Like Lynch’s own filmography, The Art Life will be appreciated by many and infuriate countless others. Why? Because the beloved filmmaker is not much of a talker, and the recollections he provides here are hardly earth-shattering. If anything, they cement the notion that the man was always misunderstood, but didn’t mind the fact so long as he could pursue his artistic vocation. And what miracles has that vocation produced. Lynch’s films, yes, but also some ingeniously disturbing paintings and installations, several of which are shown here (either in finished form, or during their creation in Lynch’s studio). I liked seeing this dimension of Lynch, which is often overlooked. I liked seeing him put on his rubber gloves and contentedly shaping this or brushing that. And though he seems to smoke like a chimney, there’s something peaceful about the way he blows out the smoke so that it hovers in the air like incense (and it’s beautifully photographed, I must say). The art life is his religion, and the great thing about this documentary is that you believe it.
Like many, many others who went into this documentary hoping for some kind of enlightenment, I, too, was disappointed that Lynch never went beyond Eraserhead—that he didn’t offer reflections on his career and the peaks (no pun intended) he’s reached since his first feature. Whether he ever will or not remains to be seen (though I very much doubt it). Still, it’s a mighty fine portrait of the master at work in his happy place, and I hope I’ll achieve that kind of autumnal serenity when I’m his age.