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  • Writer's picture Brian E Pearson

Lewis Hyde ("The Gift")

Lewis Hyde's "The Gift" is a modern classic on the subject of creativity. Creativity, Hyde says, is always a gift in three phases--the gift of the initial inspiration; the gift of the resulting work of art; the gift of its reception by others, who are then inspired to create their own art, thus perpetuating the cycle. But commerce, he says, the buying and selling of art, as opposed to gift exchange, compromises the creative process.

Credit: Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study


... in Rome it was the custom on one's birthday to offer a sacrifice to one's own genius. A man didn't just receive gifts on his birthday, he would also give something to his guiding spirit. Respected in this way the genius made one "genial"--sexually potent, artistically creative, and spiritually fertile. (p. 67)


The true commerce of art is a gift exchange, and where that commerce can proceed on its own terms we shall be heirs to the fruits of gift exchange ... but none of these fruits will come to us where we have converted our arts to pure commercial enterprises. (pp. 205-206)


The greatest art offers us images by which to imagine our lives. And once the imagination has been awakened, it is procreative: through it we can give more than we were given, say more than we had to say ... A work of art breeds in the ground of the imagination. (pp. 251-252)

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