The classic illustration of postmodern style

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Fred Jameson, in his work Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, uses "Shoes" (1888) by Vincent Van Gogh and "Diamond Dust Shoes" (1980) to illustrate the features of post-modern style. 

What differences can you discern between the two representations of shoes. How might Warhol's reflect some of Lyotard's ideas or reflect a commentary on contemporary "late-capitalist" society? 

Van Gogh's "Shoes" 
Andy Warhol's "Diamond Dust Shoes"


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Vincent van Gogh’s “Shoes” and Andy Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes” each depict their subject in a radically different way. The essence of Van Gogh’s painting is found in the simplistic beauty of the pair of shoes whereas Warhol focuses on the imitating effect of multi-colored high heels. Although I am unsure as to the ideological viewpoints prevalent in van Gogh’s time, Warhol’s piece is reflective of the postmodern movement we discussed in class. The shoes, though perhaps slightly different, are relatively uniform in their appearance, despite the sharp color contrast. Furthermore, the shoes seem to be one step away from transparent, as the shading exposes bends and imperfections reminiscent of an x-ray. Van Gogh’s shoes, by contrast, are adamant in their individuality. The worn and tattered brown leather and carelessly discarded shoelaces suggests that these shoes are owned by an equally labored individual.

Warhol’s emphasis on imitation with slight modification relates to postmodern sensibilities. The shoes have a consumer quality to them, reinforced by the presence of labels and designer brand names. In class, we discussed as one aspect of postmodernism the exposure of how art is made. Warhol’s shoes have a similar translucent quality that exposes for whom and why the shoes were made. They equate to indulgent and impersonal clones that yearn to be different, when in reality they are all the same.

The contrast between Warhol and van Gogh is interesting because the subject matter is so similar but the approach is so different. Each defines shoes in a radically different way; one as an expression of individuality and hardship; the other as a representation of superficiality and indulgence.

By Van Gogh’s very color palate, he seems to connect the painting of shoes solidly with the earth. They are grounded, literally, “down to earth.” The pair of shoes has weight, casts a shadow, appears shabby and used. The image is a reproduction, but it is made to seem that the actual footwear could be on display. This realistic approach deepens as the scuffed and worn nature of the shoes conveys a sense of a deeper history, evidencing a narrative outside the image. The painting could almost be a snapshot of time, as though the shoes have been caught in a moment during their lifespan. Warhol’s image, on the other hand, is by contrast a presentation of icons, symbolic and removed from what we understand to be concrete reality. The shoes no longer bear an individual history, perhaps significant mention to the loss of our individual experience, our unique history, as we are molded, and mold ourselves to fit, cultural expectation. Beyond this, however, we know Warhol to have considered that ‘art’ was simply defined by whomever the class in charge happened to be, and therefore all art was interchangeable with ‘commercial art.’ The commercial elements of this image are clear. The flat near-silhouettes of shoes float, unconnected, in empty space. They have no context, just a void, and are so closely alike as to be mechanical, emotionless figures. They might even be interpreted as lost, or perhaps crowding together for comfort, even jostling for the best position from which to be viewed. For that matter, the jumble could be simply random and as the viewer I am reading in far too much. The mass production, consumerist nature of the image, however, is indisputable. The image is an image of shoes, drawing attention to the fact that the work is in fact no more than that; a painting, not shoes themselves but impressions. The fact that Warhol, in titling the piece, labeled the shoes as “diamond dust,” referencing all in one glamour and the most indestructible element, as well as the parallel to castoff, ground powder resulting from the grinding down and cutting, shaping, of the modern woman, cannot be by chance. As far as drawing in theory, there is also evidence of a reflection of Lyotard’s belief in the collapse of the universalist meta-narrative, inclusion and exclusion breaking down in the face of innumerable micro-narratives. This holds true in Warhol’s work, where the line between the commercial and the non-commercial is obliterated (or supposedly so, though one could argue Warhol’s work becomes a ‘high-art’ form the moment it is displayed in a reputable art museum, no matter what commercial elements might composed it). In any event, even Lyotard’s concept of language, that universal concepts are represented by words, can be observed in Warhol’s representation. He reveals the shoes themselves for what they are, simply images of shoes and not the actual footwear themselves. Also, Lyotard postulated that the pull toward absolute knowledge and absolute freedom has disintegrated. The world has begun to revolve around multiple different questions, mostly regarding usability and monetary or exchange worth, which Warhol’s work, in turn, reflects.

I think that the two pictures that are being being presented to us might not be representing the same thing at all. It seems to me that Van Gogh is actually representing shoes, a kind of modernist ideal of representing the real and producing something that can be easily relatable to something tangible in our own world. Even the background, which appears to be a simple floor, exists in the real, and it is representing a definite tangible place.
Andy Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes is, in contrast to Van Gogh, seemingly representing a non space, or a non entity. The shoes are fantasticly colored, but they don't really seem to be representing a real shoe, or the shoes aren't very realistically drawn or painted. Even the backdrop, a kind of non descript black space that doesn't represent any real world space. It seems to exist knowing that it is a painting, and thus can never truly replace real life in our minds, so it chooses to take a mundane subject and go off into a very different territory. To relate it to Lyotard's work, it does seem to have the post modern self awareness, despite the fact that it does not represent a narrative.
I would go as far to compare Andy Warhol's work to the Mezzanine, in that they both don't seem to go anywhere narrative wise, and are more about the existence of a work as a work. Is Andy Warhol's painting about shoes, or is it about painting shoes. Similarly, the Mezzanine seems more concerned with what is happening inside of a person's mind, instead of what they do or what is done to them. Both of these works are also radically post modern in their absolute refusal to tackle large issues, and instead focusing on very small details and occurrences.

I never thought I would be staring at shoes deciding whether or not they are post modern, but I guess that happened when you hit senior year. I think you have to say both pieces are post modern because they do not address anything that is going on in the world - they are just shoes. The pictures made me think of something out of White Noise. I feel like this art can only be appreciated deeply by people who do not have anything else on their minds. When I look at these I see shoes. Wonderfully picturesque and painted shoes. I cannot theorize on these works, mostly because of Roland Barthes. See both these artists are dead, and I know only slim things about them. So in my world their opinions are empty, so since there is no authorship in my brain I add to them meaning. And shoes only mean shoes to me. I guess I'm not deep but when I look I don't see anything but some laces and colors.

Every girl I know that loves high heels usually heads to Charlotte Russe for a cheap buy one get one half off deal. They usually have an entire wall filled with differently brightly colored heels that all follow the same patterns and all of the shoes look impossibly cute. I usually will buy a few pairs, wear them once, and because they hurt my feet too much, I’ll end up keeping them in my closet for me to look at but not wear. My best friend on the other hand, buys expensive shoes that are probably constructed by fairly paid workers and made from decent materials. She also can wear them for an entire evening without her feet spasming with pain.
Buying shoes, or anything, for many these days is all about quantity and not quality. We don’t ask questions about where our products come from and we certainly don’t want to pay more for a product when we could get it for less. Van Gogh’s “Shoes,” come from a time where shoes along with all other products were handcrafted and made by a human being and not a machine. The boots shown in this painting were more than likely hand-made and look like they have been used for many years of honest, hard work. Like others have said, they are earth-toned and very natural looking, like they were made of real, natural products (i.e. cow skin). Andy Warhol’s picture shows the exact opposite. The shoes are high fashion and look like they have been made from a factory that mass-produces goods.
Even the mediums used to produce these arts show real differences in technological advances. Van Gogh made his picture the old-fashioned way, by using a paintbrush and canvas. Andy Warhol uses silk-screen painting and his work typically deals with themes of mass-production and consumerism. These two images show how capitalism has grown from the days of the early industrial-age to what it is now- fake, machine-made and mass-produced.

I find comparing these two works of art really interesting for a number of reasons. On the surface these are two completely different works pieces comprised of the same simple subject matter: shoes. Van Gogh, as he tended to do, has created a somber, realistic depiction of an everyday item. His depiction is so real that an onlooker can’t help but picture nothing but a pair of well-worn shoes. Andy Warhol, as he tended to do, has painted a much more vibrant depiction of the idea of “shoes,” and in doing so has provided implications that can go along with such a depiction. The only thing that is more different than the physical appearance of the shoes in these paintings is the ideas behind the two different representations of shoes. To me, the Van Gogh piece brings forth thoughts of personality, what one could learn by looking at a person’s shoes. The shoes in his work seem to belong to someone who has worked hard, lived a simple lifestyle. In general, the Van Gogh painting portrays simplicity perfectly in every way: through the color scheme, the composition, everything about this painting is simple. Warhol has created a very different image with his “Diamond Dust Shoes.” To me, these are the shoes of wealthy, pristine society, the shoes of the culture industry. The numerous colors seem to represent the endless brands and different types of products that complicate the world today. To me, although they are colorful, these shoes have no personality whatsoever. They are the cut-outs that are bought, used, thrown into the closet, resold, discarded in some way, as opposed to the shoes that actually mean something to someone. Late-capitalist society has gotten to the point where these types of shoes are the driving force of the nation. It is the shoes that cost money, waste money, not the shoes that work and make money, that matter nowadays. Not only do they matter, they have taken over (as seen in the composition of Warhol’s piece, the jumbled wall of shoes). So, not only are these very different visual representations, they seem to stand for very different time periods and modes of society.

4. Oh, Warhol. To him, it is likely that shoes signify the appearance of shoes and their ensuing cultural stock. If Edie Sedgwick traipsed upon Air Jordans in the 90s in his presence, Warhol likely would have wept like a sassy Daisy Buchanan into a pile of well-pressed shirts.

To van Gogh, shoes may have signified romance, nostalgia, impediment, passion, and function. I’ll attach a VVG quotation regarding the implications of style:

“If you really want to help me in this, you must not hurry me.
Last year I was, so to speak, quite without any social contact.
And it's true that I haven't paid the slightest attention to my clothes.
If that's the only thing, it's not so difficult to correct, is it? Especially now that I have that new suit of yours...
And now I will tell you once more what I think about selling my work. My opinion is that the best thing would be to work on till art lovers feel drawn towards it of their own accord, instead of having to praise or explain it. At all events, when they refuse it or do not like it, one must bear it calmly and with as much dignity as possible.
I'm so afraid that the steps I might take to introduce myself would do more harm than good, and I wish I could avoid it.
It is practically always so painful for me to speak to other people.
I am not afraid of it, but I know I make an unfavorable impression. The chance of changing this is sometimes destroyed by the fact that one's work would suffer if one lived differently. And by sticking to one's work, things will come out right in the end.”

We can readily conclude that, to van Gogh, shoes are representations of internal inadequacy: Why is my work not embraced? he seems to implore. Why is the presentation of the artist of paramount importance to the audience? Why is art mute?

To Warhol, art’s handicap was his advantage. Shoes, as symbols, were placeholders for multitudinous values, each an opportunity:

Shoes are the appearance of shoes.
Shoes are stylistic implications.
Shoes are fashion, which is an economic market.
Shoes are fashion, which is personal expression.
Shoes are tools to convey one’s foot from destination A to B.
Shoes are tools to ensnare a mate.
Shoes are tools to intimidate a competitor.
Shoes are cinema props, etc.

For VVG, shoes seem to be the impetus for a stream-of-consciousness recollection of remorse and renewed inspiration, an epicenter for reflection and remembrance of the inaccessible past and implausible future. For Warhol, shoes will function as he can best wield them: This realization of authorship and subversion of traditional function is indicative of post-modernism.

First of all, I think it is important to note that everything links back to language. We see the paintings and then rationalize them in terms of words. Thus Lyotard’s concept of words and linguistic space can be applied to these paintings. With that in mind the two paintings in my opinion are radically different. Van Gogh’s is highly realistic and not in any sense aligned with the postmodern style. Van Gogh’s “Shoes” are worn. They have clearly been used and are clearly very old. Van Gogh’s shoes to me seem to represent a meta-narrative the lost meaning of the words shoes. They open the viewer up to a large scale theory and narrative which is achieved through the background that Van Gogh places behind the shoes. It does not invite the viewers to ponder the shoes because in our minds we hear the word shoes when viewing the painting and being that the shoes are seemingly ordinary our mind looks beyond them. The shoes lose their meaning and thus we look for meaning elsewhere. The language negated the object. As it pertains to Lyotard I believe what I described above is his communicative function at work. Lyotard, however, wanted us of focus on the small scale all the details which a work like Andy Warhol's "Diamond Dust Shoes" do. Warhol’s painting is very vibrant and abstract. With many high heel shoes of a vast array of magnificent colors it is quite absurd. The painting itself makes you focus explicitly on the painting because it calls attention to itself and rather than open thoughts to a grander scale or a bigger picture. This causes us to analyze the here and now. The picture creates meaning it itself not outside of itself thus the shoes in this painting retain their meaning and leave us to ponder them. This is what makes this a postmodern painting. Just like the rubber chicken in the last blog post the absurdity that Warhol uses calls attention to the paintings own creation and being that the painting is entirely of shoes the shoes maintain their meaning.

This is an extremely interesting topic. Van Gogh and Warhol are two extremely different artists, yet they can be considered to share the same 'post modern', or
impressionist style. Look at the two pictures. Yes, they each contain the same subject of a pair of shoes, yet note the extreme differences.

Van Gogh seems to be representing a pair of simple, brown shoes, most likely worn by a working class individual. Note the colors of the background as well. They're very simple, very earthy, and not flashy whatsoever (a complete 180 from Warhol). Vincent Van Gogh seems to be focusing on the simplistic, rustic nature of the shoes, by using just the right amount of color and darkness to show these shoes as a part of our every day life.

As for Warhol, however, he screams eccentricity. So many different colors, so many over indulgences, and so much creativity. The title, "Diamond Dust Shoes," even shows the proof of what I believe he is trying to convey through this work of art. All of the colors seem to convey what he have become in today's society, filled with capitalist ideologies and beliefs. We believe in flashiness, eccentricity, and doing all we can to stand out.

As mentioned, they are two completely different pieces of art that share the same subject-- pairs of shoes. Van Gogh paints for the rustic necessities of life, as to where Warhol points out what we've all become- flashy.

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