Agape: Love and Art in Community

  • Kathryn A. McFadden


In the New Testament the early Christians adopted the notion of absolute, creative and excessive love—agape—as a comprehensive fatherly love that God possesses for mankind, which as a consequence extends to a love of one’s fellow man. This paper is an investigation of agape and its relevance in contemporary art. Like a work of art, agape has an immanent creative component in that it generates value in its object. Agapic art is largely activated in the space of community. I unpack my thesis examining several contemporary artworks beginning with a public installation in 2010 commissioned after the murder of a student at the University of Virginia. I deploy my research through multiple lenses, including the thinking of Arendt, Freud, Heidegger, Lewis and Nancy. Art provides the Heideggerian clearing of light in a world that is witness to the darkness of terroristic threats, domestic violence and ethnic hatred. The list goes on, because now—as in all of history—the human instinct for aggression sees no end in sight. Works of art that express agape are gifts of optimism to the living.