Air on the shoe string

Vincent Van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes, 1886

I am working on a couple of posts that expand on points mentioned in the last one, but they are not ready and I am trying to get back on schedule (both here and in the studio). So the posts will wait, but in recompense I offer three excerpts, held together by a shoestring...

“…work diligently from nature without saying to yourself beforehand ‘I want to do this or that.’ If you work as if you were making a pair of shoes, without artistic preoccupations, you will not always do well, but the days you least anticipate it you find a subject which holds its own with the work of those who have gone before us. You learn to know a country which is fundamentally quite different from its appearance at first sight.

“Contrariwise you say to yourself ‘I want to finish my pictures more, I want to do them with care,’ lots of ideas like that, confronted by the difficulties of weather and changing effects, are reduced to being impracticable, and I end by resigning myself and saying that it is the experience and meager work of every day which alone ripens in the long run and allows one to do things that are more complete and more true. Thus slow long work is the only way, and all ambition and resolve to make a good thing of it false.”

—Vincent Van Gogh, Letter from St. Rémy, mid-November 1889


“In the work of art the truth of an entity has set itself to work. ‘To set’ means here: to bring to a stand. Some particular entity, a pair of peasant shoes, comes in the work to stand in the light of its being. The being of the being comes into the steadiness of its shining.

“The nature of art would then be this: the truth of beings setting itself to work. But until now art presumably has had to do with the beautiful and beauty, and not with the truth. The arts that produce such works are called the beautiful or fine arts, in contrast with the applied or industrial arts that manufacture equipment. In fine art the art itself is not beautiful, but is called so because it produces the beautiful. Truth, in contrast, belongs to logic. Beauty, however, is reserved for aesthetics...

“But then, is it our opinion that this painting by Van Gogh depicts a pair of actually existing peasant shoes, and is a work of art because it does so successfully? Is it our opinion that the painting draws a likeness from something actual and transposes it into a product of artistic–production? By no means.”

—Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”


“—…That’s one of the causes: the lace. A thing whose name is, in French, also the name of a trap [le lacet: “snare”]. It does not only stand for what passes through the eyelets of shoes or corsets. Our voices, in this very place.

—I do indeed notice, now, that strange loop

—ready to strangle

—of the undone lace. The loop is open, more so still than the untied shoes, but after a sort of sketched-out knot

—it forms a circle at its end, an open circle, as though provisionally, ready to close, like pincers or a key ring. A leash. In the bottom right-hand corner where it faces, symmetrically, the signature “Vincent,’ in red and underlined. As though, on the other side, in the other corner, on the other edge, but symmetrically, (almost) on a level with it, it stood in place of the signature, as though it took the (empty, open) place of it…”

—Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting