Netflix nails it with “Abstract: The Art of Design”
Like democracy, the creative process is often messy and veers off in unanticipated directions. One could, therefore, conclude that producing a documentary series on “design” would be somewhat akin to an exercise in cat herding. But judging by the first episode of the new series “Abstract: The Art of Design” Netflix has come up with a way to make the staid old concept of a “documentary” fresh, informative and highly entertaining.
Episode one in the series follows Christoph Niemann, a true superstar in the global graphic design world (How big a deal is this guy? Well, in 2010 he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall Of Fame!). Director Morgan Neville has taken the “a day in the life” approach…well, sorta…kinda. There are frequent jumps between Niemann’s home base in Berlin and New York, as well as a detours to art museums, a video production studio and even one of Niemann’s favorite cafes, but the tie that binds is Niemann’s office/studio. It’s been edited in an extremely non-linear, playful style…you know, sort of like the design process itself!
Niemann has covered a lot of ground in his career: commercial jobs, books, art exhibitions, even a smartphone app for kids (get it!) but he may be best known in the US for his many covers of The New Yorker (“It’s very exciting to do these, but it never becomes easy”). We get to see his ideas develop for his latest cover project for the magazine, right up through the time when he delivers the finished artwork to The New Yorker’s Manhattan office…fascinating!
Christoph Niemann in his office/studio
“I need to be in control and I need to have a very clear sense of where I’m going and whether things are working or not working. On the other hand, I’ve also realized that being more free-spirited is necessary. I found that I need to develop these two personas separately: be a much more ruthless editor and be a much more careless artist. I find this physically exhausting, but there’s good stuff happening here.”
- Christoph Neimann
For a guy who has achieved as much as he has Niemann comes across as very well grounded and realistic, especially when it comes to the commercial realities of producing “art.” Any creative professional watching the show will easily identify with his observation on how the business works: “You measure yourself against a lucky moment and this is really painful. You had this one great spark three years ago and then the client asks you to do it again. And you think, ‘I won the lottery then, how can you ask me to win the lottery again, under pressure, and with a gun to my head?’”
Episode 1 of "Abstract" is terrific; can’t wait to jump back on Netflix for the next one!