Paintings in Breakfast of Champions symbolize art’s subjectivity and arbitrariness. When Eliot Rosewater wants Kilgore Trout to speak at the upcoming Arts Festival in Midland City, Rosewater convinces the chairman of the festival to invite Kilgore by offering to loan his three million dollar El Greco painting to the festival. When Rosewater offers the painting to Midland City in exchange for Kilgore, this implies that Kilgore’s writing is worth a comparable amount. Of course, Kilgore’s writing isn’t worth anything to the masses, but to Rosewater, it is worth about three million dollars. Another example comes from Kilgore’s novel, This Year’s Masterpiece, when a government official spins a wheel of chance each year to determine the cash value of art. Gooz, a local cobbler, paints a picture of his cat, and it is determined to be worth over one billion dollars. The government later discovers that the wheel is rigged, but Vonnegut’s point is clear—the value and meaning of art is subjective, and often determined in completely arbitrary ways. Furthermore, when the Arts Center in Midland City pays Rabo Karabekian fifty thousand dollars for his simple and childish painting, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the entire town is outraged. Citizens of Midland City can’t believe that the center has paid so much for the painting when they have “seen better pictures done by a five-year-old.” Through Karabekian’s painting, Vonnegut implies that art is often lacking inherent value and is, at times, downright absurd. To Midland City, Karabekian’s painting doesn’t serve a deeper purpose, such as revealing truth or beauty, and it is simply about making money. In this way, Vonnegut argues art’s subjectivity and implies that art is often meaningless and assigned value in completely arbitrary, and often absurd, ways.
Paintings Quotes in Breakfast of Champions
“That was the last story I ever read,” said the driver. “My God—that must be all of fifteen years ago. The story was about another planet. It was a crazy story. They had museums full of paintings all over the place, and the government used a kind of roulette wheel to decide what to put in the museums, and what to throw out.”
I had no respect whatsoever for the creative works of either the painter or the novelist. I thought Karabekian with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid. I thought Beatrice Keedsler had joined hands with other old-fashioned storytellers to make people believe that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant details, insignificant details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed, and a beginning, a middle, and an end.
“I now give you my word of honor,” he went on, “that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal—the ‘I am’ to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us—in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.”