Artists depicted in film stay relevant

From Dalí to Pollock, the public’s fascination with artists and their lives continues through film.

From Dalí to Pollock, the public’s fascination with artists and their lives continues through film.

Unless you have been stuck under a rock for the past month, you are aware that the Twilight saga has continued, with Robert Pattinson playing leading man Edward Cullen in the immensely popular, vampire series.  We’ve seen Pattinson in other films before, including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) as Cedric Diggory, but what many of you may not know is that he challenged his acting skills in a more independent film entitled Little Ashes (2009), where he played a young Salvador Dalí. nicole welk

Now, I’m not going to be a film critic and hammer on Pattinson’s acting skills, but the little known fact of this film’s existence (and whether most Twilight fans know he took on the role of one of the most famous artists of the 20th century) made me delve into this subject further. How often, I wondered, are blockbuster actors drawn to play famous, historical artists in the independent film scene?

Through the years, I have watched quite a few movies highlighting the great artists of the time. Many of you, I am sure, have heard of, if not seen, the film The Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003), with Colin Firth, who played Vermeer, and Scarlett Johansson as the supposed model for the famous painting of the same name. Firth can definitely be considered a blockbuster actor, probably best known for his role as Mr. Darcy in the Bridget Jones’ Diary series. But a pattern emerges with these actors as artists.

In addition to Pattinson’s most recent role as Dalí, Stellan Skarsgard (you may know him as “Bootstrap” Bill Turner from the Pirates series) has performed as Francisco de Goya in Ghosts (2006) with Natalie Portman playing one of his famed models. Salma Hayek was nominated for an Academy Award in her role as Frida Kahlo in the film Frida (2002) with Alfred Molina, who played Diego Rivera. Ed Harris played Jackson Pollock in a 2000 film showcasing the artist, and even Val Kilmer appeared as a young Willem de Kooning in the film.

The list of famed actors as artists continues, and as of now, I’ve been hearing rumors of at least two more Dalí films due out in the next few years, with the artist being portrayed by possible actors Johnny Depp and Antonio Banderas.

Hysteria for artists portrayed in film continues, but why? And why would the biggest name actors even be remotely interested in playing in such low-key films for these roles?

These films themselves should give each struggling artist the reminder that artists and art are extremely influential to society as a whole. The general public continues to be fascinated by the art these artists have produced, and most of those enthusiasts become interested in how the subject matter of such art came about and what the artists themselves were like.

Though it is usually the more independent producers and directors who take up the challenge of retelling the often insane, complex stories of these fine artists, they know quite a large audience is interested in the topics and a wide range of acting talents feel passionate enough to portray these “rock stars” of our art history textbooks.

As students, becoming educated about artistic style and how to perfect skill and utilize talent as an artist, we can often forget the impact art has on society. Art can portray history and unlock a door to imagination and storytelling. It can give hope to struggling viewers; it can remind people of beauty. Art documents, expresses and illuminates history, truths and wonder.

Filmmakers, as artists themselves, seem to understand the power of this. Actors, who are also artists in their own right, must also understand the importance of art and its artists to society and history across the board.

This is what drives the production of such films and what must remind us to continue to create pieces that will lead future generations to be inspired by our time as well.

In an era when contemporary art has come to a peak, and structure, skill, inspiration and overall meaning has continued to diminish, we need to look at our fore-fathers (and mothers) and step up our game. I encourage artists and art enthusiasts alike to see some of these films in one way or another. Many of them, though overdramatized, overdone and with screen plays that are most likely more fictional than fact-based, capture the essence of what it can mean to be an artist, along with the importance and large impact art still has on the world today.

If you can’t pick up the paintbrush, maybe pick up the DVD remote and enjoy what filmmakers and actors are seeing in past artists today. It may just be what we need to get ourselves motivated as artists of the future.

Nicole Welk can be reached at


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