People say I'm a dreamer...I call it a defense mechanism against life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unwavering bands of light...

My favorite book is Breakfast of Champions by the great Kurt Vonnegut. It is a raw and darkly funny view of life in America and the dehumanization of modern life, among other things. I will share with you my favorite part of the story; I find it striking how Vonnegut describes that immaterial core that lives within each one of us. This is the moment in the story when Karabekian, a stuck up artist from NY is having drinks in a bar in Midland City, Ohio. The town’s center for the arts has just bought his painting “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” which consists of one single vertical band of Day-Glo orange reflecting tape over an avocado green background. They paid $50,000 for it and the whole town is outraged. The waitress serving him was fed up with his mocking attitude, and exploded when the artist made fun of the town’s best female swimmer:
“You don’t think much of Mary Alice Miller?” she said. “Well, we don’t think much of your painting. I’ve seen better pictures done by a five-year-old.”
Karabekian slid off his barstool so he could face all those enemies standing up. He certainly surprised me. I expected him to retreat in a hail of olives, maraschino cherries and lemon rinds. But he was majestic up there “Listen—” he said so calmly, “I have read the editorial against my painting in your wonderful newspaper. I have read every word of the hate mail you have been thoughtful enough to send to New York.”
This embarrassed people some.
“The painting did not exist until I made it,” Karabekian went on. “Now that it does exist, nothing would make me happier than to have it reproduced again and again, and vastly improved upon, by all the five year-olds in town. I would love for your children to find pleasantly and playfully what it took me many angry years to find.
“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.

“I have just heard from this cocktail waitress here, this vertical band of light, a story about her husband and an idiot who was about to be executed at Shepherdstown. Very well—let a five-year-old paint a sacred interpretation of that encounter. Let that five-year-old strip away the idiocy, the bars, the waiting electric chair, the uniform of the guard, the gun of the guard, the bones and meat of the guard. What is that perfect picture which any five-year-old can paint? Two unwavering bands of light.”

Ecstasy bloomed on the barbaric face of Rabo Karabekian.
“Citizens of Midland City, I salute you,” he said. “You have given a home to a masterpiece!”

No comments: