Arty Books and Docs That Rock

I love reading biographies and watching documentaries – any narrative that gives the back-story on the experiences and processes that make a person, place, or thing is so fascinating to me.

My favorite subcategory within these genres, not surprisingly, is creative.

Visual, music, comedy, dance, architecture, magic, performance; I seek out the written word and film on art and artists of all types. The attraction is threefold: empathizing with the protagonist’s struggles and setbacks, being inspired by the commitment to their craft,  and (if it has a happy ending) vicariously celebrating the creator’s successes. Yup, nothing pulls me up out of the depths of discouragement like a meaty biography.

Several years ago I wrote a post listing my top 10 mandatory films.  Three of the films are documentaries. I’ve watched How To Draw A Bunny, Comedian, and most of the films on that list multiple times.  Each time I do, I come away with new insight and fresh inspiration.

Since that post many biographies and fabulous new documentaries have made their way into my life.

Here is an additional baker’s dozen, my top picks for books and docs that I could (and probably will) read and watch again and again.

Books and Docs That Rock (in no particular order)

  1. Beauty is Embarrassing (2012) – the life and art of incomparable American artist Wayne White.
  2. Tim’s Vermeer (2013) – inventor Tim, a non-artist, painstakingly tries to reproduce a Vermeer painting.
  3. Fame High (2007) – follow a year’s progression of four high school students attending Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (aka, Fame High).
  4. Ballerina (2006) – this doc presents the narrative of five Russian dancers.
  5. Afternoon of the Faun: Tanaquil le Clercq (2013) – a beautiful and intense film about the life of one of the icons of ballet.
  6. One More Time, A Memoir (1987, Encore Nonfiction Modern Classics) – biography of one of America’s leading funny ladies, Carol Burnett.
  7. The Art of the Steal (not the 2013 movie starring Kurt Russell, but the 2009 doc) – IMDB describes it best, “Documentary that follows the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ 25 billion dollar collection of modern and post-impressionist art.”
  8. Katy Perry: Part Of Me (2012) – not a Katy Perry fan, I watched this doc on a whim one afternoon and was, well, left gob-smacked by her story. I have a lot of respect for this hardworking lady (and I’m not being ironic or sarcastic).
  9. David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (2010) – you get to watch Hockney paint, need I say more?!
  10. Art 21 (2001-2014) – I’ve recommended this excellent PBS series on contemporary artists elsewhere on my blog, and there have been a couple new seasons since then 😉
  11. Hyperbole and A Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened (2013, Simon & Schuster) – autobiographical book compiled from brilliant writer/artist Allie Brosh’s blog. Warning: you may laugh so hard you wet yourself.
  12. Tig (2015) – bio of the last few years of Tig Nataro’s life and comedy.
  13. Houdini (1969, Thomas Y. Crowell Company) – there are so many Houdini biographies.  I found this version in a second hand shop and bought it partially because is was published the same year I was born.


The inspirational take-away that I’m currently meditating on comes from a statement made by Grace Song, former dance senior at LACHSA from Fame High (2007), “Every day you have to recommit yourself to your art.”

Recommit yourself to your art.


Damn, that’s one insightful teen.

Got a fav bio book or doc on your list that you don’t see here? Please share your must-reads and must-sees below in the comments.

Comments are closed.