“I feel some abstractions coming on…”

Van Gogh, at the end of a 1888 letter on display at the Guggenheim in New York, writes:

“I feel some abstractions coming on and if I do not quickly fill up my paper I would again get to drawing and you would not have your letter.”

vangoghletterThis remark struck a chord, perhaps because I can relate it to what we are negotiating in a course I’m co-teaching on gender, race, science, and literature:

Does he mean distracted from what he is able to convey in writing by what he is seeing? And/or is what he is “seeing” an abstraction from what others would have seen? What would be the equivalent for each of us of the pull Van Gogh feels to draw? How important is it that, when we first abstract from what others see and get distracted or passionate about that, we can imagine an audience that wants to hear about our process or see the product?

Here is a transcription of the whole letter.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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