Writer and critic Brian Dillon discusses the essay as an expanded artistic practice. Presented in collaboration with the Art Writers Programme and UWE Fine Art.
The essay is a form of writing, thinking and making with a long history and an uncertain attitude to the future. The great literary essayists such as Michel de Montaigne, Thomas De Quincey and Virginia Woolf established a genre that is intimate, erudite, digressive and stylish. Contemporary essayists such as David Foster Wallace, Maggie Nelson and Mary Ruefle have pushed at the boundaries of the form, where it edges into fiction and poetry. But 'essayism' is also a way of making art: the film essay and photo essay are established modes, but I want to argue that literary essays ancient and recent may point the way to an even more expanded artistic practice of the essay.
Brian Dillon is a writer and critic, and UK editor of Cabinet magazine. His books include The Great Explosion (Penguin, 2015), Objects in This Mirror: Essays (Sternberg Press, 2014), Sanctuary (Sternberg Press, 2011) and Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin, 2009). His writing has appeared in the Guardian, London Review of Books, The White Review, Gorse, frieze, Artforum and The New York Times. He teaches critical writing at the Royal College of Art.
The Art Writer's Programme is a 6-month long project initiated by The Art Writers Group and funded by Arts Council England. It aims to promote engagement with critical writing about the visual arts across the South West region.