The Gift: Art, Work and a Ribbon

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Sam here. Welcome to HCB’s discussion of The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (Vintage) by Lewis Hyde. I just finished the last page of Chapter 1 yesterday and usually prefer to grasp something before going public, but I found so many worthy phrases in the first pages that I slowed my pace considerably. Consequently, I have little idea where Hyde will go next. Same goes for this conversation, so feel free to highlight what strikes you along the way. Adventures in communal reading, eh?

Let’s start this adventure by going backwards. I said we’d start with Chapter 1 this week, but what about the Introduction? I made quite a few notes in it, and I also have to tell you where I first heard the Introduction spoken aloud. Ooh, how about a preliminary comment about a blurb from the very opening page before we get to the Intro? (Talk about adventure!) Artist Bill Viola writes, “selflessness, not self-expression, lies at the root of all creative acts.” I rarely consider art in this way. I typically see it as self-expression. We need self-expression, of course, but at the root, where Bill points us, is something more important. Bible readers know it to be the Great Commandments: love the Other and others; love God and neighbors. No matter how we live out our creative acts (as painters, engineers, parents), we begin here with selflessness.

Okay, the Intro. Well, the intro to the Intro. I went to a retreat for artists at the Laity Lodge in April. I’m not an artist in the usual sense, so I felt a bit out of place. Acclaimed painter, Makoto Fujimura, gave his primary address by reading a good-sized portion of Hyde’s Introduction verbatim, and it didn’t strike me until days later that works of art (Mako’s focus) aren’t limited to art in the usual sense. This means that my job as a wilderness guide and a writer and an advertising critic ought to be considered works of art. If true, then I want Hyde to help me figure out how to “gift” them properly, wrapping and ribbon included. Perhaps we can help each other do the same as we read together.

Post written by Sam Van Eman.