Netflix recently released a new documentary series, “Abstract” which delves into different artists’ lives and explores the concept of design in multiple disciplines.

The first episode is on the life and work of Christoph Neimann, who’s a graphic designer, illustrator, and author from Germany. I loved the episode for its prowess in directing and editing. Given that the documentary is about designers, the creators of the show certainly took impressive creative liberties which appealed to the designers’ mode of thinking. In the first episode, Neimann was immediately known to be a quirky, curious fellow. So the structure of that episode followed suit, in the form of Wes Anderson-like compositions and transitions. It was wondrous. I loved Neimann’s synthesis of real-world objects with his artistic vision, which raised the question of how malleable everyday objects can be if put in the context of art. Neimann’s work made me think of VR. If you take an everyday object and put it in VR, then make it interactive by letting the user create things with it or alter it in impossible ways, then voila: you have something compelling. 

One thing that slightly put me off, however, was the lack of risks that the episode took. It simply retold the usual stories we hear from designers and artists in a high-budget production. Although it was visually stunning, Abstract failed to penetrate an original story for Neimann. It was the usual artist’s narrative for someone who was incredibly unique and groundbreaking in his art. I would have loved to see more of an intentional approach to documenting parts of Neimann’s life that don’t conform to the typical artist’s story arc we’re used to. Neimann’s work reflects his incredibly unique persona, but Abstract barely explores him on a personal level, away from the superficial artist’s narrative. Abstract inevitably makes me think of Chef’s Table, which is kind of the culinary version of Abstract. I compare these two Netflix doc series because Chef’s Table capitalizes on pursuing an original, personal, un-Googleable story for each of their chefs. Abstract had this opportunity with one of the greatest names in design, but missed out on it for a beautiful execution of a cliche story.

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