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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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 ….
First of all, Love is an Art and, as other arts, it can be divided into two important parts:
- The mastery of the theory
- 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 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 ….