Dr Brian Dillon


  • Dr Brian Dillon
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities


    Acting Head of Programme, Senior Tutor

  • Brian Dillon is Senior Tutor in Writing, and Acting Head of Programme, MA Writing. He is the author of several books of memoir, cultural history, fiction, essays and criticism. He is an editor of Cabinet (a quarterly of art and culture based in New York), and has written for many magazines, journals and newspapers in the UK and internationally. 

  • Biography

  • With a background in English Literature and Philosophy, Brian Dillon has since 2001 been writing on art, books and culture for many publications in the UK and elsewhere. His book reviews and essays have appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, White Review, London Review of Books, Gorse, Times Literary Supplement and the Irish Times. He writes regularly on contemporary art for such publications as frieze, Artforum, Art Review, Aperture and Tate etc. Since 2003 he has been UK editor of Cabinet, a quarterly journal of art and culture based in New York.

    He has curated exhibitions for Tate Britain and Hayward Touring, and written catalogue essays for artists such as Helen Marten, Rachel Whiteread, David Noonan, Eva Rothschild and Damien Hirst. He is a regular speaker on art and culture at institutions such as Tate, the Pompidou Centre, the British Museum, the Wellcome Collection and Whitechapel Gallery.

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  • Practice

  • Brian Dillon’s first book, a memoir entitled In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005), won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. His second, Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin, 2009) was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. In 2008, he was awarded an AHRC Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts. His project, based at the University of Kent, ran from 2008 to 2011 and was entitled ‘Ruins of the Twentieth Century’. Its  outcomes included a novella, Sanctuary (Sternberg Press, 2011); an anthology of artists’ writings, Ruins (Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press, 2011); Ruin Lust, an exhibition at Tate Britain in 2014, and accompanying catalogue.

    In 2013 he curated Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing for Hayward Touring – this exhibition included works by Leonardo da Vinci, JMW Turner, Tacita Dean and Susan Hiller, and it travelled among other venues to Turner Contemporary, Margate, and De Appel, Amsterdam. A collection of Dillon’s essays on art and literature, Objects in This Mirror, was published by Sternberg Press in 2014. His book The Great Explosion (Penguin, 2015) was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize for a book about the ‘spirit of a place’.

    Dillon’s most recent book is Essayism (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017): a critical and personal study of the essay form. His current projects include On Sentences, a collection of essays on literary voice and style, to be published in 2019; In Pieces, a collection of essays on contemporary art, forthcoming from Sternberg Press; and a novel, For the Simple Reason Is.    

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Books

    Dillon, B. (2018) In the Dark Room, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions

    Dillon, B. (2017) Essayism, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions

    Dillon, B. (2015) The Great Explosion, London: Penguin

    Dillon, B. (2014) Objects in This Mirror: Essays, Berlin: Sternberg Press

    Dillon, B. (2014) Ruin Lust, London: Tate Publishing

    Dillon, B. and Warner, M. (2013) Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing, London: Hayward Publishing

    Dillon, B. (2012) I Am Sitting in a Room, New York: Cabinet Books

    Dillon, B. (ed) (2011) Ruins, London: Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press

    Dillon, B. (2011) Sanctuary, Berlin: Sternberg Press

    Dillon, B. (2009) Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives, London: Penguin

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  • Awards and Grants

  • Arts Council England grant for On Sentences, 2017: £15,000.

    Arts Council England grant for Essayism, 2015: £13,000.

    AHRC Fellowship in the Performing Arts, 2008-2011. Project was “Ruins of the Twentieth Century”.

Selected work


Current and recent research

A Canterbury Tale (London: BFI, forthcoming 2020). A book in the BFI Classics series, on Powell and Pressburger’s 1944 film of the same title. It will focus on the film’s relation to English landscape and the neo-Romanticism of mid-century art and literature.

On Sentences (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2019). A book of essays on literary form, voice and style. Each considers a specific sentence as subject of analysis and essayistic point of departure. Writers discussed include James Baldwin, Joan Didion, George Eliot, Hilary Mantel, Francis Ponge and Virginia Woolf.

In Pieces: writings on art, etc. (Sternberg Press, forthcoming 2019). This is a collection of essays on modern and contemporary art, literature and cinema. It includes essays on Hannah Höch, Eileen Gray, Francesca Woodman, Claude Cahun, Helen Marten, Eimear McBride, William Gass and Chris Marker.

Essayism (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017). A critical, polemical and personal monograph on the history and present relevance of the essay as form in literature, art and film. It was published in the UK by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2017, and by New York Review Books in 2018.

Essayism is a creative, critical defence of the literary and artistic genre of the essay; it traces the history of this form, and argues for its centrality today. The book deploys memoir, polemic and close critical analysis to experiment with the form of the essay itself in structure, voice and audience. The range of reference includes early essays by Montaigne and Sir Thomas Browne, the subjective voice in Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion, formal experiments by William Gass and Georges Perec.

The essay is a venerable literary form that in recent years has seen a renaissance among contemporary writers of non-fiction. There have been critical efforts to describe this development (books by John D’Agata and David Shields), but no book that attempts both to synthesize current thinking about the form and to experiment with that form. Essayism is both a critical study of the history of the essay and an instance of what it describes: it adopts a personal, autobiographical perspective, the better to account for the current interest in and formal challenges of the genre.

Essayism addresses a general literary audience as well as a scholarly one, and practitioners in the visual arts as well as art historians or critics: the film and photo essay are well established, but the book has the ambition of proposing the essay form as a productive model for artistic thought and practice, outside of existing modes.

Essayism was widely and favourably reviewed, with prominent articles appearing in the Guardian, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times.


Research students