Sartre wrote that man is condemned to be free. He is flung into the world and the fact of his existence is the only thing in life that he is not responsible for. Everything else is a choice. Even the act of not choosing is a choice. There is no determinism, only the dizzying, infinitely unfolding possibilities of free will. We chose how to act, how to respond, and in doing so, we choose who we are. “In life man commits himself and draws his own portrait,” writes Sartre. “And outside of that there is nothing.”
The great malady of the modern condition is paralysis in the face of choice. We are reluctant to commit to canvas a brush stroke that will define our existence. To choose a spouse, a city, a profession, is to define some part of ourselves—to cast an anchor into the fact our existence. But choice is frightening, commitment is terrifying, and so often we remain unmoored, adrift on the sea of freedom.
These are the waters Chicago-based symbolist painter David Abed explores in “Liquid Modernity,” which opened last week at Century Guild Chicago.