Is Shoe Art A Thing?
Today’s question seems a simple one: Can shoes be art?
Sparked by an event I witnessed 2 weeks ago, it is a surprisingly tricky question to answer.
So many factors, elements and perspectives can influence the outcome.
In the rather saturated and rigid dress shoes industry, glimpses of innovation and often controversy will help us analyze this.
Join me as I put down my thoughts while walking the path of a future shoe artisan.
What Is Art Really?
The question “What is art?” is one that has no answer.
It’s such a multi-layered, complex subject that we can discuss for hours pertaining to many topics and individual opinions.
“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Art has many applications and we often refer to paintings, music, theater, movies and acting as such.
However ask your average everyday person if a very niche topic is art and the answer can vary.
For example, I believe that certain cars can be art due to their shapes, emotional evocation and history behind them.
Others will argue that a car, or an object that someone creates with a certain functional purpose.
For me personally, any item, person or situation that evokes an emotional connection or response from the viewer is a form of art.
A vessel to convey and communicate ideas, beliefs and passions more often than not without any form of communication.
In the same fashion, you can look at a pair of shoes in two ways.
A basic, functional one where a shoe becomes a necessity and simple compliment of our attire.
Or a freedom of expression, a connection between you, the shoe and the artisan or designer.
In today’s article I will tell you why I think that shoes can be art, but also why they can be dumpster fire.
Yes, I Think Shoes Can Be Art
A real shoe can take many forms.
It can take the shape of still art, when you carefully place for a beautiful photo, or create a still photo showcasing a lifestyle, desire or emotion.
Or it can be art in motion, invoking feelings of power, pride and satisfaction while wearing them.
The sound of a metal toe tip buzzing in your ear while you walk, or your heart racing when your leather sole is slippery as ice.
Or the warm feeling your favorite pair gives you when you look at it, while you polish it with a smile.
Sometimes, the small “fsss” hiss that my feet makes at the heel when I put on certain shoes puts a smile on my face.
And you have to remember that most proper dress shoes begin as a simple drawing on paper, napkins or a computer.
Basic elements, like play dough that come together to take a final form eventually after many revisions.
Creativity On A Confined Canvas
Unless it is for a competition, a shoe has to meet certain parameters and have a purpose.
That purpose is to fit a person, be comfortable and look good or appealing (in most cases).
Dress shoes or shoes and boots in general haven’t changed much over the past decades or centuries.
Monk straps date back to the medieval times, while oxfords of old are virtually the same today.
Here and there, some new designs will pop up such as the dreadful monk loafers or the strange side-stitched wholecut.
Certain brands and houses have such a recognizable art style in their pictures or models that instantly screams their name.
It becomes muscle memory to know that the Decon boot is Norman Vilalta, or the exquisite photography of Yohei Fukuda.
Humans tried to control nature and the elements since the dawn of civilization.
The natural wear and tear of leather, skin and color is what we try to replicate via handpainted patinas.
Introduced by Berluti, a carefully made patina by hand has a certain awe and allure to it.
It is what drew me to Carlos Santos when I started my shoe journey but also what repelled me when done poorly (Lethato Review).
A good patina makes me feel those emotions, that connect to a person sitting on a workbench.
And they are working by hand, mixing dyes using brushes and experience to make your pair special.
One thing I also love about a patina is that it is unique and no pair will be exactly identical to another.
Just like the Lethato story though, the commercialization of patina and certain bad examples exist.
I will never hesitate any moment to lambast them, or those that use the word handmade like candy.
So yes, I think a patina can transform a shoe into art.
The Mario Bemer Effect
The whole reason for the existence of this article is my dinner with Mario Bemer 2 weeks ago.
Mario Bemer, the brother of late Stefano Bemer is a legendary shoemaker with a rich history in the craft.
After our dinner, I felt like he was an older version of me, or should I say I was a younger version of him.
One of the things he conveyed to me, was his passion for making a shoe, rather than the monetary value.
During our talk, he showed me a project that was in his mind for over 20 years.
That was an attempt to take natural leather and dye it with wine and grapes.
So he finally did that, going to an old cellar with just leather and three bottles of wine.
Without hesitation, the artist was down on his knees painting the leather with his own hands, making his own creative mess.
The result is not what you would call “pretty” if you look at them from a basic user perspective.
Colors are all over the place, certain parts look like stains and the color is definitely not conservative.
But this is not about you and if you would wear this.
This is about appreciating the thought, the creativity and the realization of that dream into a finished product.
Having handmade nuances, a story to tell and each marking and “stain” of the leather a part of his hand and his legacy.
I love such stories and they inspired me to look for more.
If you frequent other shoe focused blogs such as The Shoe Snob or Shoegazing, you probably read about the latest Corthay creation.
Pierre Corthay is a French high end shoemaker about whom I am really skeptical.
I know only one model and that is the famous Arca and nothing else.
With an absurd price tag, difficult sizing and a trademark patina, it’s a mystery that I cannot understand yet.
You can only gasp at one of his latest Bespoke creations for a certain client however.
A pair of shoes that I cannot comprehend it’s construction and structural integrity.
A pair of shoes that genuinely reminds me a formation of rocks, or the Pokemon Golem.
Do I think they look good? Probably not.
Do I think they are art, outside the box thinking and a display of creativity? Absolutely yes.
A kaleidoscope of perspectives, sharp angles and disbelief if I ever saw one.
Usually, the definition of art for me is to cause controversy or awe, nothing in between.
This is exactly what this pair of shoes achieves in my opinion.
Forget the looks, admire the fact that someone envisioned this and an artist shaped this into reality.
It’s about what is possible.
Shoes Have Sole (Soul)
Who cares about your sole?
Who cares if it has a fiddleback, donkey back, beveled waist, a spade sole or metal toe tips.
Nobody will see this unless you go around flashing them to everyone.
But take some time to appreciate the work that goes into an element that nobody sees.
Take for example the gorgeous embossed crest of the Paolo Scafora sole.
Or the patterned almost quilt-like finish of Graziat Taipei.
Take a look at the mind-boggling, astonishing finish of Daniel Wegan’s championship winning heel.
It’s funny how the sole can be the worst, weakest point of a shoe but also one of its most marvelous unseen heroes.
Not All Shoes Can Be Art Though
Modernization, globalization and commercialization keep growing every day.
There is a gold rush, a fever to increase profits and make money in the easiest way possible.
The downfall of great companies, which took production to third world countries for cheap labor, prioritizing quantity over quality.
It’s a process where shoes lose their artistic integrity, engagement and invocation of emotions.
In many cases, they shock you (in all the wrong ways).
A shoe becomes flat, one dimensional, uninspiring and looks like a banana.
Or in the case of Church’s, looks like explosive diarrhea.
Shockingly, shoes like the bicycle toe or nasty square 90’s shoes are still present today and all over us.
And don’t get me started again on those that manipulate the world handmade.
So, Can Shoes Be Art Or Not?
For me the answer is definitely.
Probably for you too if you are a shoe enthusiast or have the slightest inclination to learn more about them.
You will probably begin like me, a newbie that thought that any welted shoe is artistic and awesome.
As you find your way and taste while upgrading to higher tiers, you will notice small changes.
The real artists and artistic shoes will begin to pop up and you will notice them.
And one day you will look back and laugh at what you considered to be chic.
In the end, if you say that you would be afraid to wear a pair because you don’t want to “ruin the sole” or rather have it on display, then that shoe is probably art.
For you at least.
Is there anything more to say?
Of course there is, the whole topic of “Can Shoes Be Art?” is one that can occupy hours and days of your time.
Beauty and art is subjective and always is in the eye of the beholder, but for us shoe lovers is easier to distinguish.
There’s a reason we love shoes so much.
My advice is that if a pair of shoes evokes a warm, strong feeling inside you that you cannot explain, then that shoe is art for you.
And for those that look like a sack of potatoes, I know a very good eye doctor.
Thank you for reading my ramblings and let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this unusual discussion!
Are these kinds of discussions nice for you to read or too boring?
In any case, stay healthy, stay dapper and admire good shoes!
Thank you for reading,
The passion you feel for shoes comes through in your prose. It’s true that objects can be crafted to evoke emotion and even joy. I am in awe of some shoe creations that do indeed resonate on an emotional level. You give voice to these feelings that we enthusiasts share. Bravo!
Thank you for reading and your kind words! From time to time I try to write different types of articles, especially when I am not at home and I have no easy access to photos.
This was an interesting topic of discussion for me, glad you enjoyed it.