Marja-Leena Rathje
Home ::: the artist in a gift economy

the artist in a gift economy

I am really going to have to get my hands on this book: The Gift - Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde**. I am very intrigued and find the quotes really resonate with me as a lifelong artist who creates because of an inner need, rather than a need to sell (although of course I am happy when I do), and as an artist who blogs to share my thoughts and passions.

Chris Corrigan has been reading and writing about this book periodically since July 20th. On July 26th Chris refers to the introduction of The Gift where Lewis Hyde is writing about how we receive the fruits of artistic gifts:

The spirit of the artist's gifts can wake our own. The work appeals, as Joseph Conrad says, to a part of our being which is itself a gift and not an acquisition. Our sense of harmony can hear the harmonies that Mozart heard. We may not have the power to proffer our gifts as the artist does, and yet we come to recognize, and in a sense receive, the endowments of our being through the agency of his creation...When we are moved by art we are grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he labored in the service of his gifts.

On August 5th, Chris writes also about bloggers' gifts:

Bloggers offer immense gifts of time, reflection, engagement with each other's ideas. My own thinking gets continually pushed and stretched by reading others and trying to respond to them. This quality of gift exchange provides a beautiful and powerful foundation for the community of people who share ideas freely on a myriad of subject areas. When bloggers form communities, it is around the cohesion of those who contribute to each other's thinking. Don't miss reading the thoughtful comments to this post.

Read more for yourself about Chris' analysis of "The Gift" in the posts of July 21st, July 23rd, July25th, and July 29th.

Anna L. Conti also wrote about and highly recommended this book along with another one by Hyde called Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art** (Aug 10th entry). Here are some excerpts:

A few years ago Margaret Atwood wrote a terrific review of these books for the LA Times [...]: 'The artist belongs primarily to the gift economy; without that element of creation which arrives uncommanded and cannot be bought, the work is unlikely to be alive. The Gift is the best book I know of for the aspiring young, for talented but unacknowledged creators, or even for those who have achieved material success and are worried that this means they've sold out. It gets at the core of their dilemma: how to maintain yourself alive in the world of money, when the essential part of what you do cannot be bought or sold.' (Read Atwood's full review)

Lewis Hyde starts with the premise that a work of art is a gift and not a commodity, and goes on to explain the uneasy nature of the artist's position in a marketplace economy. He leads the reader slowly and carefully to his surprising conclusion that "gift exchange and the market need not be wholly separate spheres.

Thanks to both Chris and Anna!

(**Available through Abe Books )

Marja-Leena | 13/08/2004 | 3 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Blogging, Books, Concepts


Buying and selling is also a gift, perhaps. For those who live and breathe it, what they buy or sell is immaterial. It's the interaction with others, the bargaining dance, and the play of the balance scales that matter.

It happens that this gift is one which, in our society, is rewarded all out of proportion to any other kind, so that artists whose work does not include any kind of buying/selling as an integral component see comparatively little in the way of material appreciation for their work.

As I wrote, I must get this book and read it before I get into deeper discussion about it. What strikes me though is the message that the deeper human value of the arts seems to be lost in the concerns for just making money and where is the fine line in making enough to survive.

Certainly I've come across pressures to paint flowers because they would sell better than my "difficult" work.

Much has been said about our materialistic, consumer society. To me, the essence of the person making the "product" is lost in mass production, mass marketing and the eventual overload of garbage onto our fragile planet. Sure, we get cheap clothes, but how much do we really need? How much true, maybe spiritual, satisfaction does one get out of shopping - I have come to detest it myself. Shopaholics may be trying to fill some emptiness within themselves?

Thanks for commenting, Pericat!

Thanks for the great comments and your engagement with this thread. I liked the Margaret Atwood quote...she's clearly read Hyde.