Inspired by Vincent’s Shoes

“Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor.” – Haruki Murakami

Photo inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's "A Pair of Shoes."

Photo inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s A Pair of Shoes.

"A Pair of Shoes," 1886, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

A Pair of Shoes, 1886, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh’s Pair of Shoes struck me the moment I saw it several years ago at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The beat up old shoes told a story. Story was that Van Gogh bought them at a flea market and wore them on a long walk in the rain before he painted them so they would look worn and beaten. The image stuck with me, like I knew I would one day do something with it, I just didn’t know what.

Fast forward a few years, and I was given an assignment to write a poem about a still life. I decided to hammer out a poem about Van Gogh’s shoes, but it just wasn’t working. Sometimes I find the best way to progress a story or poem is to get away from it and get busy doing something else, so I went to a house my wife and I are rehabbing and tiled the bathroom. I changed my clothes after I got done tiling and when I turned and saw my work boots, it was suddenly easy to imagine the story of Van Gogh’s shoes. The verses began to flow–where the shoes had been, the type of day the person who wore them had, his challenges, what he’d accomplished, how his muscles felt.

Now I can see why Van Gogh took that long walk in the rain before he sat down at the blank canvas.


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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12 Responses to Inspired by Vincent’s Shoes

  1. Daisy Do says:

    I would love to see the poem!


    • Jim Brennan says:

      And rightfully so, Kate. Poems are fascinating. They sometimes come to you quickly, and then take time to ferment, like a fine wine. I’ve had a rough draft about Vincent’s shoes for sometime now. I started a poem about artist Horace Pippin about the same time, and the Pippin poem came fruition, while Vincent’s shoes are still a work in progress. I’m glad you asked, and will one day share both.


  2. LB says:

    Hello Jim! I’ve been looking forward to visiting you, and many of my other WP friends. It’s been too long!
    I was not familiar with Van Gogh’s A Pair of Shoes, and I appreciate you sharing the story behind the painting. Glad you found a way to unblock your imagination!
    Hope you are well!


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Hey LB. You put up one hell of a fight, for all the right reasons. I’m proud of you. Glad to see you are back on the bike are taking care of you. Be well, and be in touch.


  3. Brittany says:

    What a fun story behind the painting!


  4. The commute to the office was the place where much of my first novel was formed in my thoughts. Not so much on the return home but early in the morning and often in the low light of sunrise, my characters were run through their paces. Not all of it survived editing or even made it into 0’s and 1’s but the pad and pen I kept on the passenger seat had scribbles from the moments at stop signs and red lights to help me “see” those “boots” after I got home. I don’t miss that commute time now though. I’m free to find those bits and pieces anytime, even sitting in the Bed, Bath and Beyond parking lot watching the entrance for The Child Bride to exit.


    • Jim Brennan says:

      As they say, Mike, writing doesn’t happen sitting at a desk with pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard. Always have that pen and paper close by. I have a writing pad in my backpack, the console of my Jeep, and stuffed in the most unlikely of places. I’ve written on the top of mountains and in the bilges of ships. That’s where writing happens. Congrats on your novel. Only a writer knows the pain and suffering that goes into getting your work published. It’s a grand accomplishment, an exercise in not just taken and labor, but persistence and stamina. Well done! And thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this. Working that bathroom project put you in the frame of mind to be in Van Gogh’s shoes. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂


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