Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
Featured Article: “The Art of the Sneaker” by Elizabeth Paton
“Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street,” a new exhibit at the Design Museum in London, explores sneakers both from a historical perspective and as a form of art. “It offers proof positive, if any were needed, that we are living in the age of the sneaker,” Elizabeth Paton writes.
In this lesson, you will learn about how different people and communities view sneakers as art and culture. Then we invite you to design your own sneaker or nominate a favorite sneaker to be featured in this exhibit.
What role have sneakers played in our lives and in society throughout history? Watch the exhibition trailer for “Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street” and respond to the following questions:
Do any of the images in the video stand out to you?
Are any of the sneakers featured — or sneaker-wearers — familiar to you?
What is your relationship, if any, to sneakers and sneaker culture? Do sneakers just feel like a comfortable or practical clothing option for playing sports and walking around? Or are they central to your fashion choices and identity?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. According to the article, what are some of the reasons sneakers are so popular and profitable?
2. In the article, Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear director, said many young people “may value sneakers more than a Matisse.” What is your reaction to this statement? Do you and your peers value sneakers more than traditionally accepted fine art? Do you think there is a case to be made for sneakers to be considered art?
3. How does Ligaya Salazar, the curator of “Sneakers Unboxed,” view sneakers both artistically and academically?
4. What preservation issues has the museum had to address? What do these issues reflect about the evolving purpose and significance of sneakers?
5. What role have young people played in how sneakers are viewed today?
6. Describe the culture around sneakers in your school and community. Are people proud to show off their new sneakers, doing everything they can to keep them clean and swooning at images of new sneakers online? Or are sneakers just worn for comfort or sports?
7. How are sneakers, and the way they are perceived by others, connected to identity and beliefs about nationality, class and race?
8. What are some of the new ideas about sustainable sneakers? Would you be interested in wearing any of them? Why or why not?
Option 1: Nominate a sneaker for a sneaker museum.
Imagine that you are on the curatorial team for the “Sneakers Unboxed” exhibit: What sneaker would you absolutely want to include? It could be a sneaker you have a personal connection to — perhaps one from your own collection that evokes special memories — or one that you’ve admired from afar — a pair you’ve read or heard about that holds a significant place in society, culture and the sneaker landscape.
Write an ode, a formal address that often uses an elevated style and language, to the sneakers you would like to see in the Design Museum. You can use a famous ode, such as Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Socks,” as a model or inspiration for your writing.
Be sure to describe the sneakers using vivid language and details. Here are some things you might consider: How do the sneakers feel, or how do you think they would feel, on your feet? What is it like to touch them with your hands? What was it like the first time you saw them? What emotions do you feel as you think about them? What could you compare them to in nature? What was the moment when you knew they were the sneakers of your dreams?
You can share your ode with your classmates or in the comments section of this lesson.
Option 2: Design your own sneaker.
Design a sneaker that reflects your own identity, passions, interest or style. What colors, textures and symbols would it include? What person, country or event might you dedicate it to?
You can use this template from the Chicago School of Shoemaking and Leather Arts, or draw your own. To share your design with the Learning Network community, write a description and share it in the comments section of this article. And for a complete picture, you can describe the rest of the outfit that you would wear with your pair of sneakers.
If you like, you can submit your design to the Design Museum’s sneaker exhibit by signing up here.
Option 3: Share your thoughts about sneakers.
As you read the featured article, were you imagining yourself at the museum exhibit or thinking about what sneakers you would hope to see there? Were you already familiar with some of the featured sneakers? Do you have ideas about whether sneakers should be considered fine art?
If you’re not a sneakerhead, do you have thoughts about this obsession? Or do you have passions and collections of your own?
If so, head over to our Student Opinion question, “Are You a Sneakerhead?” to read about one sneakerhead’s hobby and share your thoughts about the role sneakers play in your life.