What Can Art Teach Us about Love?

by Nancy Huntting

Parthenon, 2013. Photo by Dale Laurin
Parthenon, 2013. Photo by Dale Laurin

Originally presented at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, New York City.

Art answers the questions of our lives. What an idea! I first heard it in 1973, and I have seen it is true. Art can teach women, for instance, what they most need to know about love. I’ll describe what I’ve learned, using architecture that has moved people for over two centuries, the Parthenon.

“The world, art, and self explain each other; each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites,” stated Eli Siegel, the great American educator and critic, founder of Aesthetic Realism. The Parthenon is a oneness of matter and space, heaviness and lightness, straight line and curve. These are opposites a woman wants to put together in love, in herself, in her life.

A poem that brings love in ancient Greece alive, perhaps at the time of the Parthenon, (4th century B.C.), is “The Dark that Was Is Here” by Eli Siegel. It begins:

A girl, in ancient Greece,
Be sure, had no more peace
Than one in Idaho.
To feel and yet to know
Was hard in Athens, too.
I’m sure confusion grew
In Nika’s mind as she,
While wanting to be free,
Hoped deeply to adore
Someone; and so no more
Be wretched and alone.

Every woman has the trouble in love described here: “To feel and yet to know / Was hard in Athens, too.”  I’ve learned that true feeling about a man arises from knowing, and in order to know and like a particular man, we have to know and hope to like the world. However, there have been centuries of pain because love has been used to get away from the world: to contemptuously manage and dismiss it.

1. Matter and Space: Mind and Body

ParthenonWhen I visited Greece in my early twenties, the light and air affected me, as it does everyone. Helen Gardner writes of it in Art Through the Ages: “The unusually crystalline atmosphere is softened by a haze. Both sky and sea are brilliant in color.”

It is against this sky, both crystal clear and soft, that the marble columns of the Parthenon are first seen. In A Concise History of Western Architecture, R. Furneaux Jordan explains: “The Parthenon, an example of clear-cut sculptural precision, was itself so placed that it could never be seen except against the sky”….more