Tuesday, August 28, 2012

50 Shades of Grey

Now that I have your attention...;p Ha, Ha!  Our book club recently discussed reading all three books in the erotic trilogy beginning with the first book Shades of Grey.  We decided not to, for various reasons.  Yet discussions about this book with friends, students, co-workers or just a gal in line at the grocery store- have been a source of entertainment for me!  I have some thoughts on Shades of Grey as literature.

One of the key themes I've encountered is: this book is not written well.  It is not considered "good" literature, nor does it pretend to be. In which case we all know why it's a best seller.   Literature, like any art form is subjective.  And what criteria classifies art as "good" anyway?  I think most people consider art "good" if a lot of people like it, verses a lot of people not liking it!  If that's the case, then 50 Shades is good literature.  :)

Another theme I've heard (and thought myself) is: is this just porn dress up to look legit by calling it a novel?   I've drawn the nude for years and have had similar discussions with more conservative people many times: is the "nude" porn dressed up as art?  Again, subject to your viewpoint.  Yet considering  the art in Europe and throughout the centuries uses the nude, you might conclude it is legitimately art. Yet the lines and boundaries vary from person to person on this issue.  Can we conclude Playboy is art?  Certainly it's photography? 

Along the same lines I've had many a discussion about the work of the late Thomas Kinkade. If "good" means the masses approve, then he's good right?!  The art community viewed the man as a hack who sold himself into crass commercialism with a formulaic style he cranked out for mass production. Harsh?   Maybe. True?  Again, depends on your viewpoint. He is, in fact, the most collected artist of the twenty first century and in the world (according to CBS news) and his mass produced work hangs in one out of every twenty homes in America!   I checked out his book with the paintings he did plein air.  The man had talent.  So then popularity is bad...?  It's not good art if it sells?  Or is popular?

Let's look at the Beatles.  As a group they were a phenom.  As single artists, I say John Lennon was the true poet and the best and greatest artist in or out of the band.  My husband says it's Paul.  I say "you'd think the people would have had enough of silly love songs.  I look around me and I see it isn't so"  Oh no...And what's wrong with that, I'd like to know? 

I like to paint flowers among other things.  (and yes, the occasional nude flower:)  Flowers are pretty and my floral paintings are pretty little paintings.  I've heard the term "pretty little paintings" used to describe an artists work, and not in a good way.  I think I know good art, and I don't think my paintings will grace a museums walls.  I'm not delusional.  But people like them and they sell.  Who am I to argue with cash? 

We know that many painters we think of as greats today could not sell their work in their time.  I read some of the 47 different endings Hemingway wrote for A Farewell to Arms.  I liked a few alternates better than the one he chose!  Sure, I can editorialize an ending, but could I write the book?  50 Shades begs me to ask, would it have sold so well without the sex?  Oh come on!  I wonder if the author wrote 47 alternate endings?  And no one-no one-I've talked to says Shades is great literature. But I'm betting it will be on the best seller list for a while.  Sales have been so good that Shades of Grey bolstered Barnes and Nobles profits and may help them get out of the red and into, as it were, the grey--!  I wonder if A Farewell to Arms would sell as well as Grey has today. I'm sure not.

Excellence is rare. That is what makes it so very valuable.  I watched a most interesting video from a documentary on the BBC that is related to this issue. It's called Why Beauty Matters. (I've linked the You Tube video to the title) It is an hour long, but it is well worth the time. Narrator and art critic Roger Scruton states in the first few minutes his opinion that "We are losing beauty and here is the danger- that with it we will lose the meaning of life." Now that's a bold statement, but I found the whole piece very thought provoking and relevant in this age where someone can pee on the sidewalk and call it art.

So while there are as many opinions about what is and is not "good" art, the bottom line is this:  There are many, lets say 50, shades of gray in this area!  And since excellence is rare we ought not to be so critical when we fill our lives with silly love songs.  If you buy into pop culture is it less valuable as art?  With the saturation and proliferation of the ordinary, and the homogenization of our culture, will we lose our sensibilities for excellence?  For the individual and unique?  How do we know "good" art when we see it?   What is excellence?   Hard to say, but I still want to paint pretty little flower paintings!  (and sell them...)