Someone asked me the other day if I’d heard of the book series, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I hadn’t so I looked it up and read a description, which stated that the books contained a lot of sex, bondage, and sadomasochism. Not surprisingly, the books have sold extremely well on Amazon.
Now I realize many would argue that the value of art is in the eye of the beholder. Yet those same people must admit there is some standard for what constitutes art and what does not. Otherwise how can we call one artist “talented” and another not. The art of story-telling is no different than any other art. Tolstoy believed that art should transmit the emotions of the writer to the reader. Moreover. Tolstoy wrote that the transmitted emotion should overtake a reader or listener of music and that the more it did so, the higher the art.
Now I admit that I have never read E.L. James’ books, nor do I intend to. From what I can see, the books are merely the dreams of a teenage girl transposed in pornographic fashion. James is free to write what she wishes and people are free to buy and read it, but I will not call it art. The best books that I’ve read, indeed the only books I can finish nowadays have a message. They teach me something I did not understand about life, people, or God. That is, my stories must be moral. By this, I do not mean they have to be pure as the driven snow, all its characters dripping with honey. In fact, people can do horrible things in a moral story. But the best stories dig hard at emotions, they bring tears to eyes, make one angry, laugh out loud, or shake one’s head at an author’s ability to glean truth.
I cannot say if life more copies art, or art life. In either case, it seems we are in trouble, judging from the popularity of some of the books published in recent years. Even Harry Potter was a very moral series of novels. I cannot say the same for Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey.