Exploring the gift further

September 23, 2011

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

The destruction of the spirit of the gift is nothing new or  particular to capitalism. All cultures and all artists have felt the tension between gift exchange and the market, between the self-forgetfulness of art and the self-aggrandisement of the merchant, and how that tension is to be resolved has been a subject of debate since before Aristotle.   Lewis Hyde, ‘The Gift’

I realise that this is the central question up for me and informing this blog and most of what I do. So it is great to be able to muse on it and explore it further here. (See previous post for more about the book ‘The Gift’).

Hyde cites 3 aspects of the gift in relation to the creation of an artwork.

The first is the inspiration from a perception, or experience, intuition, a dream a vision, or another art work. It is rare for this initial vision to be the finished work of art, we have to labour with it.

The ability to apply our skills to do the labour is the second gift. The artist works from that part of our being which is a gift and not an acquisition. It can’t be acquired by will –  talents are gifts.

‘The artist’s gift refines the materials of perception or intuition that have been bestowed on him.. if the artist is gifted, the gift increases in its passage through the self’. The artist makes something higher than what he has been given, and this, the finished work is the third gift. It is offered to the world or directed back to the perceived source –  which could be the muse, tribe, the spirits, nature, homeland or the muse.

By this Hyde means that when the artist is aware of his work as a gift, there is always humility and gratitude present. And this prompts the artist to give back somehow.

I will be exploring how to preserve this gift element even in the midst of market exchange in future posts. Because it is not either gift or market, but how to exist authentically in the tension between the two.

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