain into his artistic genius.
  10. The Rape of Europa” This art history movie is equal parts history and art. When the Nazis attempted to wipe out Jews, they also engaged in a scorched-earth campaign against art—stealing and destroying the cultural heritage of Europe. “The “Rape of Europa” is more than a grim documentary of destruction, though. It tells the story of heroes who saved precious cultural artifacts, too.
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