Art, Criticism and Philosophy: The Case of Van Gogh's Shoes
Art is framed by discourses that police its truth or meaning, precisely by overlooking the work of the frame. This could be taken for an unadorned summary of the import of Derrida’s reading (in The Truth in Painting) of Shapiro’s debate with Heidegger over the ‘proper’ attribution of ownership concerning the shoes in Van Gogh’s Old Shoes with Laces (1886). Each side — Shapiro and Heidegger, art criticism and philosophy — stakes its claims on a certain forensics of attribution, drawing on ‘external’ evidence to do so. In this way the Shapiro-Heidegger debate reinstates the ergon-parergon distinction in Kant’s third Critique, such that the ‘exteriority’ of the parergonal turns out to be the ground of the work’s ‘essential’ truth. But what is a ground that is also an accessory, on the model of the relation of shoes to feet? What is an ergon that is entirely parergonal? Or (as Heidegger might be said to ask in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’), what is useful about the ‘uselessness’ of art? Such questions cannot be said to have an essence that is exclusively aesthetic or philosophical, as though each side (art and philosophy) were ‘external’ to the other. Derrida’s reading of the Shapiro-Heidegger debate, in short, says more about the nature of art than either Shapiro or Heidegger does by insisting on the ‘truth’ of Van Gogh’s painting.
Keywords: Derrida, Kant, Heidegger, Van Gogh, Deconstruction, Parergon, Framing, Art
Dr. Niall Lucy
Research Fellow, Australia Research Institute