Art in action! Sometimes, strolling through museums and galleries, one can disassociate the works from the artist, reducing them to pleasing pretty independent objects strung to walls, not the product of someone’s expression, labor, and intent. For that reason, please refer to our sparsely annotated, mini-clip-playlist of artists at work on their art. Watch Picasso delight himself by drawings flowers. See Yayoi Kusama scribble madly away. Behold Basquiat spray painting wisdom on the walls of downtown New York. Remind yourself that this all did not just come to be, but spilled, splattered, and flowed out of our visual art icons — and it didn’t always come easy.
This is Claude Monet, captured in the summer of 1915 by Sacha Guitry. In his beloved Giverny garden, the 74-year-old dons all white, swiping at the sunlit canvas with a swagger, a cigarette bobbing from the corner of his mouth. Little did it show that he had recently lost his wife and son, and was losing his eyesight to cataracts. He was suffering, but he was extremely prolific. He had lilies to paint.
Similarly, the last three decades of Pierre-August Renoir’s life had left his hands twisted from severe rheumatoid arthritis. His hands were near paralyzed from pain and constantly clenched. This rare footage from 1915 (also shot by Sacha Guitry) shows his 14-year-old son Claude assisting, while Renoir smiles between paint dabs and cigarette puffs.
This short scene from Paul Haesaert’s 1949 documentary Visit to Picasso is precious, mainly, those few seconds where you can watch Picasso’s strokes comprising a naked lady and his grinning face simultaneously.
This excerpt from Jackson Pollock 51 directed by Hans Namuth and Paul Falkenberg isn’t just an insight into Pollock’s mind and reason — “I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means at arriving at a statement.” It’s also a peek at how damn cool he looked, splashing and dribbling at the canvas like that, half-scowling, his splattered shows so swank.
Here’s some fantastic footage captured by Jonas Mekas in the mid ’60s in New York of a Salvador Dalí “Happening.” That’s Warhol superstar Taylor Mead skipping around with a rope. And wait, wait, is Dalí doing a little graffiti action? What a gem.
We’ll just sneak a little classic John Baldessari in here with this 1970s delightfully paradoxical video piece I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art. Get it? Get it? Ooh, that brain-tickles.
Here’s Jean-Michel Basquiat in Downtown 81 tagging poetry. Swoon. Just… swoon.
This is Keith Haring in 1984 at the Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, looking cool whilst hand-painting a mural. Strangely zeitgeisty, isn’t it Internet?
This is your chance to watch contemporary art giant Marlene Dumas in action, in a clip from the Miss Interpreted documentary by Rudolf Evenhuis & Joost Verhey. Watch her herd puddles of water across a paper canvas, watch her watch it swirling with watercolors across the paper, forming silhouettes, already charged in their nebulous form. Watch her furrow and dart her focus, concentrating on excavating her surrealistic subject’s charged features before the puddles dry. It’s hypnotizing.
In Tate’s doc on one of Japan’s most famous contemporary artists Yayoi Kusama, you see the glimmer of the very eccentric meticulousness she’s famed for. Watch her extreme, unbroken focus while producing seemingly minute shapes with a marker that eventually build and build and build to a maddening frenzy of detail and flurry. And you have to admit, her style is amazing.