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  • The Essay as Art Form

LaBarge, Emily, 2016, Thesis, The Essay as Art Form PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

Beginning with Montaigne’s essayistic dictum Que sais je? — ‘What do I know?’ — this PhD thesis examines the literary history, formal qualities, and theoretical underpinnings of the personal essay to both investigate and to practice its relevance as an approach to writing about art. The thesis proposes the essay as intrinsically linked to research, critical writing, and art making; it is a literary method that embodies the real experience of attempting to answer a question.
The essay is a processual and reflexive mode of enquiry: a form that conveys not just the essayist’s thought, but the sense and texture of its movement as it attempts to understand its object. It is often invoked, across disciplines, in reference to the possibility of a more liberal sense of creative practice — one that conceptually and stylistically privileges collage, fragmentation, hybridity, chance, open-endedness, and the meander.
Within this question of the essay as form, the thesis contains two distinct and parallel strands of analysis — subject matter and essay writing as research. At the core of the study lie two close-readings: Ana Mendieta’s Labyrinth of Venus (1982) and Le Couvent de la Tourette (1959) by Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis. In each case, the writing draws, in its tone and texture, on a range of literary influences, weaving together different voices, discussions, and approaches to enquiry. The practice of essay writing is presented alongside, part and party to, research: a method of interrogation that embraces risk and uncertainty, and simultaneously enacts its own findings as a critical-creative mode of study-via-form, and form-via-study.
The thesis is presented as a book-length essay, in which the art in question is equal and intimately connected to the writing used to address it. Method and form are designed to respond to the oft-cited challenge of the essay as fundamentally unmethodical, ranging, and diverse. Research, critical study, writerly description, and
storytelling are combined to elucidate and expose each other based not on surface continuity, but on a deep interconnection among ideas that, through language, cohere and become related — imbued with an affinity for one another. The consummate product is the argument, as it works across genres, disciplines, descriptive and critical models, to challenge the narrative structure and language used within contemporary writing about art.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W800 Imaginative Writing > W830 Prose Writing
Creative Arts and Design > W800 Imaginative Writing > W890 Imaginative Writing not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Humanities
Date Deposited: 02 Jun 2016 13:38
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2016 10:32
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1789

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