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The gift

September 19, 2011

I’m still little more than half way through Lewis Hyde’s ,’ The Gift’  but I want to write about my impressions so far.

Though I hadn’t read it before now, his book has been known to me for over 20 years. In the early ’80s I read an article excerpted from it called ‘The Gift must move’, and I have saved those brittle photocopied pages all this time.
His quote concerning art being a gift rather than a commodity opened Suzi Gablik’s, ‘Has Modernism Failed’, and has been a central question for me as ana rtist and for many thinkers on the dilemma of art vs market.

I bought the book hoping to find answers to the last part of this question, (paraphrased) ‘If art is a gift and not a commodity, then how are artists to survive in a primarily market oriented society?’  I admit that some passages are pretty tough going, dealing with subjects such as usury and philosophical meanings of interest on money exchange, nor are the answers to my questions presented on a silver platter.

But 200 pages in, I have already been helped to insights that have had a profound effect on how I think of my creative work. Also, immersing myself in this subject- how tribal cultures circulate their gifts and how, through ritual, these gifts increase in value rather than get used up,  has strengthened my own feelings about how a work of art should be thought of and treated once made.

Citing numerous examples of societies based on gift exchange, it becomes clear that art is a gift. And as soon as it becomes part of a market exchange, the gift element is lost. We might not think that is important, but the gift aspect of anything is that which unites it and us to powerss larger than ourselves- to mystery, delight, wonder, and to nature and the cosmos. And these forces, as they are carried in the gift aspect of works of art, renew our spirits.

And no one can deny that in this crazy, messed up society our individual and collective spirits are very much in need of renewing!

Refreshing, energizing, renewing spirit; when added up, all those expressions of art, from songs and paintings, to how tiles decorate a building,  create culture.

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One Response to “The gift”

  1. Michael Davidson Says:

    In the 1890’s new York public sculpture was viewed as a gift for the enjoyment of the public…and the wealthy Contributed to this along with a willing city hall..this lasted up to and after the great war after which its been mostly memorials


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