A principled approach to critical work, one that illuminates connections without insistence, proposes without foreclosure and reflects, of course, the path of art itself: observations, juxtapositions, alliances — affinities, indeed — that resist easy determination. One might say, then, that Dillon makes of criticism an artistic practice.
If these pictures appear to have little in common beyond Dillon’s predilection for them, their heterogeneity is in part his point. He is intrigued by the obstinate opacity of affinity, which is so misty as to defy definition ... Dillon’s forays into what he calls 'the mundane miracle of looking' are both impenetrably personal and so rigorously attentive to the external world that the critic sometimes seems to dissolve into the art. He has an affinity, in effect, for affinities — attractions so pronounced that, far from sequestering us in our private passions, they briefly annihilate us.
In lesser hands, Dillon’s essays would have been used simply to make the case for the benefits of close attention. Dillon’s discussion of these photographs forestalls this reading – close attention is one thing. Loving attention, another. And Dillon does love. That shines out from each essay.
Unsurprisingly, Affinities is a bit of a rag-bag; after all, that’s the point ... The affinities aren’t always obvious; or perhaps the affinities you detect, reading, aren’t quite the affinities that Dillon has hoped to suggest. Does it matter? The point is never anything so crude as analysis; the point is mood ... The whole enterprise risks pretentiousness. In fact, let’s be honest: it is, sometimes, definitely pretentious. On the other hand, when it comes to this kind of criticism, nothing pretended, nothing gained.
Dillon views a work of art as a jumping off point for his own theories on what draws us to certain objects, one that sparks his meditations on artistic resonances within his own life ... A dreamy meditation on four centuries of artistic practice, a joyous ramble connected by Essays on Affinity ... Refreshingly, his canon of mainly twentieth-century artists skews largely avant-garde, female, and LGBT.
The essays on the individual artists are too short and subjective to serve as primers on their work, and the multiple pieces on affinity don’t cohere enough into a definition. However, the book is more than the sum of its parts, and Dillon conjures an uncanny mood, as the individual observations combine to create a sense of how eerie and disorienting images can be.