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In the commerce of gifts

September 30, 2011

This is the 4th post inspired by Lewis Hyde’s book,’The Gift’

When artists work to serve the demands of the market, they make commodities. Even though these products are made with the hands, because they are purely products of commerce, they carry no (or limited) spiritual and emotional worth, and serve no bonding function for the community.

When artists work to serve their gifts, they create gifts that flow back into society and transform it.

The artist receives an inspiration and as he labors to bring that vision into reality, he enters what Hyde calls a ‘gifted state’. This could be compared to ‘flow’, and is a condition where you go beyond your own ego and feel as if something larger than your self were helping birth the work.

‘Out of what the soul has offered him, the artist makes the work.   And the finished work is a return gift carried back into the world’s (or community’s or tribe’s) soul’.

A work of art that enters us to feed the soul lets us experience that gifted state. We feel gifted for awhile, and depending on our own abilities, we respond by creating new work (it doesn’t have to be art,  but inspired by the artist we may find we can suddenly make sense of our own experience). The greatest art offers us fresh images that light up our imaginations and open up alternatives for our own lives.

I’ve finished reading ‘The Gift’, and Hyde ends with the thought that perhaps gift – and market commerce are not as irreconcilable as he first thought. In his Afterword to the 25th anniversary edition of the book, he says that perhaps they can coexist if artists carefully interact with the market while still serving their gifts. Scroll down for the next post which deals with 3 ways modern artists have resolved the problem of livelihood.

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