a shoe without sole - silly or sublime?

Take a look at this shoe, if it can be called that. (Note: the image was taken from a Huffington Post article and is here displayed under Fair Use principles. If this is nonetheless objectionable to whomever holds the copyright, I will remove it.)

It evokes, at first impression, total disbelief. Ridicule, even. There’s nothing practical about the “shoe.” It leaves toes exposed to stubbing and soles exposed to dirt (and other substances). It’s nonsensical. But in an example of the art of criticism, in which a gut reaction isn’t enough to properly appreciate something – whether positively or negatively – a little bit of consideration can bring about a change of perspective.

For one thing, the shoe is clearly not designed for practical wear and day-to-day use. It’s a question of form as it relates to function, and to condemn the shoe for being impractical is asking the form to function in a way that counters its design. What we’re left with, then, is the shoe as an aesthetic and conceptual experience. The sole-less heel is a concept, a gamble, a toy; this is the basis on which the shoe is best judged. And on this level, the shoe’s designers Aminaka and Wilmont should be credited for their imagination.

Take a look again. Notice how the heel block conforms to the heel of the foot. Notice how the straps not only anchor the heel in place, but give the shoes a gladiatorial look softened by the choice of material. The shoe’s engineering is masterful as it serves a concept of risk: exposing the foot, elevating it off the ground. It’s ultimately clever in its audacity – could it even be sexy? It does possess an idealized fetishism that brings, inevitably, sex into the design. When seen in the context of Aminaka and Wilmont’s 2009 spring/summer collection (see here and here), the sole-less heel is, not a folly, but an artistic expression of fashion perfectly suited, not for the real world, but for the universe of the catwalk and, perhaps, the private home where sharp objects and dirty substances aren’t a threat.
What seemed silly at first has become, amazingly, sublime.

So when Ebert addresses the role of (film) critics in light of people’s hostility to criticism…

I believe a good critic is a teacher. He doesn't have the answers, but he can be an example of the process of finding your own answers. He can notice things, explain them, place them in any number of contexts, ponder why some "work" and others never could. He can urge you toward older movies to expand your context for newer ones. He can examine how movies touch upon individual lives, and can be healing, or damaging. He can defend them, and regard them as important in the face of those who are "just looking for a good time." He can argue that you will have a better time at a better movie. We are all allotted an unknown but finite number of hours of consciousness. Maybe a critic can help you spend them more meaningfully.
…I offer my own pennies in adding that the art of criticism – regardless of what the object of that criticism is, whether film, shoes, or whatever – is the art of appreciation, of looking more deeply into things. In other words, it is a reflection of the view that the examined life - both the good and the bad - is a life worth living.

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