Five Inspiring Documentaries for Artists

Inspiration. Sometimes, it comes to us in bucket loads, while other times it can seem as elusive as rainfall in Malta’s winter. But there are plenty of ways to kick start your brainstorming, by getting out in nature, reading a good book, or perhaps learning a new skill. When I’m not feeling particularly energetic, but I’m looking for a fix of inspiration, I’ll often turn to my favourite documentaries. Below, I’ve mentioned five of my favourites that I feel every artist should watch.

First Life, by David Attenborough

I could have listed all of Attenborough’s documentaries here, but there’s something extra special about this one. Nothing is more inspiring to me than trying to understand just how vast time is, and how the processes of evolution work together with the changing environment. From fractal proto-animals like Charnia (below) to the stunning Trilobites, you’ll surely get inspired by unique, abstract forms and the stunning scenery.

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Other Attenborough top picks: Life in the Freezer, Frozen Planet, Planet Earth II, Life Story, The Hunt, The Life of Plants.

Wonders of the Solar System by Brian Cox

This series, along with the Wonders of the Universe and Stephen Hawking’s Genius kicked off my love affair with the Cosmos and started my Cosmic Nature paintings. Never has complicated physics, destruction, beauty and chaos been described so eloquently and with such beauty. What’s great about these episodes is that they explain theories and ideas so clearly that you feel a little smug just for watching  and understanding them. The visuals are simply stunning, too.

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Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry & Mark Cawardine

This charming collection chronicles English writer/comedian/actor/activist Stephen Fry’s journey across the world with wildlife photographer and friend Mark Cawardine to visit some of the rarest creatures on the planet, following in the footsteps of Douglas Adams’ book and series made 20 years previously. From the sad failure to find the Baji river dolphin (a subject I also painted) to the touching tale of the Kakapo (oh, another one I painted) this documentary is full of joy, hope and adventure.

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I highly recommend reading Douglas Adams’ book, too.

Modern Masters with Alistair Sooke

Well, there should be an art documentary on my list, and this is one of those that gave me a new appreciation of Picasso. This particular four-part series chronicles the life and works of Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse (the end of this is extremely moving), Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso and features a good balance of storytelling, embellishing and historical accuracy. Though I wouldn’t call Andy Warhol a master, but perhaps that’s for another blog…

Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, France

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman

Whilst I’m not a religious person, this documentary is beautifully narrated and discusses many issues that are important to humanity as a whole, and to us as individuals, whether we’re spiritual or not. From understanding creation to the meaning of life, death, the Apocalypse and more, this is a fascinating insight into world religions, beliefs and culture.

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What do you watch when you’re looking for inspiration? Are you more of a film buff? Let me know in the comments!

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Cosmic Thoughts – Starlight

“We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

There’s something infinitely powerful about horses. If you’ve ever stood so close to one as to feel it’s snorting breath, its rippling muscles and those eagle-sharp eyes, you’ve probably felt this presence. If you’re a horse owner, leisure rider, professional horseman, then you know what this feeling is all about.

It’s somewhere between calm, yet ready to spring into life at any moment. A horse is a prey animal; so it’s every fibre is ready for action, should the need arise. The universe, to me, has this same quality; a fluid, well-oiled, perfectly synchronised machine, yet hiding something tumultuous.

Perhaps these thoughts are the reasons why I painted Tower of Starlight, but perhaps these are just the inspirations I realised after. I knew what I wanted to paint, and how I wanted to paint it.

 

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Tower of Starlight, 100 x 60cm Oils on Canvas

 

We (roughly) know how the universe was formed, and when.

The ‘why’ is always a bit more of a mystery.

Tower of starlight
Free-falls into the mountains
And a horse seeks warmth.

Learn more about my cosmic nature paintings.

 

The Expanding Universe of Art

How is one supposed to feel, knowing that we, on our pinprick of our blue planet, in our speck of dust under the cosmic carpet of our milky way, are hurtling through space and towards infinity, with absolutely no consolation except the knowledge that it’s actually happening.

I guess in a way, the art world is like an expanding universe. As soon as you get sucked in to it, it seems like there’s a never-ending, spinning web of ideas, styles, names, name-dropping, brush-bashing and social media platforms that making your impact in it seems infinitely impossible. The more time goes on, the more new -isms crawl out of the woodwork, and all of a sudden your left wondering where your place in the art universe is. The further away the galaxy from us, the faster it appears to be moving. Just as distant ideas and desires appear to be slipping away before we can ever hope to grasp them. As distance grows, speed increases.

Universe Milky Way Watercolour Painting

But I think that, in the same way that there’s no true centre of the universe, only your perspective within it, there’s no universal law for art. There is nothing to stop us being the artist we want to be, or choosing any one of the multitude of paths we conceived for ourselves. The more we know about art and our universe, the more power we have within it, however slight. We have to admit though, that certain things are well beyond our control. By the non-randomness of particles slamming together at just the right distance from the sun, a lot of it is really down to luck.

And just as the universe, by some incomprehensible miracle, started from a single, infinitely small point (a singularity), art started in the same way. Long, long before we first painted in the caves, or scratched angular marks into a mammoth bone or reindeer antler, long before we even contemplated our sense of being, the spark was there. The one, fleeting, chance coming together of nothing, created everything.

Expanding Universe Watercolour Painting
Expanding Universe, Watercolours – Even the world’s largest land animal is tiny and insignificant against the cosmic background!

It was nothing but non-random luck, that Stephen Hawking happened to be the surprising inspiration behind this blog post, and this painting of elephants against the milky way, though I am sure I didn’t do the expanding universe justice.

All paintings featured in this blog post are for sale unless otherwise specified. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

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