Artist Olafur Eliasson. Pic: Netflix Reviews, Screen Netflix’s Abstract: the art of designing prime comfort viewing By Anders Furze | April 29, 2020 | Those of us looking for some comfort viewing that also teaches us something about life could do far worse than Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design, two seasons of stand-alone, 45-minute documentary episodes examining artists working in the field of design. The subjects are a who’s who of the global design world’s upper echelon, working in fields as diverse as interior design (Ilse Crawford), installation art (Olafur Eliasson) and automobile design (Ralph Gilles). The brainchild of former WIRED magazine editor Scott Dadich, the show clearly lionises its subjects. This is not a hard-nosed journalistic foray exposing the ills of the design world. Chosen interviewees have no qualms in attesting to the legendary status of each subject (the show’s official spiel gives a taste of the overall tone: shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, the subject of one episode, is referred to as a “Nike design virtuoso”.) But if you can overlook the hyperbole (or better still, buy into it) there’s something rather inspiring about watching documentarians throw huge amounts of money and high production values at demystifying design. The show’s top-notch production does a stellar job of demonstrating design ideas in practice, so that we both hear people talking about design, and then watch those design principles play out. Costume designer Ruth Carter. Pic: Netflix. Fittingly, the show doesn’t have much of a unifying visual aesthetic, beyond a flashy, fast-paced style that’s tailored to each designer. Talking heads, archival footage, on-screen illustrations and animations are all employed to varying effect. A key example of the approach can be found in the episode on Olafur Eliasson, which begins with the Danish-Icelandic installation artist talking direct to the camera, telling us to turn out the lights in our homes. This is not a hard-nosed journalistic foray exposing the ills of the design world. Chosen interviewees have no qualms in attesting to the legendary status of each subject. “Think of the TV as a lamp,” he says, as the screen goes all white. The colour of the screen changes to yellow, then violet and blue, as he tells us to pay attention to the effect these colours have on the space around the screen, and on our emotions. “You are a co-author with me,” he concludes. It’s a simple, effective demonstration of his approach to art and architecture – mission accomplished, 30 seconds into the episode. This, then, is what makes Abstract: The Art of Design such fitting comfort viewing. Through an optimistic tone, poppy visuals and a knack for demystifying design for those of us who are interested but aren’t experts, each episode successfully enlists viewers as co-authors. What we’re producing together is a comforting reminder of the value of a simple, deeply human concept: good design. Abstract: The Art of Design is streaming on Netflix. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Anders Furze Anders Furze is a journalist and film critic.