“The artist appeals to that part of our being …which is a gift and not an acquisition — and, therefore, more permanently enduring.” – Joseph Conrad
In January, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC, on the art of creative living. I loved it, made notes, shared it at GreatNewBooks.org, and noted one of the books which inspired her: The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, by Lewis Hyde.
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
At last, I have it on my reading stack. I have begun at the introduction and can hardly move past it, the content is so thought-provoking.
The first concept Hyde mentions: “Works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies,” a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a works of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.”
Where there is no gift, there is no art. Of created works, only art endures.
My question has always been, How do we know what is art? Who is to say that a modern painting with colors seemingly haphazardly thrown onto a canvas is more lofty and enduring than a random painting done by a non-artist? Or who is to say one work of fiction is more meaningful than another more formulaic book?
I don’t know the answer. But I think Hyde is on to something.
The next: “A gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will.”
True. I can’t buy or bargain my way into being Mozart. There is a gift element to his talent, as well as a gazillion hours of hard work.
Inspiration for the Artist
The third big thought of the introduction is: “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… With any true creation comes the uncanny sense that “I,” the artist, did not make the work.” Some element of what has been created does not seem to come from the artist him/herself. The inspiration comes in the act of working.
I recently worked on the oil painting (16″x24″), above. It has been sitting on my easel for months as I’ve tried to work out what to do with it. It has no less than ten layers of paint on it, all trying to depict what I see.
I don’t think the above painting is a piece of art, but merely something I’ve worked on that expresses something I see. I knew in each version that what I was trying to achieve would eventually come out.
For me, the hardest part of creating is starting at the blank canvas; the next hardest part of creating is not giving up. Now, I feel satisfied with it, though I am not sure exactly why.
“That art that matters to us–which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience–that work is received by us as a gift is received.”
Or, ART matters.
What is it about a certain piece of art that connects with someone deeply? I can read a book or article and, depending on what I’ve experienced, determines how I feel about the piece. I can see a painting and it moves me, or hear a song and it transports me. What is it about art that makes it ART?
I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments…