(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bluebeard is Kurt Vonnegut’s most extensive examination of artistic endeavor, namely painting by abstract expressionists, but in reality all artistic activity, including literature. Although precursors of this artistic meditation are elements of earlier works, including the questioning of the truth-telling capacity of literature in Cat’s Cradle, nowhere else has Vonnegut directly faced the fundamental issue of whether art at its highest is representational of reality or is a self-enclosed, nonrepresentational medium for presentation of the artist’s emotions. The narrator, Rabo Karabekian, an elderly artist of Armenian ancestry who began as a copyist but becomes an abstract expressionist, can copy anything but is frustrated by the criticism that his representational painting lacks “soul,” or emotional profundity. Then, his work as an abstract expressionist is condemned as so subjectively nonrepresentational as to be meaningless. His abstract expressionist work is also jeopardized by modern technology, as he uses a paint, Sateen Dura-Luxe, which is supposedly a significant improvement on earlier paints but which literally disintegrates after a few months, sabotaging virtually all of Karabekian’s expressionist paintings, including a huge one on public display in New York City. Thus, again, Vonnegut satirizes the blind faith of the modern world in technology, a theme throughout his fiction.

Humiliated by his failings as both...

(The entire section is 508 words.)