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Kevin has a question... What is an essay?


EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Jan 4, 2010   #1
Hello Everyone,

I have not started any threads in the "General Writing Questions" section, so I decided to post a question. "What is an essay" we all have been forced to write them all our lives, so we think of them as a school exercise, but actually the essay is an art form, like poetry.

Obviously, the written rant that we call "essay" is as old as language itself, but many scholars think of Michel De Montagne onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=3600

as the creator of this art form as we know it.

here is a wiki page about it
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essays_%28Montaigne%29

But the essay has changed a lot since the 16th century, so I wondered what everyone thinks of the "essay" today. It plays a different role for you than it plays for me. What do you all think of the meaning of the word essay?

kldini 12 / 62  
Jan 4, 2010   #2
Hey Kevin,
Well for me the essay is another form of literature in which one shows his/her feelings; as you said it is another form of art.

Depending on the topic (and sometimes it doesn't have any but the reflections of the writer), one can transmit his/her thoughts about the topic. And as you said the essay has lived as long as the language but the thing is that this guy (Montaigne) was the first to call it essay. =)

Interesting topic. Hope to see more threads. By the way can you check my BU three words (Dwarf name.) Thanks in advance.
jyu104 14 / 46  
Jan 4, 2010   #3
Essay is something that attempts to explain something or convey something.
shreeek 2 / 14  
Jan 4, 2010   #4
hey Kevin! I look at an essay like how Jon Yu described it, a written form of explaining something through language. It can be objective or subjective, and it seems those that are subjective generally convey emotions as well, while those that are objective are more informative (but thats not set in stone).

Nice topic, thanks!

If you have time, would you mind looking over my BU three words essay as well please.
Wanderer_x 5 / 88  
Jan 5, 2010   #5
I think essay is a very convenient form of expression with comparatively less barriers. An essay can be like a story, a prose, a poem or a unique combination of two or more.
Keng 39 / 134  
Jan 7, 2010   #6
An essay is just a peice of writing to express your feeling and idea.

Many types of essay are analytical, personal, compare and contrast, explanation, agree or disagree , literature and so on.

what if an essay do not have an introduction part.

Due to my experiences, i begin with an essay without an introduction and then graduate to a higher level, which is you must have five parts insteaad of four ones.

Does anyone have any questions.
badromance 1 / 18  
Jan 7, 2010   #7
essays are a piece of prose that can be used for a variety of things. they can either:

- serve to explain a given topic/explanatory or informative purposes
- state an opinion
- describe an experience
- persuade someone to believe something

and many more reasons we use essays to convey messages
chuncky13 8 / 13  
Jan 10, 2010   #8
you mention a "Memorable idea" on one of my essays what did you mean by that becasue to tell you the truth i think i have writers block.
OP EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Jan 14, 2010   #9
Sorry it took me forever to get back to this thread. EssayForum has gained lots of new members, lately.

All the ideas in this thread seem similar; great minds think alike. So essays are soul-snorkling self-expression. That sounds right. I'm surprised students still think of an essay this way after we have turned it into a chore in education.

Essays seem like chores, because they are so often school work.

another form of literature in which one shows his/her feelings; as you said it is another form of art.

Yes, so the essay comes from the same place that music and visual art come from. Artists express themselves in every way possible. They have something they need to express, and it comes before the art, driving it. A good example is

youtube.com/watch_popup?v=vOhf3OvRXKg

But sometimes in writing academic essays, the task comes before the inspiration. We have to write an essay about a particular topic, so we have to get inspired for that topic. But that is very different from the artist who feels passionate about something and dives into one art form after another trying to express it.
Envie 4 / 60  
Jan 17, 2010   #10
So essays are soul-snorkling self-expression. That sounds right. I'm surprised students still think of an essay this way after we have turned it into a chore in education.

Essays are what most of the posters here defined as but I think most of us would agree in saying that such definition is reserved for a certain type of essays. Personally, I don't find certain essays "art." (for example, I forget the name but a type of an essay that requires CD and two commentaries...it requires no thought and only spouting of information)

For me, as I entered high school (even though my Freshmen year I had to do the aforementioned essay), essays and writing in general changed a lot. IN middle school, we are forced to follow certain formats that limit our ways of expression but in high school, especially in AP Language and AP Literature classes, the freedom really allowed essays to become "art."

Essays in their most basic form are means to relay information.

It's just how we do it that makes writing beautiful and enjoyable to read.
NTabachnik - / 11  
Jan 17, 2010   #11
Essay is "I say."

Kev- mind looking at my essays? I would really appreciate it.
OP EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Jan 21, 2010   #12
Personally, I don't find certain essays "art."

You made a great point. An essay can be art, craft, or anywhere in between? I don't know if this is accurate, but I think of the difference between an art and a craft as the difference between free, 1.) formless expression and 2.) following a procedure.

To whatever extent a craft expresses creativity, it is an art. I guess most things are somewhere between art and craft.

Stephen King wrote a book about writing and called it "Memoirs of the craft"
LeGuin wrote a book about writing and called it "Steering the Craft"

so... smart writers think of writing as a craft, and not just an art.
Rajiv 55 / 400  
Jan 27, 2010   #13
Like some McDonalds situated near a school, with kids swarming all over with their orders for french fries and chicken nuggets. The forum has taken on that air now. A Starbucks-like atmosphere would have been definitely preferable, specially after the officegoers have all been taken care off, and only those seeking some stimulation from the wafting aromas of coffee, the colors there, and a few others of similar mind are left sitting; contemplating on matters artistic and other things that make us see as if, into the beauty in everyday things around us which chaos covers with a layer.
OP EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Jan 28, 2010   #14
swarming all over with their orders for french fries and chicken nuggets.

Yuck.

So now we are using the food/service industry to make analogies about our writer's group here, I don't know... every thread has limitless possibilities, every kid.
Rajiv 55 / 400  
Feb 13, 2010   #15
I have a question -- what makes a capable critic ?

Essay writing is more an art-form to me than anything else.

I feel ideas as a pressure in the mind. They are like a natural growth, and I see them evolving as I express them.

Putting them in words, uncovers what lies beneath and beyond, and is the excitement that draws me. Ideas are like truths, I only clothe them. In no way do I attempt to change their intent. Truth seems to evolve as this.

A capable critic, recognizes the original content and my attempt to metaphorize it. Emphasizing less the slips, as a skill-in-building, and encouraging the evolution. The critic is the navigator.

Like musicians riffing, instruments play in sole exhilaration of a piece coming alive. Like a living thing, the originality is its essence, a unique creation. A sense runs through it quite subtly, of its character. Not everyone recognizes that. The form only expresses it, as if never seen before.

This form too reaches the end, sometimes only of its present stage. The creative wants to reach for the next, the higher. Not all forms are exhausted, but seeing the higher, it wishes to reach and express it. The jump needs an extra burst, a quantum jump.

To move to the higher level is permissible if the flaws, the shortcomings in the earlier ones were overcome. Else they will even more exaggeratedly distort in the higher - as a lesser sense of tempo, as a clarity not achieved. Who can push him to this higher skill? Honestly and subtly, pointing to where the finesse is lacking, the critic is vital in this process.

The writer searches new forms to better express his evolving ideas. His steps are tottering and he searches for an ability equal to that before. He schools himself away from the old. Pushing himself into the raw, the exposed, vulnerable, trusting.
Chillkindacat 1 / 8  
Feb 13, 2010   #16
Essays are a source of much stress for myself. I went to school & college and graduated almost 15 years ago. Now, I am back in school and it is very difficult to change the way of writing I grew used to back in my younger years. You see when I was in school writing an essay meant you could add in your personal beliefs and you started the essay with a bunch of mumbo jumbo that had little to do with the paper. Now they have came up with new structures and it leaves me baffled. I can not seem to get a title that has tthe 3 main points and I can't figure out for the life of me how? to get the thesis and the conclusion to have the same ideas without feeling like I am repeating the same old information over and over to the point of annoyance.
OP EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Feb 13, 2010   #17
A capable critic, recognizes the original content and my attempt to metaphorize it.

But what about the capable critic who cannot recognize your intentions and helps by saying so? Criticism does not always require understanding. Sometimes the critic helps by showing where the stuff is difficult to understand.

Emphasizing less the slips, as a skill-in-building, and encouraging the evolution.

The critic is the navigator objective observer of the vehicles trajectory. The writer is the navigator. The pilot is the random stream of consciousness spouting forth from an explosive reaction of the writer's intention tossed into a pool of the brain's associations with current environmental stimuli.

exposed, vulnerable, trusting----- this is an excellent reminder of the state of mind for the person whose work is being criticized. Good call, Rajiv! That is an important thought as we continue to correct a lot of essays...

how? to get the thesis and the conclusion to have the same ideas without feeling like I am repeating the same old information over and over to the point of annoyance.

And here is another excellent point. Well, I know what you mean. If you want to really write well, read Stephen King's book On Writing: Memoirs of the Craft.

About making the point in both the thesis and the conclusion, think of it this way:
Thesis statement at the end of the first para is your assertion.
Body paragraphs explain, give evidence, and refute the counter arguments.
The conclusion paragraph is no longer the same assertion as the one you made in the intro. It has become a well-established idea because of the way your essay backed it up. Now you are free to write a big fat conclusion para that considers the implications of the idea you just presented and maybe even "add something extra", an extra thought for the reader to take away.
johnnymatics - / 1  
Feb 13, 2010   #18
Just like writing is a way of communicating, an essay is a way of writing; i believe.
Rajiv 55 / 400  
Feb 14, 2010   #19
The critic is the navigator objective observer of the vehicles trajectory.

Don't see it that way ! The critic is the sensitive feedback mechanism. The critic has to assume that the writer might go entirely by what the critic says or does not say.

The writer is the navigator. The pilot is the random stream of consciousness..

I think of myself as the stream of consciousness ... and the intention as simply to write.
Rajiv 55 / 400  
Feb 14, 2010   #20
... and the intention as simply to write.

.. what I observe, or feel, or sense.
Rajiv 55 / 400  
Feb 14, 2010   #21
.. if I may offer some critique on your critiquing, not everyone writes as you suggest above. Yet you are so much in the habit of looking at essays this way, that you're just not giving enough attention to the 'body-paragraphs'. I for one have never wished to put my writing into this or any structure. I would be fearful of constraining the expression. I think structure is often dictated by the content itself. Atleast in meaningful writings it should be as another dimension of expression.

Kevin, I am mindful of the job you're doing here, and appreciate the spirit in which you are coping pretty much single-handedly, along with your band of contributors. But hey, you must know when the customer is for a McDonalds or for a Starbucks fare.
OP EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Feb 14, 2010   #22
The critic is the sensitive feedback mechanism. The critic has to assume that the writer might go entirely by what the critic says or does not say.

Yes, I see what you are saying. That's why I called the critic an objective observer. Some of us are very encouraging, and others are harsh in their criticism. Recently, I called Mustafa the "Simon Kowel of EssayForum," because he is so poignant in his criticism. Even though I don't like to give criticism that stings, I know it is an important aspect of life.

Also, in a web forum you will get a lot of criticism that is not very accurate! So... these are good things to think about when accepting criticism.

.. if I may offer some critique on your critiquing, not everyone writes as you suggest above.

I can't say I disagree with you! As you can imagine, I have had lots of opportunities for reflection while moderating this site. What are we supposed to say about one another's art? It is hopelessly reductionist.

Reduction is the issue you are seeing! In order to teach "good composition," I need to reduce the art. This is important when trying to succeed in English class and also when trying to write well for an admissions essay. When we conform to the norms of "good composition" as it is taught in school, we cannot help reducing the art and being irreverent toward the student's absolute value, the sacredness of words that reflect the experience.

So, I really do agree with you. And in addition to the obvious reduction that occurs when we teach "good" composition, it is also true that my advice reflects my own habits and narrow view. So, you win on both counts! :-D

In my own defense, though, what I look for are "teachable moments" ... opportunities to get the kid to understand some concept relevant to the essay. It just happens to be the case that many students are at the point of needing advice about thesis statements!

And about structure... I really like what you said about "fear that expression will be constrained!" good thought! But then notice how writing a haiku presents a unique experience of self expression. ALSO notice that expression is constrained as soon as you codify it into language! So, now maybe is a teachable moment for you:

You should give structure a try! When I read your long posts, it takes a long time to figure out what the theme is! And because of the inherent problems in codification and interpretation, what I read is not the same as what you write. Therefore, try constraining expression enough to make it so that an essay is about one big idea. One essay = one meaningful idea

... and try this formula for each essay:
Intro: Say it
Body: Explain it
Conclusion: Say it again

Expression must be constrained in order to be strategic about the experience we want to create for the reader.


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