is my shoe art?


[new boots]

is my shoe art? it is most certainly a design classic, with the tough, trademark yellow stitching and the air cushion soles, on which it reassuringly says ‘made in england’… these boots are not just made for walking anywhere, they are built for the road… there is something so very uplifting to the spirit when one acquires a new pair of boots…

these dr martens airwair boots were a delightful, serendipitous find in a charity shop yesterday – brand new, never worn dm’s in just my size (gasp!), in a beautiful pewter leather, my favourite (non) colour – and only £7!

the bargain purchase (and subsequent formal analysis as evidenced in the above photographs) of some shiny new dm boots instantly recalled memories of charles thomson’s (of the stuckists) appearance on bbc’s newsnight, of the perennial debate that always surrounds the turner art prize, the is it art? and of the classic moment in the discussion, is my shoe art..?



charles thomson debating the merits (or not) of the turner prize 1999

thomson need not have been so indignant; it spawned a new painting, one with more than a satirical nod to ex-friend tracey emin…


charles thomson, is my shoe art? oil on canvas

but, what about van gogh’s still life of boots? a painting which i fondly remember first seeing whilst on a college field trip to amsterdam.  i am sure charles thomson would agree that these shoes are art


vincent van gogh, a pair of shoes, 1886

but, what if one forgets for a moment that this is a van gogh painting – what then? the visual recording or transcription, using oil on canvas, of a pair of boots does not make it (yet) a notable work of art. however, these boots, looking very worn and placed as if they have just been taken off might reveal a back story – one of a hard day’s labour or ongoing financial hardship – there is no money for new shoes. furthermore, if one imagines what might have been going through the mind of the maker of the painting (the artist), then the story unravels still further – the boots are perhaps now discarded, worthless, they signify poverty and perhaps misery in the mind of the artist. if these boots were van gogh’s own then this painting is not just a still life, but a poignant self-portrait, one embued with the struggle of one man’s existence…

these thoughts led to a nostalgic trip down memory lane… to an old drawing of a boot that signifies my beginning as an fledgling artist…


pencil drawing of a monkey boot

i did this drawing of a monkey boot when i was about fifteen or sixteen years old. i remember well those monkey boots, they were in an ox-blood leather and i recall polishing them with a matching ox-blood boot polish. i remember too that it was a drawing study that i started at home (probably homework) and clearly (as was my bad habit then) i didn’t complete it. looking at the drawing now, i am wondering why (or, in fact if) i did just draw the one boot and not actually draw the pair? the drawing, which is interestingly much larger than ‘life size’ has been cropped and stuck to an A2 sheet of paper with another drawing of a sheep’s skull. i have deduced that the art teacher must have guillotined off the unfinished part of the drawing to make a more interesting worksheet for the exam portfolio – the exam work, as i recall, was sent off to the examination board in those days…

these monkey boots remind me of my adolsecence, in the making of my identity, not as an artist but as an individual. every crease in the leather is a silent witness to my ‘growing up’ – of trying (and failing) to be different, pretending to be a rebel who really wanted to be accepted, of the self-consciousness and the wanting, the wanting-to-be an artist, but not knowing then what art really was…

so, was my shoe art? back in those days i thought it was…

3 Comments

  1. Jazz
    Posted July 19, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    i think i might just start a new direction in my ‘blog’ – that of commenting on or reflecting on my own reflective writing… a reflection-on-action of reflection-in-action, sort of thing…

    perhaps i should have mentioned explicitly the matter of ’semiotics’ – john berger’s ways of seeing comes to mind, as does a notable book by stephen shore (title of which eludes me) – and roland barthes… images are never just open to interpretation – we bring into our reading/interpretation of them our own social, cultural and historical values… perhaps this is a signifier of art, that it can be read and re-read (re-interpreted) through the course of history…

    p.s. i once used this van gogh painting as part of a presentation for an interview…

  2. Charles
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    An old teacher who was an excellent industrial designer argued that design was the ‘main transmitter of culture’ ; even beyond fine art. But I wouldn’t like to answer this, I’m only a first year art student.

  3. Jazz
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    thank you for the comment charles…

    i think your teacher was probably right – if art is defined by or embodied within the current zeitgeist, then design/architecture is up there… it is a shared, cultural experience, a shared sense of identity/community – fine art, in all of its current manifestations cannot hope to do that… in the renaissance they considered architecture as the highest form of art… the argument really seems to be about context not content… i remember watching a while back andrew graham-dixon debating with a conceptual artist about some ‘trainers’… it’s not that the trainers were an artwork, but that ‘art’ itself changes how the trainers are perceived, or something to that effect…