Friday, July 10, 2015

Art as ritual gift as community

“The Gift: how the creative spirit transforms the world” has been called a type of ‘manifesto’, written by Lewis Hyde and first published over thirty years ago. It seems to have had various subtitles with different editions, but is essentially about the mysterious role and purpose of creativity and the artist in the world of a market economy, such as has developed over the last four or five decades in particular – when the essential act of creating art has no material value and cannot be bought or sold. It raises question about how we place value on the creative arts in our society: as a commodity whose value is governed by market forces or as a gift to enlighten and nurture us, to maintain community bonds and express underlying shared values? Treating art purely as a commercial enterprise, are we in danger of ignoring its deeper, eternal worth? Or can we allow our art to be expressed in a context where ‘the true commerce of art is a gift exchange,’ the fruits of which is a ‘creative spirit whose fertility is not exhausted in use’ and which contribute to ‘the sense of plenitude which is the mark of all erotic exchange… as agents of transformation, and to a sense of an inhabitable world – …towards a civilization in which the realized gifts of the gifted stand surety for the life of the citizenry’ (p.161). His use of the term ‘erotic’ is in the sense of procreative, the ‘life-giving’ role of art in its relationship with a social economy, ‘…for a true image has a life of its own.’ Underpinning all claims is his assertion that there needs to be movement between the gift and those who accept it, a ‘passing along’ in order to fulfill its role of ‘increase’ to the society through its redistribution (pp.34-37).
There is much more to this exploration of the role of the arts than can be satisfactorily summarized here – it takes much thoughtful reading! But in the gift bestowed of the hand-quilting of the Celtic tablecloth I am conscious of the ideas coming into form as an image of the mystery that is the gift of procreation, for the maintenance of the life of the group. Gift-giving is a ritual so much more important as nourishment for the soul (either of the individual or the group) than religious dogmas and observances.

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