I am not a fine art enthusiast. Sure, I’m certainly guilty of dragging friends and family to new art exhibitions, and I have often spent the whole of such trips in silence as I try in vain to contemplate the meaning behind each piece of work. I also apparently have “the look,” multiple people have commented that my unruly copper hair, wire-rimmed spectacles. mom jeans and colorful pins evoke the art student vibe. A single peek at my oh-so-basic grungy aesthetic tumblr blog would undoubtedly cause some to write me off as slightly obnoxious hipster trash (not that I blame them). But all that aside, no, I am not an art enthusiast, which may explain why I found little to like about Netflix’s new documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design.
The series aims to highlight the unique art styles and methods of eight designers. Each 40-minute episode gives one designer the spotlight to show off their work. For illustrator Christoph Niemann that meant defining his version of abstract art while walking us through the process of illustrating for The New Yorker. For stage designer Es Devlin, it meant describing the importance of space and revision. Each and every designer had a different way of looking at their work, each of them seeing the world of art in a different way. It seemed at first like an incredibly awesome idea, especially for someone who knows little about abstract art. But if you are that person, you may actually find this series is not meant for you.
The main thing that turned me off to this series was its lack of excitement. There was some pretty awesome work being done, and yet I found it hard to build up any genuine passion or excitement for the work these designers were doing. In my mind art is supposed to be inspiring. It’s supposed to take your breath away and elicit intense emotion. Perhaps that’s just me being naive about the strenuous work and dedication making art requires, which is completely possible. But for me, watching this series took some of the magic out of making art, which I doubt was the intention of the show.
In addition to the absence of genuine excitement, each episode felt excruciatingly long. Perhaps the length of each episode was highlighted by the low energy, or maybe 40 minutes is too much time to listen to someone talk about shoes, no matter how cool they look. Either way, as the season went on, each episode slowly started to become background noise, only catching my attention when something dramatically abstract came on the screen but otherwise failing to keep me fully engaged.
Despite my personal criticisms, I feel it is only ethical for me to once again reiterate that I am not an art enthusiast. Because of this I’m hesitant to label the series as a failure. For me, this series proved to be relatively boring, save the occasionally interesting visual. For hardcore art buffs I’m sure this series is a gift from the Netflix gods. As a journalist writing a review, this is an interesting position to be in; usually my job is to tell the reader truthfully whether a piece of media is good or not. With Abstract, I simply can’t do it — you’ll have to see for yourself.