Study Guide

Heist Society Art and Culture

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Art and Culture

It's okay to break the rules, but only sometimes, and only if you know them very, very well. (6.9)

Thieving is like art, or like writing: you have to know the rules in order to break them. And you have to know when's the right time to break them, too.

"We practice a very old art, Katarina [...] It is kept alive not by blood [...] but by practice." (6.23)

Just like with visual artistry, talent for thieving isn't genetic. A great artist—or thief—can train anyone, whether or not they are related by blood.

Is a forged Picasso any less beautiful than a real one? (8.40)

Boy howdy, this is an atomic bomb of a question, isn't it? Does a work have to be authentic in order to appreciate it? If so, why are there pictures of art in books? And why do people hang posters of famous paintings on their walls?

"This is no collection! [...] They are prisoners of war." (14.54)

Mr. Abiram Stein doesn't believe that art should be kept in a basement. He wants his stolen paintings hung up so people can appreciate them, not unjustly hidden away as a result of wartime thievery.

"[The painting] was commissioned by a wealth French official. [...] It hung in the oldest son's home in Paris until the German occupation." (14.66)

One of the most interesting parts of Heist Society is its connection to one of the darker moments in art history: when the Nazis stole paintings from cities they plundered in World War II. This actually happened. Why did the Nazis do this, do you think? What did stealing art allow them to accomplish?

"The men those men gave it to were evil. These paintings were traded for terrible favors in terrible times." (14.79)

Is receiving stolen art an evil crime? Assume that Taccone did not know the paintings were stolen by Nazis—should he be responsible for returning them?

Tourists and scholars alike stood shoulder to shoulder, heel to toe, gawking, waiting to see the place where a card had mysteriously appeared in the middle of the night. (15.34)

Visily Romani has turned con artistry into a legit art, as in, art that exists in a museum. The tourists and scholars are looking at and analyzing his act, and basically ignoring the paintings in the museum. If the public is the court of opinion, Romani has legitimized the art of the con.

"Purchased in 1946 by Veronica Henley herself, it is widely considered one of the most valuable works of art in the world--the most valuable, according to Mrs. Henley. When reporters asked her shortly before her death which piece she would rather have for her collection, this painting or the Mona Lisa, Mrs. Henley said, 'Let the Louvre keep Leonardo's lady; I have his angel.'" (24.50)

What is it about art that causes the super wealthy to get so attached to it? Mrs. Henley speaks of the painting as though it is her daughter, or at least a prized handbag chihuahua.

The Henley's least impressive collection had become Katarina Bishop's favorite. Maybe it was the simple brushstrokes, the subdued use of light. Or maybe Kat was simply drawn to the other paintings that hung in that room—the ones the tourists couldn't see. (31.44)

For a book that's so focused on art, our main character, Kat, doesn't seem to be too interested in the stuff. She's just into the art industry for the thrill of the chase.

"The paintings live. People know their stories now. A new generation will hear their tales. And they will hang in the great museums of the world and not in a prison." (37.23)

What stories do paintings tell, beyond the scenes that lie within their frames? We think the paintings Kat recovers tell the tales of history—of World War II.

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