The Gift is a departure from my typical reading, but one that I have been looking forward to for a while. I rarely read nonfiction anymore, primarily because of my time at university steeped in the genre, though by no fault of the faculty I studied under. The Gift is one of the few books recommended by Margaret Atwood for writers and storytellers, which I think is all the endorsement a book needs. As a yearning, and thoroughly unrecognized and unactualized writer, I thought this book might offer a much-needed perspective on the nature of art and creativity within the scope of western 21st century society, and it does that and so much more.
The book is divided into two sections. The first part is addressing and creating a theory of gift exchange. It examines the history of exchange, not necessarily in a dry, academic way, but to demonstrate how the giving of gifts, and particularly the exchanging of gifts, interacts within societies and cultures. It’s a decisive inspection, exploring how at its best, the act of exchanging gifts connects and integrates into something greater than the individual. The second half of the book is the attempt to apply the language of that theory to the life of the artist in the modern world. It is presented in a way that is tangible for everyone, not just abstract artists such as writers or poets, and not just for physical artists either, like architects and sculptures.
“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.” – Lewis Hyde, Introduction to The Gift
This book is difficult to summarize in any form shorter than an essay. From the first chapter, The Gift forced me to reevaluate my perspective on gifts, and continued to allow me to imagine how I could apply that to my creativity as well as to my relationships. It’s more than a book for creators (artists), it’s for anyone who seeks to imagine, anyone who believes they belong. It is a thought-provoking book, and is not a quick read despite its length. My recommendation is to take time with it, contemplate the words and the concepts that Hyde shares. Find time and the places where it can be significant for you, where its lessons can have an impact.
More than attempting to synthesize this book, I think it is simply worth stating that you should read it. It is a book for artists and creatives of every kind. Read this book for you, not as an assignment, it’s not that sort of book. Read it for the reason the author wrote it, to recognize the aspects of art that are gifts, and that there is a place for art as a gift, not just a commodity, in this modern age we live in.
The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World is written by Lewis Hyde, and is published by Vintage Book, a division of Random House, Inc.
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