Netflix docuseries chronicles creative processes of modern artists

One of Netflix’s newest original endeavors also happens to be its most artful to date. With the new documentary series, “Abstract: The Art of Design” the online television and movie watching platform is taking a look at the artistic journeys of eight modern artists. 

These aren’t your typical oil-on-canvas artists either: they are dynamic creators of widely different media and are making big waves in their respective fields. Through this new documentary series, Netflix brings us into the lives and artistic processes of an illustrator, a Nike shoe designer, a stage designer, an architect, an automotive designer, a graphic designer, a photographer and an interior designer.

Through clever and charming animation, each episode is personalized to the artist with montages that showcase their work. Although they differ greatly in terms of what and how they create, all eight of the featured designers seem to agree that the best art comes from experience, and the series is about communicating these experiences to the public.

As a part of its personalization, the documentary series takes care to film each individual in his or her natural spaces—gone is the traditional interview against a black background. 

This style of filming not only adds visual appeal for the viewer and allows for more of a focus on the process of creating art, but it also humanizes the artist. Seeing architectural genius Bjarke Ingels standing next to one of his mountainous buildings serves to remind us that this amazing artistic feat has come from a human mind—someone that could be sitting right next to us. 

From each of these artists, we learn vital lessons about what it means to be an artist and the motivation behind creating. Episode one is dedicated to illustrator Christoph Niemann, whose colorful abstractions and cartoons have graced the cover of The New Yorker 22 times—and counting. 

Using Legos to create abstract structures and images that every New Yorker could identify, Niemann affirms that design celebrates the world and makes familiar things look new and innovative. 

We are also introduced to non-traditional artists—people behind the scenes that the world forgets to appreciate. This includes people like Tinker Hatfield—the legendary Nike shoe designer who is credited with popularizing Air Jordans and for whom design is about problem solving and “predicting the needs of the future”—and stage designer Es Devlin, who is the mastermind behind some of the most innovative productions of “Hamlet” and memorable Beyoncé concerts. 

By bringing these artists to the public’s attention, the documentary series effectively broadens our definition of an artist. Instead of just a painter, drawer or photographer, an artist becomes anyone dedicated to pushing boundaries and to creating enjoyable and meaningful products.

The documentary itself seems to be a perfect example of what Niemann suggests in the very first episode: “The gateway drug is not creating art, but experiencing it.” Thus, the series provides a perfect introduction or continuation of any viewer’s individual artistic journey.