The Art of Loving asks, “Is Love an Art?”

The Art of Loving

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Episode Overview: 

  1. Is love an art?
  2. The theory of love
  3. The practice of love

The Art of Loving is rare in its ability to treat love as an active art, rather than a passive “falling into,” Fromm writes,

“Love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine and engineering.”

How can you treat love as an art?

First you must master the theory, and then the you must master the practice. Fromm writes,

“If I want to learn the art of medicine I must first know the facts about the human body, and various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine.

I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one – my intuition – the essence of the mastery of any art.”

But that’s not all,

“There is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art – the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art.”

This holds true for anyone learning to become a doctor, a painter, a web developer. To master an art takes time and dedication.

Why then, if love is so important to us, don’t we give it the same attention as checking our email, watching sitcoms, and showing up at work every day?

If “All We Need is Love,” then why don’t we devote more time to the practice of loving?

The art of love requires:

1) Theory
2) Practice
3) Making the art the ultimate concern

My hope is that by the end of this episode you can see the importance of treating love as art, such that you might take it upon yourself to master it in your life.

The Theory of Love

The problem of human existence is one of separateness. Let’s start there. “Man is gifted with reason, he is life being aware of itself,” writes Fromm. With this gift of life comes the awareness of our separateness, we are born, and will die alone.

“It is the source of all anxiety,” writes Fromm. Being separate means being cut off,  helpless, with shame, fear and guilt.

The Three Ways In Which We Attempt to Overcome the Problem of Separateness

The first is what Fromm calls “orgiastic states,” where we go into a trance in which “the outside world disappears”:

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Sexual orgasm

While orgiastic states mask our separateness, they are fleeting, “Slowly the tension of anxiety mounts, and then is reduced again by repeat performance of [these] rituals.” [11]

The second way that we combat our separateness is conformity. Fromm writes, “People want to conform to a much higher degree than they are forced to conform.” Hesays,

“Union by conformity is not intense and violent; it is calm dictated by routine, and for this very reason often is insufficient to pacify the anxiety of separateness.” [15]

The third way to attain union is through creative activity. “In all types of creative work the worker and his object become one, man unites himself with the world in the process of creation.” [16]

Fromm suggests that all three of these solutions (Orgastic States, Conformity, and Creative Activity) enslave us to temporary passions:

“Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another one drive by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion.” [20]

Fromm wants to make it clear that love is an activity, not a passive effect.

“it is a “standing in”, not a falling for. In the most general way, the active character of love can be describe by stating the love is primarily giving, not receiving” [21]

The 4-Step Checklist for Love: 

According to Fromm there are 4 activities that are necessary for loving.

  1. Care – You must be caring. One loves that for which one labors, and one labors for that which one loves. Fromm explains, “If a woman told us that she loved flowers, and we saw that she forgot to water them, we would not believe in her ‘love’ for flowers.”
  2. Responsibility – You must be responsible. The word responsible means to be able and ready to respond. It is a voluntary act, and an element of love.
  3. Respect – You must have respect. Respect can be roughly defined as the desire for others to grow and unfold as they are. Respect is not fear or awe but the absence of exploitation. Fromm adds, “Responsibility could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness, were it not for respect.”
  4. Knowledge – You must have knowledge of the other person. Fromm writes, “To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not motivated by concern.”

The Various Types of Love

  1. Motherly love – love for the helpless. By definition motherly love is unconditional love. The child has the experience, “I am loved. I am loved because I am helpless. I am loved because mother needs me. I am loved because I am.” [37]
  2. Fatherly love – conditional love, which lies in obedience. Fromm writes, “I love you because you fulfill my expectations, because you do your duty, because you are like me.”
  3. Brotherly love – love between “equals,” (yet even as equals we are not always “equal”) [44]
  4. Erotic love
  5. Self love – “If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself,” says Meister Eckhart. Otherwise, if you love yourself more than others, you are practicing selfish love, which is the opposite of self-love.
  6. Love of God

The Practice of Love

“Having dealt with the theoretical aspect of the art of loving, we are now confronted with the much more difficult problem, that of the practice of the art of loving.”

Just as there isn’t one manual for how to become a painter, there isn’t one manual on how to love. Fromm makes his intentions in this chapter clear, stating that it isn’t a “do it yourself” guide, but a jumping off point from which readers can pursue their desire to become artists of love.

With that said, he does give some general requirements for mastering any art.  They are:

  • Discipline: You’ll never master something if you only do it when you are in the right mood. You need to clock some time. You can’t be lazy with love.
  • Concentration: You need to focus, be comfortable with your aloneness, avoid trivial conversations, and be OK with feeling uncomfortable as you practice the art of love.
  • Patience

“There are many people, for instance, who have never seen a loving person, or a person with integrity, or courage or concentration. It is quite obvious that in order to be sensitive to oneself, one has to have an image of complete, healthy human functioning.” [108]

Bibliography:

Title: The Art of Loving (1956)
Author: Erich Fromm
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2006)

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3 thoughts on “The Art of Loving asks, “Is Love an Art?””

  1. Thank you for that crisp and interesting review. That checklist will indeed keep me on my toes. RRCK!

    This reminds me of the book ‘The Forty Rules of Love by Elif shafak’. It’s very similar to what Eric Forumm speaks of but leads more towards Sufism/mysticism. Must read. 🙂

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