“Hell,” said Jean-Paul Sartre, “is other people.” Perhaps the author of The Terrible Toll of Art Anxiety in this morning’s NYTimes had these words in mind when describing what she calls “Art paralysis”: “[the] widespread and often crippling malady, striking everyone from the new college grad in his or her first apartment to the super-rich banker, lasting anywhere from a few months to a lifetime.”
The article continues, “One major reason for art paralysis, many experts say, is the feeling that when buying art you are opening yourself to ridicule. “Art has always been a barometer of class,” said Jonathan Santlofer, a Chelsea painter and novelist. “If you buy the wrong thing and people come to your house, you’re exposed.”
Remove “Art” from this diagnosis and you’ve got a perfect description of the human condition: fear of exposure resulting in paralysis. Although this fear can manifest in just about anything, this article reveals how fundamental it is to many of the aesthetic “choices” that we make. It seems that the illusion of “personal taste” as something emanating from within persists only because accepting the truth is too painful: that all of us have a group of judges before whom we sit and from whom we crave acceptance and affirmation. The problem is that even when we have this approval, the very existence of the chance of rejection keeps a ember of anxiety always burning. Every day brings another trial, and “Life anxiety” arises when the verdict of any of these various courts is in doubt.
This is why the message of God’s unconditional love towards us through Christ is so crucial. It is the only way that the flame of anxiety can be turned down, much less extinguished. As St. Paul writes, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus;” God’s verdict on our lives is unlike that of any other judge–parents, teachers, friends, spouses, ourselves–in that on account of the Cross, his acceptance is unconditional and unwavering. This is a message I need to hear every day, because I am acutely aware of the paralyzing fear of judgment, the hell that really is the fear of other people, and the glimmer of hope and peace that I’ve found through the message of the Gospel–the message that I’m both fully exposed and loved at the same time.