Television Review: Abstract (The Art of Design)

I only watched the first episode of this new series on Netflix, called Abstract, which is focused on design across the fields of art. I was curious to see how it might connect to some of the elements we have been talking about in Networked Narratives.

And I was intrigued by the first episode, which is about artist Christoph Niemann, whose name I didn’t recognize but whose art I certainly did, as he often does the covers for New Yorker magazine, and his views of the world — where technology and art intersect with humanity — often catch my eye. And I remembered the cover that is the focus of this documentary, too — the one which began an Augmented Reality cover, in which the viewer is immersed in the artistic New York of Niemann’s imagination.

What’s interesting here is the approach the filmmakers use to showcase Niemann’s fertile artistic mind, bringing us into the cartoony world and using “meta discussions” to show how hard it is to understand what makes an artist tick, and in fact, by trying to show the process, you ruin the artistic inspiration. Time and again, Neimann resists the filmmaker’s urge for “reality” and instead, Niemann calls for more “abstractness” and the collision of these two is often funny, entertaining, insightful.

I was most interested in the moments where Niemann talks about the creative process and his realization that working hard — doodling, sketching, trying new ideas — is the way to pave the way for inspiration to hit, but if you just sit and wait around for the “big idea” you will likely be disappointed.

I am reminded of some of what Howard Rheingold told NetNarr during his “studio visit” about how artists pave the way for possibilities, even if you are not certain yet what those possibilities are. You follow your interests, and make art because you have to make art, not because it is required. Even though Niemann works as a design artist for a living, he still tinkers with the unexpected, such as this interesting Instagram series called Abstract Sundays, where he meshes found objects with drawing and painting … just for the fun of it.

In other words, an artist has to keep working, even when the art is not. You have to have faith in the creative sparks, and Niemann’s keen observations of the world are what fuels his work, but he notes that he has to withdraw from the world in order to create his abstract versions of the world. He also talks about the “editor mind” and the “artist mind” that often comes into conflict with each other as he works independently.

The Abstract documentary is a fascinating look at the mind of an artist, and while we see him talking about and struggling with the design of the Augmented Reality cover of a paper magazine — indeed, he often wonders whether the two ideas will ever be in sync with each other — I wanted to see more of the technical aspects of how they built the cover to actually work for the reader/viewer. There’s less of that, and more of Niemann as artist, with brush and pen. Which is great, too.

I have not yet seen other episodes in the Abstract series, but I aim to.

Peace (make art),

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *