Fifty Shades of Grey is Art – Whether You Like It or Not

Before we get to today’s topic please take a couple of minutes to watch this video of an Australian movie critic’s review of the movie adaptation of the best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey.


Well – this is embarrassing…the review has been taken down because of copyright issues. I’m sorry about that.

In short – she trashed it. According to her there was not a single redeeming quality to be found in the movie. She called it “domestic violence dressed up as erotica” and several other negative things. She even went as far as to say that her husband did not get lucky after the movie because (I’m paraphrasing) it left her anything but in the mood.

Agree? Disagree? Don’t care?

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never read any of the Fifty Shades novels, nor have I seen the movie…and barring a frontal lobotomy, I never will.

50 shadesThat being said…let’s talk about taste.

A wise man once said “Opinions are like assholes…everybody has one, and everybody thinks everybody else’s stinks.”

I posted the above video (when it could actually be seen) on my facebook page recently and, within minutes, I had a nice little string of comments – some agreeing with the critic and some accusing her of having her head where her opinion is.

I’m not picking on Fifty Shades (even though it was originally written as fan fiction for the Twilight saga), I chose it specifically because it has an immediate polarizing effect whenever it comes up in conversation, so I figured it would be a good example for my point…

Book(s) or movie…it doesn’t matter…mention Fifty Shades of Grey and you’ll have a debate raging in no time. Not just your garden variety debate either…you’ll have a full-blown free-for-all with one side saying it’s awesome, another side saying it’s trash, the third side will tear it up for the way it objectifies women and there will even be a side complaining that the author didn’t properly research the whole BDSM scene before writing about it.


Men, women, young, old – Fifty Shades gets ‘em hot…and not in a good way.

But is it good?

Is it trash?

Is it a poor excuse for erotica?

Is it a brilliantly played card by the author to cash in on horny housewives?

Relax…those are all trick questions.

The answer is to each one of them is Yes…and No

When it comes to our taste in art there are no right, or wrong, answers. Good taste and bad taste are totally arbitrary concepts. Art appeals to each of us in a different way, for different reasons. The world would be extremely boring if everybody liked the exact same kind of music, movies, paintings and books.

I think we need to amend the list of taboo discussion topics…Religion, Politics, Sex and Art.

Call it what you will…but Fifty Shades is art.

That’s right, I said it. It’s art. art

You couldn’t pay me to read it and I’d rather pour bleach in my eyes than watch the movie…

…but, love it or hate it, it’s art, and the thing that makes it art is the fact that we can’t come to an all-encompassing opinion about its quality (or lack thereof).

It’s the difference between art and science.

If I say “Jaws is the best movie ever made” there will be people who agree with me and people who disagree with me, and with varying degrees of intensity.

Now if I say “The sum of the squares of the two legs of a right triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuse.” Nobody can disagree with me – because it’s science.

pythagorean theorum

A fact is a fact is a fact…but an opinion is, well, we’ve already covered that.

Whether you’re talking about books, music, movies, paintings or interpretive dance – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

The interesting thing, to me anyway, is how defensive some people get.

I’ve seen people defend their favorite artist with more ferocity than they would their own children. I remember once, in high school, when I wanted to pound a classmate six ways from Sunday for having the audacity to say that Kiss was a better band than The Beatles.


I kid you not…to this day I’m still amazed at the self-restraint I was able to muster in the face of such blasphemy.

But, I digress…

I imagine the first art critic made his debut in a cave in France, and there was probably more than one Neanderthal there with their leopard skin wrap in a twist over his review. Who knows…it may have been the reason for the first war, or at least the first rumble.


Since then there has been no shortage of people standing by to tell us why something is good or bad—and an equally ample supply of folks willing to let everyone know how wrong the dingbats in the first group are.

It’s funny how people will call a reviewer all sorts of names when said reviewer takes an opposing stance on a particular work of art, but those same people, when trying to decide which movie to see, will say “oh, let’s watch that one….they say it’s really good.”

Who says it’s really good?

Probably the same guy you called a moron last week because he panned Fifty Shades.

The impetus for this entire post, believe it or not, was a conversation with a fellow author about book reviews. We authors ask (more like beg) readers to post reviews knowing that it’s only a matter of time until somebody trashes our book.

It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but you have to take the good with the bad. The trick to dealing with it is to remember that it’s all a matter of taste.

So, the bottom line is, whether you’re an artist or an art aficionado, screw the critics, because art appreciation it is not a matter of black and white…

…it’s all about shades of grey.

face palm

(come on – tell me you didn’t see that coming!!)


As always – thank you for reading


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26 responses to “Fifty Shades of Grey is Art – Whether You Like It or Not

  1. Your despription of the conditions under which you’ll watch the movie pretty much march with my own. And I can agree with you on the distinction between art and science… to a point. I think the definition of art has to be taken further…like it, loathe it or ignore it, a work of any kind has to be a true expression of something within its creator… they have to have something to say… before I can personally elevate it to Art.If all a work is saying is either, “I can make a packet from this” or, “If I call it by some truly obscure name ‘they’ll’ not dare admit they don’t understand it” I don’t think it counts.
    Of course, the problem with that is we seldom understand the murky depths of the artistic mind… so it is almost impossible to judge what the true motivation for creation might have been. So perhaps the true measure is closer to your definition after all… if it moves us somehow, it is art.

  2. Well, what can I say Tim? You said it all. Art is art and it is all in the eye of the beholder. That being said, I have not read the book or seen the movie. Not that I would not mind you, but the first question I asked when friends were excitedly talking about having read it, was, “Is it well written?”
    When I was told no, I knew I had no desire to read it. I’ve heard that newer editions have taken care of that however, with better editing.
    Obviously there is something to this book/movie because it is such a hot topic. Wouldn’t we all like our books to be so popular! The brilliance to me was that the author saw an opportunity to write it at this time when it seems people hunger for something more pleasurable than their daily mundane lives.
    Technological advances have made it that our time is spent, reading and watching things at high speed which to me somewhat detaches us from our basic nature to feel good physically in the form of sex and fantasy!
    To be perfectly honest and blunt here, I don’t think Shades of Grey has anything in it I haven’t done. I am a product of the 60s and 70s, when everything was okay.. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll were themes of the day. I immersed myself in those times and I’m glad for every bit of it.
    So I say, whatever floats your boat! 😀

  3. My husband read the whole trilogy and laughed all the way through it so it must have been, at least somehow, entertaining to him. I wouldn’t touch it, but that’s just me. It doesn’t appeal to me. There were parts he said were well written and parts he said were poorly written. And you know what? There’s no such thing as perfect art, because we do all see through our own eyes. Was it a controversial cash cow? Hell yeah, and good for it! Given the same opportunity, I’d take it 🙂

  4. When I was a kid my artist mom–a painter, had a stamp that said “This isn’t art”. I never saw her use it, but I’m sure she visited a lot of art shows where wished she had. My mom didn’t cater to the masses (see Tim’s last blog post) My mom’s art wasn’t commercial.

    In her mind, anything that existed with the sole purpose of making money it wasn’t art.

    So, if it was me, I’d give that book the old stamp: “This is not art”. Shades of Grey is an important (albeit, unhealthy) part of our cultural make up, but ART is not the goal. This was written to sell books. And that she did.

    • Isn’t it presumptuous to assume you know her intentions? As a writer, wouldn’t you be offended if somebody accused you of “cashing in” on your genre of choice?

      • I may not know what she was thinking when she wrote it, but it is pretty clear her goal wasn’t to bring art into the world.

        • I agree with you, but unfortunately people could say the same thing about the stuff you and I write too. The rules of art appreciation must be shared fairly and equitably across the board. Just because you and I are not seeing the same sales numbers as JK Rowling does not mean we are any less of a writer/artist.

  5. tjtherien

    it can be argued that the finger painting of a three year old is art, which I suppose it is, it’s just not the type of art you would expect of a adult. The Writing itself in Fifty Shades is very poor quality and the language is lazy. If it is Art, then why would the Artist not invest the time and effort to produce a literary work of art. Put 50 Shades next to the works of Nin, Miller, Mailer, de Sade and you will see that 50 Shades is not literature, erotica it may be but it is written in pulp fashion. For me to consider 50 Shades art it would have to be able to stand on a shelf of it’s peers and not be embarrassed and this it cannot do.

    Sorry I just don’t see it as art. I don’t see any craft about the book.

    • While I agree with you Tim, (as far as it NOT being art) there are those who do consider it art. And just like the parent of a 3 year old who hangs a finger painting on the refrigerator, those people are entitled to their opinions.

  6. Kelly

    I read the books simply because they were such a hot topic, however I was not impressed. Not because it wasn’t written well. (I compare it to those paperback Harlequin love stories….) and certainly not because if the soft porn. I don’t mind a story line with sex. That being said, it was a bit rediculous. Am I the only woman in my world that was a little offended by the old “virgin meets a rich, much more experienced, controlling man whom she falls madly in love with??? ” I need real characters. I had hoped that my daughters would not be force fed the BS about women needing to be pure for a man to want them 😦

  7. Author Rebecca Heishman

    I recently gave myself the ‘assignment’ of reading Shades of Grey. I’m weird like that. When something this big blasts itself into our culture, I’m curious. I want to know what all the fuss is about. I have to tell you…I’d rather take high school algebra again. The subject matter was, for me, painfully unpleasant. It goes to dark places that haunted and disturbed me. It was what I call gag-worthy. I will never see the movie. But, I have normal, seemingly-healthy, younger female friends who swear that the book improved their intimate relationships with their men. Fine. To that, I say, whatever blows your skirt up. Thankfully, we old broads don’t need trashy literature to get us to the heights to where we want to go. You’re right about the qualifications for a subject to be considered ‘art.’ To many, this book is art. To me, it’s just another trashy novel. Is the writing stellar? Absolutely not. But, I give props to the author for giving something to thousands of young American housewives who seem to have benefited from it in some way. It has fulfilled some kind of need in them. Who am I to say what is beneficial to another woman? And, I’m going to say something that is going to fire up some other writers out there: I envy this writer the money. There! I said it. If I could have looked into a crystal ball and predicted the kind of financial success that this author achieved, would I have written the book myself if I could have beaten her to it? You betcha!

      • We have to give the author props for stirring up sexual discussion, for opening up the bedroom–maybe in someways not all of us agree with, but at least its helping couples, right? What we have to do next is ask our selves what on earth is going on that all these women are drawn to horribly submissive fantasies. I’m not saying its bad necessarily, but it is interesting. My opinion? Our world has become more female dominated (argue if you wish), and I think women who take the reins in their homes are wanting to shift roles behind doors. (oh God, people are going to yell at me for this one). And I take back what i said before, if art is a human creation that “moves” people then well, you know what? I guess Shades of Grey takes the prize.

        • What about the argument that the book/movie promotes the objectification, of women? Is there a line between sexual fantasy and abuse? Would you want your teenage daughter to watch it/read it and think it was a healthy relationship?

        • How bad is it? Would I like my teenage daughter to read it? I don’t know because I haven’t read it. Its probably tome for me to stop critiquing it and read the book…or at least watch the movie.

  8. Author Rebecca Heishman

    Quite honestly, I don’t think the book content is worthy of a lot of analysis or discussion. It is what it is. I consider it trash fiction, but some people see it as an escape that is mixed with some distorted form of sexual enlightenment. I don’t think young people will be interested in this. After all, they’ve been having sex with vampires for years. (Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird?) This crazy book has become a cultural phenomenon. The male character is grotesquely mentally ill. He is potentially violent. That’s the part that made me cringe. To supportive female readers I’ve talked to, that terrifying aspect of his personality seems to be much less important than the much-celebrated facts that he is handsome, horny, wealthy, well-endowed, and has a helipad. That’s what gives me pause. Is the American housewife that needy and bored? Maybe she is. If reading this book helps her to straighten out the mess in her bedroom, then who am I to judge? I don’t get it, but I don’t understand a lot of things. As far as the content of the book is concerned: there is nothing new here. The author didn’t just invent sexual role-play. That’s been around since time began.

    I’ve read the book. To me, it was like eating a cheese puff — a tiny bit of flavor, but mostly air.

    Will I see the movie? Never.

  9. Great blog. Great content. You certainly evoked a huge response, which in itself says volumes. I haven’t read the book, nor will I see the movie unless it comes out on DVD or tv… but I don’t believe in censorship in any form. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Don’t these people who hate this movie understand that by trashing it they are giving it valuable publicity? If you’ve seen the movie Impromptu you’ll recognize this quote, “Art does not apologize.” I agree. Congratulations on a point well made.

  10. Pingback: The Difference Between The Best Seller List and The Best | blindoggbooks

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