Films We’re Watching: Movies about Art

by Alex Hull

COVID has made it difficult for people to go out and view art, either at museums, through travel, or gatherings with others.  However, during and after quarantine, most of us have taken to watching more movies than we have ever before (I have, anyway).  Here are four films that explore art, artists, and art history that I think are worth watching.

The Painter and the Thief (2020) dir. Benjamin Ree

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The Painter and the Thief is a film about an unlikely friendship that begins between a young Czech artist, Barbora Kysilkova, and Karl Bertil-Nordland, a criminal.  When one of Barbora’s paintings is stolen from a gallery, she decides to track down the thief and meets Bertil, the man who stole her painting.  She asks if she can paint his portrait and the finished product changes Bertil’s life from the moment he sees it.  This story is rich with emotion and tension, asking viewers to question art’s value to its viewers, respective artists, and who they dedicate their art to.  This film reveals the more painful sides of the artistic process and the formation of ideas, and the real power that art can have over its viewers.  I wanted to watch this whole film over again immediately once the credits rolled.  Available on Hulu.

Loving Vincent (2017) dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

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This movie submerges you within the mystery surrounding Vincent Van Gogh’s death and one man’s obsession in uncovering the truth.  The story is arranged in a series of meetings with several characters who provide pieces of information about Vincent, which sometimes causes the film to feel slow at times.  However, the animation style, which imitates that of Van Gogh’s paintings, makes the film captivating.  125 painters from around the world worked on painting over the original live-action footage which gives the scenes a unique sense of animated movement.  I appreciated Loving Vincent because it shows how classical methods such as painting can be transformed in unexpected and beautiful ways using modern media like film.  Available on Hulu.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma

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Commissioned in secret, a young painter named Marianne heads to an isolated island to paint Héloïse, a stubborn bride who has refused to pose for her wedding portrait.  The two fall in love as they await Héloïse’s dreaded wedding day.  The film focuses on painting as an act of intimacy and as an instrument of memory.  Art works in the background of this heart-wrenching and impossible love story between two women.  The film asks what it means to hold an authentic image of someone in their mind, as painting becomes a vital, rebellious, and secretive act. Art becomes critical in this story, and the only way Marienne can hold on to Héloïse.  Available on Hulu.

Beyond the Visible––Hilma af Klint (2020) dir. Halina Dyrschka

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Beyond the Visible is a documentary about the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a modernist painter, virtually unknown during her time, who has had a considerable impact on the art world.  Many of her paintings were far ahead of her time, and as specified in her will, none would be shown until twenty years after her death.  Her style includes vibrant colors and often engages elements of geometry.  This documentary looks at her work and personal life, highlighting her interest in science and spiritualism.  I had never heard of Hilma af Klint before, but after watching this documentary, I have found a new favorite artist. Available on Amazon Prime.


McMullen Museum Student Ambassador Statement of Solidarity and Commitment

We, the McMullen Student Ambassadors, stand in solidarity with Black Students at Boston College and unequivocally and directly denounce all forms of racism, hatred, intolerance, and violence against the Black communities on campus and in society-at-large. We recognize that racism is real and manifests in many forms, most prominently as anti-Black police brutality and violence. Throughout global and U.S. history, the institution of racism is rooted in a legacy of colonialism, slavery, and dominance of Black and Brown people. We have not properly grappled with these institutions or their legacies, and their effects reverberate around the country and the world. As a result, racism and colorism are embedded in the structures of society, including our academic institutions.

We remain in solidarity with the Black and Indigenous communities in the U.S. and around the world. We recognize the recent injustices against Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, among countless other victims of anti-Black violence, and outwardly condemn these injustices. We recognize the lasting and compounding effects of generational trauma within the Black community, which marks a great failure of this country to uphold liberty and justice for all. 

As such, we are committed to combating these direct and indirect forms of racism, as well as intersecting injustices including, but not limited to: colorism, homophobia, transphobia, misogynoir, ableism, fatphobia, and classism within our community here at the museum, at Boston College, and beyond. Below are the following policies that we, as Student Ambassadors, have promised to adopt to combat the systematic disease of racism:

  1. We have created and will maintain an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, composed of the McMullen Manager of Education, the McMullen Programming Graduate Assistant, and Student Ambassadors to bring EDI to the forefront of all of our work, interactions, and efforts at the McMullen Museum.
  2. We aim to amplify black voices in our daily interactions and promotions of art, museums, and academia via social media, Student Ambassador hiring, exhibition programming, and outreach.
  3. We commit to having tough conversations with peers, colleagues, and community members around racial justice and social justice, and will encourage them to do their own research on matters as well as take AADS courses, as well as participate in the Forum on Racial Justice at Boston College’s numerous programs.
  4. We will call out and report incidents of racism when they happen.
  5. We will reach out directly to diverse student organizations on campus to provide resources, collaborate on programming, and encourage members to apply to become a Student Ambassador.
  6. We will alter our Student Ambassador hiring process to take into account diversity instead of being color blind by including a question on race/ethnicity in our application form.
  7. We will continue to encourage feedback amongst our peers, listen to their experiences, and recognize their concerns. We acknowledge that the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion will require indefinite attention and continued critical self-reflection.

The Museum of Fine Arts’ Journey Toward Inclusion

Since the killing of George Floyd and the following national reckoning for racial justice, institutions of all kinds have raised their standards. Many of these institutions, including museums, have been working in recent years towards inclusivity. The racial violence that occurred over the summer made it clear that these institutions need to take more direct and visible actions towards equality. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has risen to the occasion by pushing toward “a more inclusive MFA,” as stated on their website.1

The MFA’s commitment to inclusivity reaches back almost a year before the murder of George Floyd, to May 2019. A group of middle schoolers and chaperones from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy visited the museum and filed a complaint. While visiting the museum, they encountered racism and verbal abuse from staff and visitors. In response, the MFA instituted unconscious bias and conflict resolution training with its staff, barred two visitors from the museum, and organized meetings with students and staff from the Davis Leadership Academy.

Since that incident, the MFA has shown a strong commitment to making the museum more welcoming and inclusive. In July 2019, the museum announced that they would be hosting four paid teen scholars from Boston to “build curatorial skills, enabling the interns to develop the themes of their exhibition, select and study the works of art, and collaborate on the design, interpretation, and programming.” In September, nearly four months after the Davis Leadership Academy visit, the museum rolled out an extensive plan to improve the school group experience and create “an environment where all young people trust that they will feel safe and celebrated.” The updates position students and teachers as participants rather than visitors and provide school groups with resources and designated staff to make their visit more welcoming and rewarding.

At the close of 2019, the MFA announced a new position within their Division of Learning and Community Engagement: the Senior Director of Belonging and Inclusion. Along with making the MFA more inclusive for all, the position included reaching out and deepening connections with the museum’s current audiences, as well as “diverse yet historically underrepresented audiences.” Over the summer of 2020, Rosa Rodriguez-Williams was appointed as Senior Director of Belonging and Inclusion, with a start date of September 9, 2020. Ms. Rodriguez-Williams received a  M.A, in social work from Boston College.

On June 1, in response to George Floyd’s murder, the MFA released a public message of support. In the rest of its summer update, the museum also outlined its resolve to examine its internal policies and culture, engage a diversity consultant to evaluate the museum, and institute paid college internships to diversify the museum field. The update also contained a nod to Ms. Rodriguez-Williams, stating that her work will “play a critical role in delivering on the MFA’s promise to be a Museum for all of Boston.” In an email to The Terrace, Rodriguez-Williams said she plans to “prioritize the visitor’s experience to foster belonging and be a Museum where everyone who walks through our doors feels seen, valued and respected.”

Rodriguez-Williams also attributed her “desire to lead within organizations” to her experience as a student here at Boston College. She described her time at BC as a formative period responsible for “laying [the] groundwork that set me up for success and my heart for inclusion.” She is grateful for her time at the Boston College School of Social Work, where she “matured personally and evolved professionally as a social worker.” For Rodriguez-Williams, “Impacting the world, through my work with organizations and the people in them is not only an honor but a privilege.”

The MFA’s recognition of its own shortcomings, its efforts to be better in the future, and its specific action items are commendable. Institutional racism exists in every facet of life, and therefore needs to be dismantled on each of those levels. The MFA is committed in the fight against racism and should serve as an inspiration and example to the broader community. The fight for racial justice is ongoing, but actions like these taken by the MFA get us closer to our ultimate goals of equality and inclusion. 

“Toward a More Inclusive MFA” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.