The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm: summary and meaning of the book

The book “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm (Frankfurt, Germany 1900 – Muralto, Switzerland 1980) theorizes as a psychoanalyst, humanist, and sociologist on the faculty of love as an art. And every art requires understanding of the theoretical part to apply it successfully in practice.

Written in 1956, “The Art of Loving” describes the theory of love, divided into the following four chapters:

Chapter 1: Is Love an Art?: presents a logical argument on why loving is an art.
Chapter 2: The Theory of Love: divided into three sub-chapters: Love as the answer to the problem of human existence; Love between parents and children; The objects of love.
Chapter 3: Love and Its Disintegration in Contemporary Western Society: critiques the social structure of Western civilization and how its resulting spirit hinders the development of love.
Chapter 4: The Practice of Love
Biographical Epilogue: written by his German assistant Rainer Funk, who concludes that the art of loving is “the true knowledge of the other to be able to respect and feel recognition and understanding.”

Summary of Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving”:
In his book, Erich Fromm argues that the primary difficulty in loving arises from false and mistaken premises about love, contrasting them with what it should be:

  • Love is measured by ‘being loved’ rather than one’s own capacity to love.
  • Love is seen as an object rather than a faculty.
  • Love is confused with the initial experience of “falling in love.”

Fromm introduces the concept of “separateness” or a state of separation in “The Theory of Love.” This initial state of separation is the awareness of our individuality, the realization that we don’t belong to our surroundings. This consciousness of our individuality is proposed as the true explanation for the Christian faith’s myth of original sin and the origin of our need to love.

This separateness causes anxiety, as Fromm states: “From his helplessness in the face of natural and social forces, all this makes his separate, ununited existence an unbearable prison.”

“The Art of Loving” divides love into two types that shouldn’t be confused:

  • Love as an immature solution or ‘symbiotic union,’ with extreme forms represented in submission or sadism in the passive form and domination or sadism in the active form.
  • Love as a mature solution to the problem of existence, signifying a union without losing our individuality. According to the book, love would be a paradox of two beings becoming one yet remaining two.
  • “Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you,’ while mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.'”

In “The Practice of Love,” Erich Fromm mentions that nobody can teach us the practice of love. He asserts that the steps toward the goal of loving can only be taken individually. However, he provides the general requirements for the art of loving (and for any art), namely:

  • Discipline: Practicing the art of loving daily and consciously.
  • Concentration: Being focused on the instrument (in this case, the other person).
  • Patience: Understanding that it will take time to learn.
  • Concern to master the art: Having the desire to learn.

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