Blog

A Pair of Shoes

What did van Gogh mean to convey with these shoes? Three philosophers debate what the painting means for the theory of art; other commentators see the shoes as spiritual; yet others, as symbolic of Vincent’s life.

image017

Vincent, Theo and the Fox weaves a story around 30 of van Gogh’s paintings. Readers also want information about each painting. Every Monday I write about one of the paintings. Why did I choose this painting this week? My house in the Washington, D.C. suburbs got 28″ of snow during the Blizzard of 2016. After shoveling through 4 – 5 foot drifts, my boots felt just like van Gogh’s painting!

Experts disagree on when and where Van Gogh painted A Pair of Shoes (some say Paris, 1886, others Nuenen, 1885). Either way, in Philosophers Rumble Over Van Gogh’s Shoes, Scott Horton argues that the shoes became a celebrated painting because philosophers disagreed about its meaning. In 1930, the philosopher, Martin Heidegger, saw the painting at an exhibition and, years later, used them in his essay, The Origin of the Work of Art.

Heidegger wanted to make the case that it is only what one perceives from a painting that matters for art theory. And Heidegger perceived a lot in these shoes: “From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind.” Heidegger attributes many layers of significance to the shoes: loneliness, anxiety about the source of her next meal, joy at surviving want, the “trembling” before impending childbirth and “shivering at the surrounding menace of death.” Ultimately, the shoes are “protected in the world of the peasant woman.”

But wait! in a 1968 essay, The Still Life as a Personal Object, philosopher Meyer Schapiro pointed out that Heidegger messed up: they are not women’s shoes and the painting is not addressing the world of the peasant woman. There is strong evidence that these were van Gogh’s own shoes, which he bought in a flea market and wore “on an extended rainy walk to create the effect he wished for this painting.” Shapiro argued you cannot just look at the physicality of a painting, like Heidegger proposed; you have to recognize that the artist is present in a painting, especially a still life. In short, Schapiro believes van Gogh is telling us about his own hard life in A Pair of Shoes.

The third philosopher to join the fray, Jacques Derrida, believes both Heidegger and Shapiro are wrong. The philosophical differences among the three scholars gets very complicated: to read more, go to art historian Dayna L.C.’s excellent article, Interpreting a Painting of Shoes.

A Pair of Shoes is certainly widely discussed. In addition to the philosophical debate, in Interpretations of Vincent Van Gogh’s A Pair of Shoes the website Spirituality & Practice says, “To be spiritual is…to see the fingerprints of the Divine in the most ordinary objects and things. We see that touch in A Pair of Shoes, and we are grateful to Van Gogh for opening our eyes to these humble companions which we usually take for granted. The artist conveys the sanctity of the shoes and as a result, we are compelled to reframe our view of them. Thank you, Vincent, for helping us to love as many things as we can.”

One wonders what van Gogh would think about the philosophical debate over, and spiritual interpretations of, his painting? What does the painting mean to you? I would love your comments and will read them with great interest.

Ted Macaluso

A Pair of Shoes appears halfway through the book, when Vincent and Theo are feeling frustrated from chasing the fox (don’t worry, they all get a second wind, which is when they learn about growing up). If you haven’t yet read Vincent, Theo and the Fox, check it out here.

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso.May be freely reproduced, provided attribution and a link back to tedmacaluso.com is included.

Vincent’s Bedroom

Vincent van Gogh’s colorful bedroom is probably one of the most famous bedrooms in art. Did you know that there is not just one painting, but three? The Art Institute of Chicago tells us why.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox weaves a story around 31 of van Gogh’s paintings. Readers also want information about each painting. Every Monday we post about one painting in the book. Todays painting is Vincent’s bedroom in Arles.

image019

Vincent van Gogh loved the painting so much he actually made three versions. The Art Institute of Chicago has an upcoming exhibition that will bring all three versions together for the first time. The exhibition will run from February 14 to May 8 0f 2016. Using digital technology, it will show the subtle differences between the three paintings. The exhibition promises to explain the significance of the three paintings and how they relate to an important theme in van Gogh’s work, the idea of home.

This exhibition is the first to truly delve into the fascinating history of these three paintings. Beginning with Van Gogh’s early canvases of cottages and birds’ nests, the show explores the artist’s use of the motif of home—as haven, creative chamber, and physical reality—and follows the evolution of this theme throughout his career… Source: Art Institute Chicago: Member Magazine, January/February 2016, p. 13

You can find out more on the Art Institute’s website. The Art Institute is one of the world’s great museums. Go if you can. (A big thanks to Duke Ryan, author of Amanda’s Autobiography, for telling me about the exhibit.)

Finally, whether or not you can go to the exhibition, check out this intriguing video from mjkooopman about Vincent’s bedroom:

And why are there three paintings of his room? According to the Art Institute, water damage threatened the stability of the original painting. About a year later, therefore, van Gogh made a second full-size painting of his room so that he could ensure that the image would be perserved. A few weeks after that, he made a smaller, third painting as a gift for his mother and sister. Van Gogh’s artistic investment in the image of his room in Arles gives credence to the Art Institute’s interpretation that the three paintings exemplify van Gogh’s “relentless pursuit of home.”

The painting of Vincent’s bedroom appears about halfway through the story of Vincent, Theo and the Fox. If you haven’t yet read the book, you can check it out here.

text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso

 

 

 

 

 

 

;

Starry Night

The book weaves a story around van Gogh’s paintings. Readers also want information about the paintings. Every Monday we post about one painting in the book.

Kids (and parents) who read Vincent, Theo and the Fox often want to learn more about each of the 30+ paintings in it. So every Monday I’m posting interesting information about one of the book’s paintings. Here is educator Natalya St. Clair’s fascinating explanation of the math behind Starry Night. The video is animated by Avi Ofer.

Enjoy!

 

text © 2016 by Ted Macaluso

The story behind the story

Readers sometimes ask how I wrote Vincent, Theo and the Fox; how did you come up with the idea? This is the story behind the story.

To get my son to go on exercise walks with me I would tell him stories. They were simple action tales: Suddenly, a monster…Bam, a hero…Wham another monster. And then one day a real monster struck: Mark got very sick. He had a series of lung infections and several times a day had to sit still for twenty minutes breathing through a nebulizer. Not what an active 5 year old boy wants to do! Just before one of these episodes his grandmother was visiting and we had all gone to the National Gallery of Art to see an exhibit of van Gogh’s paintings. She bought the exhibit catalog, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs:  Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam by Richard Kendall with contributions by John Leighton and Sjraar van Heugten. One afternoon when Mark was being nebulized, he asked me to tell a story. I did not have it in me. He pointed to the catalog saying, “Read me the story.” I tried to explain, “It’s not a story.” Neither he nor Grandma would let me off easy. I had to “read” the catalog to him.

What to do? An art catalog is not a wham, bam action tale. I opened it at random and it showed Harvest at La Crau, with Montmajour iimage001n the Background (Arles, June, 1888). I thought to myself, “OK, Vincent has to be a boy to make this interesting…but what is he doing?” I surprised myself by saying, “One day, when he was a boy, Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, were looking at the harvest when they saw a fox sneak into the cart.” That picture and that idea became the start of Vincent, Theo and the Fox. Vincent and Theo chased the fox through a bunch of van Gogh’s paintings until the nebulizer was done. At that point, the fox got away and the boys went home.

The tale kept Mark engaged but it was not really a story yet. When I decided to turn it into a real story I knew it needed more. I asked myself, “What do boys do?” The answer, of course, is that they grow up.  And while they grow up they wonder what they will become. We all know that van Gogh became a painter, but he didn’t go there directly, trying a number of different jobs first. So as a boy in a story there is wonder and mystery when Vincent thinks about growing up. Somehow I came up with the idea that the fox was young too—he was also trying to grow up and find his way in the world. And that, I believe, is what makes Vincent, Theo and the Fox a delightful tale. We have two boys and a fox thinking about growing up and through their actions teaching each other about life. The writer, Susan Sontag, writes that “art is not only about something, it is something.” By this, she means that art isn’t like science or history, it doesn’t teach you facts you should know. Rather, literature gives readers an experience from which they learn and take their own lessons. I like to think that Vincent, Theo and the Fox achieves this: it does not teach about growing up, it lets readers learn about it.

Because the art is beautiful and chase tales are exciting, readers don’t “get” what they are experiencing until it is over. But my hope is that the story stays with children and they learn while they process the experience of the story. Because the book gives a brief biography of van Gogh in an epilogue, children learn about van Gogh while processing the experience of the story. I think this really engages them in van Gogh’s art and gives the story more depth.

What do you think about the story? What do your children get from it? If you want to leave comments I will read them with interest.

Thanks, Ted Macaluso

© 2016 – 2019 by Ted Macaluso.

Kids Books On Vincent van Gogh

Thanks so much for considering Vincent, Theo and the Fox Some other books about van Gogh are the following:

Vincent’s Colors. This gem of a book was written by van Gogh (through his letters to his brother) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The hardbound book introduces young (and old) readers to the colors of the rainbow by showing the artist’s words and paintings together.

Camille and the Sunflowers was published in 1994 but still enchants readers today. Laurence Anholt wrote and illustrated this story based on a true-life incident. See also van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books For Children) by the same author.

 

Visiting Vincent Van Gogh displays  some of the artists paintings and discusses how they reveal his life and emotions.

Katie and the Starry Night by author/illustrator James Mayhew is a classic. What’s Katie to do when she reaches into a painting and all the stars tumble out?

Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars by author/illustrator Joan Holub is part of the Smart About Art series. A fictional “Brad” writes a report about the artist.

Children’s Educational Book: Junior Vincent van Gogh: A Kid’s Introduction to the Artist and his Paintings by Fiona Holt is part of the “Smart Reads for Kids” series.

In the Garden with Van Gogh is a board book by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober.

What’s So Great About Van Gogh?: A Guide to Vincent Van Gogh Just For Kids! I have not read this book by Max Tanner. The book is intended to show children why van Gogh was so important for the world.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Cat is an art project written and illustrated by  Indiana Second Grade Students of East Washington Academy in Muncie

Twenty-Four Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings (Collection) for Kids by Stanley Cesar has mixed reviews on Amazon since there are no explanations for kids despite the title.

Parental warning – the books below include discussion of when van Gogh cut off his ear. Probably not for very young children.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book by the American Library Association. Ages 10 and up.

Vincent van Gogh – A Short Biography for Kids by Josephine Madden. This Kindle-only book is 14 pages.

Van Gogh (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venetia is part of a series.

Vincent Van Gogh (Art Profiles for Kids). Jim Whiting’s book is for ages 10 and up. It traces how van Gogh was tormented but continued to paint to express his feelings.

 

Happy Reading!

© 2016 by Ted Macaluso

7 Children’s Gifts To Tickle The Imagination

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching here are 4 books, a game, and 2 surprises worth checking out.

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching here are 4 books, a game, and 2 surprises worth checking out.

The Book with No Pictures Book with no pix

“This picture book with no pictures knows a thing or two about both books and kid-friendly comedy . . . Once children get the joke, they’ll want to play it on as many of their grownups as possible.”— The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

This book for 5 – 8 year olds has a 4.7 stars on Amazon.

4.7 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

Bugs in the Kitchen – Children’s Board Game 

Ths game won the ASTRA Best Toys for Kids 2015 award (Game Play 6+ Years). The suggested age range is 6-15.

Check it out here.

Vincent, Theo and the Fox

“It’s a compelling and suspenseful story that has a wonderful ending.  It makes van Gogh’s paintings even more memorable.

“This is the first book I’ve read where the illustrations are storied instead of the story being illustrated.  It’s a fun twist! It’s also one of the few stories where the illustrations are presented from a first-person perspective….It adds a depth of imagination that I’m not used to in picture books.  I can’t think of any other picture book doing this — it’s wonderful!”
The Picture Book Review (thepicturebookreview.com/)

5 stars on Amazon – Check it out here.

Fred & Friends MEALTIME MASTERPIECE Picture Frame Placemat, 48 Sheet Pad

MEALTIME MASTERPIECE Picture Frame Placemat

Who would have thought? A placemat that looks like a picture frame so you can arrange your food into a work of art. It is a 48 pad set.

4.5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

Wonder 

This book by R. J. Palacio is a N.Y. Times and Amazon best seller for 8 – 12 year olds.

“Wonder is a rare gem of a novel–beautifully written and populated by characters who linger in your memory and heart. August Pullman is a 10-year-old boy who likes Star Wars and Xbox, ordinary except for his jarring facial anomalies. Homeschooled all his life, August heads to public school for fifth grade and he is not the only one changed by the experience–something we learn about first-hand through the narratives of those who orbit his world. August’s internal dialogue and interactions with students and family ring true, and though remarkably courageous he comes across as a sweet, funny boy who wants the same things others want: friendship, understanding, and the freedom to be himself. “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Amazon “best Book” review.

5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

US NATIONAL PARKS. Post card variety pack

I would not usually think of a box of postcards as a gift, but if you want to enhance a child’s imagination how better to have children dream and (hopefully) mark the places they have visited. And you do not have to stop with just the parks. There are sets of cards from all around America, from Europe, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

5 stars on Amazon- see this and other postcard sets here.

 

The Phantom Tollbooth 

Norton Juster’s hilarious book illustrated by Jules Feiffer is such a classic I cannot say enough good things about it! If you’re not already familiar with it, check it out.

4.5 stars on Amazon – check it out here.

 

 

© 2015 by Ted Macaluso

 

Children’s books about van Gogh

Thank you for looking at Vincent, Theo and the Fox. If you are interested in other children’s books about Vincent van Gogh, here are some to consider. Clicking the links below takes you to the Amazon.com page about the book or item (you don’t have to buy it).

Vincent’s Colors from the Metropolitan Museum of Art – a beautiful book with factual text about van Gogh arranged as a rhyme.

Vincent Van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars (Smart About Art) In this book “Brad” tells about van Gogh in the form of a school report featuring many drawings by Brad and some reproductions of van Gogh’s art.

van Gogh and the Sunflowers (Anholt’s Artists Books for Children) A story based on a true incident in which a young boy brings some sunflowers to a stranger, who turns out to be van Gogh. The book primarily use Laurence Anholt’s illustrations with some reproductions of van Gogh.

The Starry Night. Neil Waldman’s illustrations shows Van Gogh-inspired paintings of Manhattan, but not van Gogh’s paintings.

The books above are all great. Here’s how Vincent, Theo and the Fox complements them: Vincent, Theo and the Fox introduces children who want an adventure story to the actual paintings of Vincent van Gogh. It helps parents, teachers, and grandparents motivate children to learn about art and visit museums. Its unique advantages are that it has over 30 full-color reproductions of van Gogh’s actual paintings, teaches about growing up and brotherhood as well as about van Gogh, can be read easily and quickly, and is inexpensive compared to many coffee table books.

~~~
More children’s books on van Gogh:
Children’s Educational Book: Junior Vincent van Gogh: A Kid’s Introduction to the Artist and his Paintings. Age 7 8 9 10 year-olds (‘SMART READS for … – Expand & Inspire Young Minds) (Volume 1)

More information about Vincent van Gogh

Thank you for.looking at Vincent, Theo and the Fox. If you are interested in more about the artist, here are some resources to consider.

BOOKS

Clicking the links below takes you to the Amazon.com page about the book or item.

Van Gogh: The Life

Van Gogh’s Letters: The Mind of the Artist in Paintings, Drawings, and Words, 1875-1890

Van Gogh at Work (Mercatorfonds)

WEBSITES

The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Vincent van Gogh Gallery. This is a private website that has a wealth of information.