The Gifted Blog

September 8, 2011

The Gift by Lewis Hyde | Why We Make

I write The Gifted Blog because I love to create. I've been reflecting on what it means to be a Christian and to love making things. I hope this series will be a jumping-off point for thoughtful discussion among us, no matter your spiritual background. For the whole series, click here.

I first heard about The Gift by Lewis Hyde from the lovely Ellen Culpepper. You may remember Ellen as the art school student who gift wrapped her way through her final thesis project. We exchanged emails about the books informing her project, and this was one of them.

I'm not going to lie. I couldn't finish this book (too theoretical). But it was well worth checking out just for the introduction:
It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two "economies," a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art. (xvi)
This absolutely struck home for me. Have you ever had to put a price on something you've made? It's hard. I think a part of this is because what we make is a gift. It's not just the cost of the materials plus the price of your labor, multiplied by two (or whatever formula you've heard).

I think that might be why I enjoy gift wrapping so much - it's explicitly, literally, a gift. It's not meant to be bought and sold, but part of an act of giving.

Hyde goes on to say:
We also rightly speak of intuition or inspiration as a gift. As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him. An idea pops into his head, a tune begins to play, a phrase comes to mind, a color falls in place on the canvas. Usually, in fact, the artist does not find himself engaged or exhilarated by the work, nor does it seem authentic, until this gratuitous element has appeared, so that along with any true creation comes the uncanny sense that "I," the artist, did not make the work. "Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me," says D.H. Lawrence. Not all artists emphasize the "gift" phase of their creations to the degree that Lawrence does, but all artists feel it. (xvi)
How many of you notice this when you create? You can be diligently making something, but the real excitement comes when an idea from outside yourself just strikes you. As a Christian, I guess I view "the wind" that D.H. Lawrence writes about as God's Spirit. It's amazing to me that God, the original Creator, can interact with our creative process in a specific, inspiring way.

There is more from this book to talk with you about but I'll stop here for now. So many of you are creatives yourselves. What do you think about this idea of art as gift, not commodity? Have you experienced 'the gift' of intuition or inspiration as you've created? Where do you think it comes from?

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{Images by Ev0luti0nary: 1, 2}


  1. I love the questions you pose. There's definitely something sacrificial and others focused when we think of our art as a gift. And yes, I've definitely felt the wave of inspiration and creativity that comes from God. It feels as if God is pointing something beautiful out to me, or giving me an idea I wouldn't have thought of myself, and we get to share those creative moments together.


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