The Art of Loving ~ Is Love An Art?

The Sermon of Love

The Sermon of Love Jean Honore Fragonard
~ source Wikiart

And thus we begin our read-along of The Art of Loving, beginning with the first chapter: Is Love An Art?  In his Preface, Fromm cautions us not to expect easy instruction in the art of loving and, in fact, acquiring this art is a rare accomplishment because of our lack of qualities necessary to love.  However that does not mean we mustn’t try.

“It (this book) wants to convince the reader that all his attempts for love are bound to fail, unless he tried most actively to develop his total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation; that satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacicty to love one’s neighbor, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline.”


Pompeii Love Song Ettore Forti

Pompeii Love Song (1897) Ettore Forti
~ source Wikimedia Commons


Is Love An Art?

Fromm questions if love is an art, in which case it requires knowledge and effort.  Or, instead is it a warm fuzzy feeling that, with luck, might bring happiness?  His book is based on the former premise and he begins to outline how love has been misunderstood, then covers three main errors our culture employs when assessing love.

  1. People are obsessed with love, as we see from the number of romance books and movies on love, etc.  Rather than looking at love as a function, people are focussed on objects.  If only one has a successful career (popularity) or looks good physically (sex appeal), then they see themselves as loveable and then they attempt to find another object to love or love them.  In Victorian times and before, love was often contractual and love was expected to blossom after the marriage.  However post-Victorian times saw the rise of freedom to love and with it the object became stressed over the function.
  2. Because our culture functions on a monetary basis of buying and exchange, we tend to proceed with love in the same manner.  We look at the pros and cons of a person’s personality and base our choice upon these commodities. “I am out for a bargain; the objecct should be desirable from the standpoint of its social value, and at the same time should want me, considering my overt and hidden assets and potentialities.  Two persons thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values.”
  3. There is a disconnect between the two processes of “falling in love” and “being in love,” leading us to believe there is nothing to be learned from this emotion. The initial overwhelming feelings of becoming one with another, the excitement, cannot be lasting by its very nature.  Eventually differences, disagreements and animosity override those initial warm sentiments and in fact, those intense sentiments may not be an expression of love but instead evidence of the person’s own prior loneliness.

Why do people tend to think love is so easy, yet fail at it time and time again?  To understand these failure, it’s important to delve into the meaning of love ….

Man in Love

Man in Love (2015) Kinga Ogieglo
~ source Wikimedia Commons

First of all, Love is an Art and, as other arts, it can be divided into two important parts:

  1. The mastery of the theory
  2. The master of the practice

For example, one can learn the theory of medicine but until one has practiced it and gained experience, one cannot claim overall mastery.

A third part is also most necessary if you want to love well: the mastery of the art must be above all else, to be the most important.  Yet instead of devoting ourselves to this mastery, we put other things above it: power, money, success, prestige, etc.  Is it because in the modern sense love has no value in that it cannot advance you, but instead only profits the soul?  Fromm will investigate in the next chapter called The Theory of Love, and then he will explore the practice of it, which will be interesting as, having read this book before, it’s not the clearest part of the book.  If you’re expecting a practical blueprint, Fromm does not give it, more proof as to the elusiveness of love.

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866) Albert Bierstadt
~ source Wikimedia Commons

A couple of things that stood out for me.  When Fromm spoke about looking at a prospective mate in the same way we could look at something we would buy, it was interesting how the desirable personality aspects changed over time.  He says in the twenties, a tough, sexy, smoking girl would be desirable but in his time (the 1950s) domesticity and coyness is desired.  As for a man, an ambitious and aggressive man would have previously been preferable, but now social skills and tolerance are traits that are favoured .  Given that our wants (or perceived needs) are so capricious, is it any surprise that the feelings of love can fluctuate, be there and then be gone and the relationship is over?  With this observation, Fromm convinced me that there must be something more.  So what is that “more”?  Let’s see if Fromm will enlighten us ….

25 thoughts on “The Art of Loving ~ Is Love An Art?

  1. Thank you for the very thorough summary! I found this chapter to have some good and thought-provoking points. I was most struck by his pointing out the commodification of love, our seeing it as an exchange in the same way we buy and sell things. We want value back for what we give. Even if we have a dim and partially active sense that love is not in the same category as monetary exchange, I think these feelings shape our subconscious expectations and reactions. I will be interested to see how he further explores the theory and practice of love.

    • I think you’re so right, in that we do have subconscious expectations of getting “a return” from love. If we do something, we expect reciprocation. Even though we may verbally talk about unconditional love, how many of us actually practice it. Something to think about ….

  2. Concise and a great highlight of the important points and what Fromm says he’s going to expound on.

    I have underlined your quotes, and I also found it interesting to see how he links societal changing values to our perception of love.

    The stereotypes change, but he’s out to look for the essence of love, that which the soul is looking after and which will be a transcendent and ontological -real- state of being, an action, a way of life.

    I’m ahead and I have already found a problem in his understanding (or lack of) the submissive nature of the religious relationship with God. He placed it as a madoquist relationship, or submissive, passive and void of identity and free action. If we x out Christianity from there, his characterization of the sado-masoquist type of love is spot on. And by contrast, the exposition of true love he is aiming at.

    • So true in that a true love has to be linked to the soul and come from almost beyond our natural abilities … Lewis’ words are coming to mind.

      I haven’t reached his discussion on relationship with God yet. You seem to be making heads and tails of it, so I’m encouraged since I couldn’t quite make it out the first time I read the book. I might be coming to you for clarification, lol! Thanks for your observations! 🙏

      • Believe me, the first time I was very confused. You will see this and more yourself. It’s a second reading thing. I apologize for getting ahead, but if I didn’t write it at that moment, I would have forgotten.
        In a way I am at fault for not being able to keep up with your divisions of the book, though I know you don’t mind. I will repeat this comment in another post when you discuss this.
        I’m kind of busy with work and family, and when I pick Fromm’s book I read and read and highlight. When I read your post, I was able to secure the content you covered much better after two reads and even a third one with the quotes you added.
        And let me tell you how amazing and pleasant it is to read your posts sprinkled with the art you choose, and your organized material. Reading Lory’s comments and people’s comments it’s also such a joy.
        Thanks for doing this and keeping mind stimulated with this worthy exercise, so fruitful. It’s very important to me to learn about love, theory and practice together.

        • Don’t worry at all about getting ahead! I know EXACTLY what you mean! Just put your thoughts down and we can come back to them later. And I understand about being busy and having to pick up books here and there. I often jot my thoughts down for my reviews as I go, especially if I have a good thought … you don’t want to miss those!!

          Thanks again for your kind words but also thank you for your detailed and insightful comments. It makes the read-along much more pleasureable and we all learn much more than we would have otherwise!! 🙏

  3. A great overview of the first chapter. Thanks!

    For myself I do wonder if he overstates the case a bit. HIs fondness for Marx might be leading him to emphasize the marketplace of love. 🙂 The idea that one simply ‘falls’ into love, though it is what people say, I don’t think is entirely the way it happens; at the same time it is easier and more natural than I think he indicates. And definitely less calculating. I think people are inclined to be loving, to a greater or lesser degree, and while working at it is good, I also think if you’re not counter-productive, good relations–love–does just happen…being thrown together leads to the love of friends, of siblings, of parents, of spouses, as long as one party isn’t doing something stupid. Mostly in the first chapter he seems to be thinking of romantic partners, and for those relationships to last a long time, some work is needed. But if didn’t have the possibility of being right from the beginning, I’d say no amount of work will make it right in the end.


    I’m curious: my edition is from the World Perspectives series, and has an introduction by Ruth Nanda Ansher. Is that true for other people? There’s some information in Wikipedia about the editor and the series, but it doesn’t entirely agree with what’s in my volume. Mine seems to indicate this is the ninth in the series; other volumes are by such worthies as Walter Gropius, Konrad Adenauer, & Lewis Mumford. Fromm says he’s repeating a bit what he says earlier, and while I haven’t read any of his other books, I do wonder how much what he says here is influenced by the nature of the series, if it is.

    • I understand what you’re saying and I nearly had the same reaction, BUT ….. reading Cicero got me thinking, as he says that only good people can be friends and that there are few really true friendships. I think Fromm is trying to get at the essence of a deep love and perhaps we see a more shallow types of love and, not knowing anything else, we think that it’s good enough …??

      I do think people can naturally fall into relationships that work. But if you take our society as a whole, those are few and far between. So perhaps the relationships work because of luck, in that some people find a mate who complements them and vice versa so the relationship moves along relatively easily. I also think some people can be in a deluded state in that they think they are loving but it’s really something else. Other people might value business so much that their relationships are more like a business model but that works for them because they both place their highest value there. I’m sure there are more examples and all these instances might work but I don’t think these examples are what Fromm is talking about.

      I keep thinking about pre-Victorian times …. people did marry for different reasons than mutual attraction. I believe George Washington was only mildly impressed with Martha when they first married but their marriage became one of deep love and respect towards each other. In David McCullough’s book “1776,” I remember soldiers/men writing to their wives on both sides (American and British) and the love that their letters communicated. I’m sure most of these marriages weren’t made because of mutual attraction or “love” as we see it. If something comes easily, we are less likely to work at it and often convince ourselves that we’re satisfied with something less than it can be. Perhaps these contracted marriages made people work harder and therefore they experienced a type of love that we rarely see nowadays? I wonder …

      An interesting question but, if I had to hazard a guess I don’t think Fromm would write for the series. I do know C.S. Lewis was often asked to write to a specific topic but all this thoughts were always genuine and entirely his own. I do find it interesting that Fromm was married three times. That fact in itself makes me question his authority on love, however perhaps he learned valuable insights from his failures.

  4. Hi Reese.

    I thought he was criticizing that marketplace view as a faulty one that happens as byproducts of a heavily commercial era.

    I do believe that he is thinking about the romantic partners as you say, definitely. He’s not talking about family and friendly love as much as the romantic love. I am not sure about how much it’s work or how much it depends on a possibility at the base, as you mention. I believe in the “Western” idea of that attraction for the romantic love, but I’m with C.S. Lewis and I think with Fromm, when both identify that as a stage or a kind of love that may or may not progress into the more mature love that we recognize keeps couples together.

    I believe that marriages don’t have to start with that initial romantic love to progress into a deep and more mature love. But the idea of evolving love from a “stranger” (as in an arranged marriage) is too strange to us, and maybe it’s not right either when we have the chance to freely pick someone who we find some attraction to from the start. But I must say that many marriages and couples fail because all they had was that fleeting infatuation, and when they look for some ‘romance’, yes, but among what’s based on affinities beyond that first irrational or too sexual and idealized love, when we approach love from a friendship angle, as a relationship with someone of the same kind or quality that we are (meaning like Cicero said in the essay that you have to first be the friend you want to have), that relationship can lead to true and committed mature love, and that requires some effort but not unpleasant or sacrificial. Fromm will explain later that it’s a giving based on creative effort which in turn realizes us as individuals in the process of giving ourselves to others.

    My daughter is 15, and she likes a guy who likes her too. It pleases me to see good characteristics in him, and he values and sees those in her. You know how trouble calls trouble. The teens in school suspension are not asked to home coming by the good kids. And if they are, the so call “good kids” are hiding a bad side to them or being hypocritical. It can also happen that a good kid is being swept by bad companies, but only when you leave that crowd will you have a chance to be noticed by a different crowd.

    When I was young, I do admit I was led by that mercantile transaction. The problem was, -for me-, that I aspired to a better than me guy, because I was judging myself better than I truly was (by the decisions and behavior I displayed.) It was only when my behavior and habits started to get cleaner, that I met my husband. And we met through a dating agency who matched our profiles, -so it was a bit of matchmaking or arranged-, and that was THE BEST. We have similar upbringings, and at the time, we had similar aspirations in life. The strongest point in common was, amazingly, that we both wanted a long term commitment. And then it happened that neither were entirely disagreeable to each other. The attraction came, or if not, was fueled, by our similar views and the prospect of who we wanted to become.

    My copy is electronic, a kindle one in Spanish, without an introduction but Fromm himself says as you state that he’s repeating a bit what he says in other writings. He has some overarching ideas he came up with that he uses for essays in other topics that are somehow related. I don’t know how much is influenced by the series, but I suspect that if we read, say, his book on Fear of Freedom (I read it ages ago!), his challenging Freud’s concepts, his understanding of religion, and possibly those ideas in reference to Marx will be present.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Silvia! Wow! You met through a dating agency! It’s nice to hear of one of those matches working! I’ve been thinking lately about the term “opposites attract”. We say it as if it’s a good thing and brings balance but with hindsight, I wonder. If you both have the same views or habits, it makes life easier. If your partner does something that you don’t like but you recognize it in yourself, it’s much easier to have grace for it. If you don’t understand their behaviour it can bring conflict and often conflict without resolution. Not that you want to look for “easy” but you need to choose a situation that will have the greatest amount of success.

      I was just reading The Communist Manifesto, so perhaps I should finish that up. I imagine that I’d see some of Marx’s ideas echoed in Fromm’s

      • I believe that personality wise couples can work when they are similar or opposite to each other, but it’s the values or worldview that if it’s common, that becomes a solid ground where to build up a relationship. Same as Lewis said that friends share something specific that it’s very important to both.
        A friendship can lead to a good marriage. Just romantic love won’t. And not all married couples share the same interests either. It’s not interests imo, it’s core beliefs and values. Ultimately I believe that many couples can accidentally remain together all their life, but only couples with a love for the Lord will be able to pull it together no matter how or what got them together.

        • Let’s typing this out a fourth time (I need to take my computer in to get fixed today). With retrospect, I believe I’m talking about worldview. If couples have common views on important things (such as religion, character, etc.) but also common views on the budgeting of money (or even if it’s necessary), the discipline of children, etc. it makes the working of the relationship much easier. I know a Christian couple who have been married for years but are going through some very difficult times and much of it seems to be because they are so different. They have very little in common and I’m finding that these differences seem to eat away at relationships until two people are left together who don’t really like each other and often end up living separate lives. Perhaps it’s just lately I notice these cases popping up, but it’s sad.

          • Sorry about the computer not working. I dislike that with a passion.

            I couldn’t agree with you more. I too see that a lot, couples with such different views that they are pulling away from each other instead of moving towards same goals.

      • Just to be brutally honest. I have fallen in and out of love with my husband many times. However, I have never allowed myself to even acknowledge if/when I have not felt wonderful with him or with the girls. I just have continued with the burden or hard times. Now we’re at a sweet point in life, but I understand that my role as a married woman does not depend on how nice my husband is, or how good married life is at the moment or in the future.
        I must add that the love both Lewis and Fromm talk about is not that feel good or being happy feeling.

        • Thank you for your honesty. I admire it in a world where everyone likes to present a perfect front but people sharing their struggles so often help others. I’m happy to hear that you’re at a sweet point in life! ❤️

    • I definitely think he’s criticizing the marketplace of love, and I’m not really saying it doesn’t exist–people do try to make themselves more attractive to people they might be attracted to–half of advertising depends on that! I only wonder if he’s overstating his case a bit.

      Not that it’s exactly evidence, but I keep thinking of Tevye & Golde’s duet from Fiddler On The Roof, Do You Love Me? Theirs is an arranged marriage, but their daughters all want romantic love. But Tevye and Golde love each other, too, and maybe just as much.

      • Yeap. He overstates that point.

        True. Fiddler On The Roof is a great example.

        One thing we know for sure, love doesn’t follow formulas. It’s a complex amalgam of feeling, experiences, and wilful acts.

  5. Just finished the chapter and am enjoying reading the discussion here! 🙂 I don’t have a great deal to contribute yet, except that I think true, lasting love is somewhere in-between that crazy first emotion and a more stolid, scientific approach. I think you need both ends of the spectrum, sort of like a country needs both a heart/culture and a good government/policies. I’m looking forward to seeing where Fromm goes with his theory.

    • I quite like your analogies. So what you’re saying is that the “feeling” has to be there too? With Lewis, I think he felt that there were qualities that had to be there to support the “feeling” and love couldn’t be based on it (like we so often do), but I’m wondering if Fromm is going to posit that the “feeling” is unimportant and that love is something other than feeling? We will find out ..

      • Yes, I believe that with any kind of love, there has to be some of that “feeling,” and its origins won’t always be completely rational or “sensible” by human logic. I guess I’m looking at it from personal experience and observation, but it seems to me God’s love also has that quality. 🙂 Like you, I was getting the opposite vibe from Fromm in this first chapter, but I do want to get into more of the chapters this evening and see where he’s going.

  6. I believe there’s got to be that feeling. But on what basis does that feeling sprout? And how is it connected to that longer lasting bond we need to get the love going through thick and thin.

    And correcting my comment where I said I fell in and out of love with my husband. I meant that at some hard times, I didn’t see him as he person I romantically fell in love with but I was with him because we were both going through a trial with a kid or both, or with him, and he with me.
    And your christian friends or acquaintances that are not doing so well. I know of a different couple. They still don’t have much in common other than the Lord, and they are truly making it work somehow.

  7. I can’t fit in a reading of The Art of Loving, but I am reading Cicero’s essay On Friendship. I’m a little more than halfway done with it. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

    • I must admit, my first read of The Art of Loving blew me away but this second read is not resonating in the same way. Perhaps his ideas have percolated already. Cicero is great ….. these authors hold us up to the high ideals of true friendship and love which make both very meaningful!

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