SAW

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 2076, acrylic on paper, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art

Q: What was your involvement with the Seattle Art Writing or SAW group?

ReeL: It took a few meetings to get any direction. I remember at an early meeting the painter, Andy Keating, now working in New York, saying that writing  was like pulling teeth.  There was a strong interest in improving the quality of written discourse in and about the Seattle scene, but also a clear awareness of the difficulties involved with taking writing to that level.

This led to the awareness that the group should direct its energy toward developing and supporting any writers who wanted to take on this challenge.

We began having meetings where writing was distributed to everyone then workshopped at the next meeting. At first we met weekly, but too many people couldn’t handle that pace. Eventually only Jae and I met weekly.

Q: Did it work?

ReeL: on a couple of levels, quite well.  Within a year there were half a dozen new writers from the group writing for publications around the region and even outside the region, sometimes in publications that had never had good art writing in them before.

The thing that really made SAW work was the presence of Jae Carrlsson.  Jae was not only a great and keenly perceptive writer, but it became quickly evident that he had an extraordinary kind of editing talent.

Jae could transform someone’s entire vision of what writing could be. He certainly did that for me.   Under his guidance, I came to a completely new understanding of writing.  This ability of his is partly linked, I feel, to why he is such an engaging writer on art, of why so many like to read what he says about artists’ work. Jae has this uncanny ability to get inside of what an artist or writer is trying to do and then take it further.

And I don’t mean any succumbing to the “intentionalisst fallacy” that so much many today fall for.

Q: What do you mean by the  “intentionalist fallacy”?

ReeL: the intentionalist fallacy is the mistaken belief that what an artist or creator says his work is about or means is  what it actually is about, that what an artist says his intentions are is in fact what they are doing.

Q: But people do that all the time. We pay attention to a lot artists’ statements.

ReeL: Yes, well the intentionalist fallacy and the fallacy of assuming that an artist’s work is autobiographical, that, say when they write they are necessarily  describing their actual experience are two very commonly  committed fallacies. People create things, that doesn’t mean they have a clue as to the significance or meaning of what they create. It is a fallacy and usually a great error to take an artist at their word. Not to mention that sometimes they are consciously and deliberately misleading you anyway, for their own purposes.

What Jae tended to do was look at the internal evidence within the work,  its milieu and context and get at what was possible and then try to elucidate that or help the writer or artist see it for themselves. A lot of people’s writing and art improved immensely under the light of Jae’s observations and since that time a lot of people have come to appreciate that.

Q: Sounds like normal contextualist criticism to me.

ReeL: Yes,  but this was  at the height of the high formalism era; not many people were looking at things that way at the time.

Jae also pointed out things such as how Harold Bloom’s machinery was a possibly fruitful and  effective machinery  for looking at visual artists as it was for the late Romantic writers he applied it to.  Jae encouraged people to read “Kabbala and Criticism” and “The Anxiety of Influence.” Some curators and critics eventually came around to that view, but more than a decade later. Jae was way ahead of his time on a few things..

But the biggest thing for me was that Jae transformed how I approached my writing in a way that helped me integrate everything into a more unified thought process internally. Instead of fighting against my painting , everything began to work together.

Eventually, in the end, Jae had a huge impact on my painting as well, though he never directly sought, at least as far as I could tell, to do so.

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