Creativity is a gift.


We need to feed it.


Hi. My name is Carrie and here on Artist Strong I help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice.


What if block is because we aren’t gifting to our creativity? Today I want to share the research and philosophical discussion offered inside a very insightful book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde.

In this book Lewis Hyde undergoes a sociological study of the market and gift economy to discuss how art exists somewhere in between the two and how this impacts creative process. Let’s begin by defining these terms.

What is a market economy?

This is the kind of economy we are accustomed to and live by today in our very consumerist world. It is the idea that someone can give something of worth (either objects or money) to receive something in return of equal value. It is a transactional relationship.

What is a gift economy?

Hyde looks at cultures and myths and folklore across cultures to better understand what a gift economy is. Ultimately it’s the idea that people gift one another items and because the item is gifted, it is of value. And when someone is gifted something, there is an underlying expectation that the gift is passed on to someone else and continues in circulation amongst people within the community.

It is a tool that helps keep communities together. Once the gift remains in someone’s possession it loses its value. There is also an expectation that the person gifting things will also receive gifts in kind.

An interesting quote from Hyde with regard to gift culture today, “In a modern, capitalist nation, to labor with gifts (and treat them as gifts, rather than exploit them) remains a mark of the female gender.” Today the gift economy has been ascribed female traits, which traditionally are perceived as weak or have less value.

Perhaps this is yet another reflection of how the arts (and also women) are undervalued in today’s society?

So why are we talking about this? Who cares if art is part of a market or gift economy? While Hyde doesn’t offer artists answers about how to navigate this area of in-between, he’s investigating why we might believe in the myth of the starving artist.

If art exists solely in the gift economy, this means it may lose some of it’s meaning or worth when sold or purchased.

I know many artists who argue this today.

Thankfully Hyde explains the different ways art is a gift, and his description and conclusions encourage us to consider how we might honor that and still sell and share our art with the world in a way that is spiritually and artistically aligned.

How is art a gift?

Hyde says there are three different ways art is a gift. First, the initial gift is the idea given to the artist.

The labor of creating the work is the second gift.

And finally, the finished artwork is the third gift offered to the world.

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I can see the gift in each of these steps or stages of creative process. And I believe that artists who choose to honor these three gifts experience less creative block and sell more art.

Hyde claims there are two states or phases in a completion of an artwork: one where our willpower as artists is suspended and one where it is active.

The suspension of will is a necessary part of creative process (and part of how we can receive the gift of art as artists). It is the moments of in-between I spoke about in our recent video 2 Ways to Get Good Art Ideas. It’s the idea that we can’t force ourselves to get good ideas, but we can be aware of when they come to us and cultivate those moments to be the receiver. This is the first gift.

Then we have the second gift, where we need to consciously put things together, as well as physically labor, to bring together and create the artwork.  

In order to make art, we must acknowledge and honor these parts of receiving the gift of art.

The third step is where we let go of the work to gift it to the world. When Hyde studied different tribes as well as different folk lores, time and time again the value of a gift is lost when someone hoards it, steals it, or refuses to gift it again and pay it forward.

This is an important point in today’s conversation. Many, many artists I know decide for themselves their art is unimportant or not valuable and hide it away. And in terms of Hyde’s discussion, the work is no longer art, nor is it a gift because gifts are passed on and shared.

Gifts are tools of connection and community building, which can only happen when they are shared with other people within the tribe.

A quote for you:

“Just as a circulation of ceremonial gifts among tribal peoples preserves the vitality of the tribe, so the art of any people, if it is a true emanation of their spirit, will stand surety for the lives of the citizenry.”

This suggests art loses its value and meaning without sharing it.

The last point I took away from Hyde’s book is how as an artist we often are a reflection of the cultural moment in which we live.

He specifically addresses the role of artist and art in political moments. I have two quotes for you  here:

“…the work of art becomes a political force simply through the faithful representation of the spirit. It is a political act to create an image of the self or of the collective.”

Again here, Hyde is describing artists as a vessel through which gifts are created and given to others. Here is the second quote:

“So long as the artist speaks the truth, he will, whenever the government is lying or has betrayed the people, become a political force whether he intends to or not…”

Art is a gift because it continues to be a tool through which we connect, grow and build community.

When we treat art as a gift, we continue to fuel and foster our creativity.

The book is dense and digs in with real commitment to detail on the historical and mythological foundations upon which our gift and market economies are founded. Hyde also shares the stories of both authors Ezra Pound and Walt Whitman to offer examples of art and its relationship to the gift economy.

If you are interested in sociology and the stories of the above poets I encourage you to pick up your own copy of The Gift by Lewis Hyde today. Please consider using my affiliate link in the text below this video to help support my work creating free content.

We talk about A LOT today because this book was meaty. I’d love to know what interests you, what questions you have, or what triggered you in today’s conversation. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week!