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What a Pair Of Shoes Really Means


A pair of shoes. It’s the name of one of the eight Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings which depict shoes. In this particular one the painter pictures two common old shoes that from a simple object shift towards the very matter of an artwork.

The painting has been analyzed by three researchers whose points of view regarding the true essence of the painting turned out to be completely different.


Heidegger and the peasant

Starting with a question what’s the difference between things, such as pieces of equipment, and an artwork? – Heidegger claimed that the pair of shoes is an instrument created by men. Theferore, the major reason the shoes witness the world of a peasant woman is because they have been extracted from that world and put aside.

The shoes the poor woman wears to work outside become genuine carriers of the very essence of her reality with daily habits, fatigue and sour sweat. The peasant isn’t here, yet we can perceive her clearly. In fact, all data is already enclosed in the squashed leather, in the ripped shoelaces and in the cracked soles to communicate the intimacy of their owner along with her thoughts, hopes and fears for the future.

We could imagine the same peasant putting the work shoes away to wear the good ones for a special day. The ugly shoes then become silent witnesses of her world; she knows her world stays here even when it’s interrupted, and she feels secure.

The only difference between the real shoes and the painting of Van Gogh lies in the fact that in the first case the shoes continue to be a means (equipment) for they are usable (even if put aside). It’s in the second case that the shoes themselves become a work of art revealing their essence.


Schapiro and the artist

Schapiro spoke against Heidegger saying to have gone too far with his immagination, because the shoes depicted by Van Gogh belong to… Van Gogh himself. This is why the artist had painted a object in which he identifies himself or which helps him reveal his creative inner urge.

Acting almost as a mirror, the painting therefore reflects the metaphorical wrinkles and is tired and worn out just like the person behind it.

Hence, given the inevitable subjectivity that spreads into the artwork, it is impossibile for  the depicted object to embrace some other essence and to represent some other world.

Derrida and just shoes

Derrida however criticized both writers insisting that both Schapiro and Heidegger are too biased to treat the issue properly. According to Derrida, Schapiro positions himself in a limited art critic prospective and automatically attaches the artwork to the artist. Meanwhile, Heidegger by all means tries to cut it out from any possible connotations and yet associates it to a peasant woman!

Derrida therefore denies the fact that the shoes belong to someone at all and declares that they simply… exist.

Shoes are art.

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