Brain Food #820: The Art of Loving
Quotes from Fromm
Thoughts of the day
In 1956, philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm published a book called The Art of Loving, which remains, to this day, one of the most important and relevant treatises on the always elusive and evolving topic of love.
In the book, Fromm argues that love is an art, and in a society that has taught us to chase one success after the other, something that requires ongoing attention to notice and patience to practice might be overlooked. Love, Fromm argues, is not a feeling, but an act that must be learned; it is “an activity, not a passing effect.”
To start with loving, we should learn to see people as they truly are, and to stop projecting our desires, fears, and expectations onto the other:
“The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one's narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one's desires and fears.”
We will be ready for love when we are ready to be with ourselves:
“Concentration is by far more difficult to practice in our culture, in which everything seems to act against the ability to concentrate. The most important step in learning concentration is to learn to be alone with oneself without reading, listening to the radio, smoking or drinking. Indeed, to be able to concentrate means to be able to be alone with one- self—and this ability is precisely a condition for the ability to love. If I am attached to another person because I cannot stand on my own feet, he or she may be a lifesaver, but the relationship is not one of love.”
But love, according to Fromm involves focusing on giving, not receiving, and so it always carries with it a sense of loss. Often, this is the loss of oneself. And so, after learning to live with oneself, we should subsequently be able to let that self go:
“What does one person give to another? He gives of himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other—but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness—of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other's sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him.”
In Edvard Munch’s The Kiss, the faces of the two lovers are fused together. Apart from the light that seems to be coming from the world outside, the painting is dark; Munch was ambivalent about the loss of individuality that came with love. Perhaps painting it was his way of working towards it, and eventually accept it.
As Fromm wrote:
“A third way of attaining union lies in creative activity, be it that of the artist, or of the artisan. In any kind of creative work the creating person unites himself with his material, which represents the world outside of himself.”
To love, and to make art, is to simply get over ourselves, so that we can be part of the world.
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