Very few TV shows have a direct impact on your world view but once in a while something does come along and fundamentally change how you think. For me that show is Abstract: the art of design. Abstract is a Netflix original documentary series highlighting artists and creatives in different fields of design. The first season profiled illustrator Christoph Niemann, Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, stage designer Es Devlin, architect Bjarke Ingels, automotive designer Ralph Gilles, graphic designer Paula Scher, photographer Platon, and interior designer Ilse Crawford.
While most shows would basically dwell on how the artist makes a living from their art, Abstract chronicles the deeper question of how the artist thinks and how their work is meant to have meaning in different contexts. The premise of design is often skewed towards commercial viability, client expectations and life draining timelines, often the question of why is lost in an avalanche of technical data and techniques. How can we do it faster, how big is your team, what technology do you use, what is your process etc.
Too often these questions and this kind of thinking destroy the emotional connection that artists have with their work and how that connection overlays and interlays with their own lives and their own perspectives. Abstract lets us see how Platon uses a deeper connection with his model to create iconic portraits. Too often we focus on the lighting set up rather than the connection. The show helps you see the pragmatic utopianism advocated by Bjarke through his architecture or how Paula is inspired by the city she lives in to create the visual language of iconic brands and institutions around the world.
Abstract has been criticized for focusing way too much on the personalities of the individual artists and pushing for blind hero worship and romanticizing the intricate nature of design. Others have criticized the show for lacking the things that we as creatives obsess about, the specs, the timelines, the tech, the processes. However even with the mentioned shortcomings Abstract: The art of Design is definitely a show worth watching. Its biggest contribution to the discourse is that we need to be emotionally connected to our work if we are to produce great and meaningful work. It is a principle too often forgotten.