Last night, I made a heavy-lidded attempt at a short post about a group of obscurely related things - snail-mail, hedgehogs, citrine - but halfway through a sentence, I fell asleep (yes, literally) on the letter 'd'. When I woke a wee while later, I found my 'draft' window teeming with hundreds of lower-case drones. They were almost noisy. Almost.
It was a good thing my little finger didn't inadvertently hit the 'publish post' button while I was off elsewhere, dreaming of multi-antlered antelopes, dusty old vegetable carts and men in paint-spattered overalls sitting cross-legged on trestle tables playing brightly coloured stringed instruments.
Anyway, it's been another very full day and I'm at risk of having the same thing happen again tonight, so instead of trying to summon up something new, I thought I'd re-post a piece I wrote this time last year. It addresses a subject that has beckoned me countless times over the years and that's once again putting up its hand and asking for attention...
Just as treating nature's bounty as a gift ensures the fertility of nature, so to treat the products of the imagination as gifts ensures the fertility of the imagination.
The Gift is one. If you don't already have a copy on the pile next to your bed, I'd urge you to get hold of one. My pre-loved book came from Amazon. I read it often and always with pencil in hand: it's an ongoing pleasure that never fails to yield more. My exploration of it and its fundamental premises formed the basis of a sequence of seven small works I made this time last year (they really were small - 350 x 280MM).
Hyde considers art as gift, not as commodity. "Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two 'economics,' 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.' He goes on to suggest that when gifts - rather than commodities - circulate within a group, the exchange leaves a series of satisfyingly interconnected relationships in its wake, so that a kind of 'decentralized cohesiveness emerges' (i.e a cooperative, collaborative, connected community).
One of the most insistent dilemmas I face regarding my own creative work and its ongoing life in the world is around precisely these questions... The lines between meaning and value are easily blurred in our fiercely competitive and commercially-driven world. Very little is simply, unconditionally 'gifted' these days - just about everything comes with a price-tag attached to it. I find this troubling. Within this 'set system,' there has still to be room for 'pure gift', surely? In order to sustain a practice, make a living, pay the bills, etc... our creative work (in all its forms/media/genres/dimensions) has to exist to some degree or other in the trickily-charged space between 'market economy' and 'gift economy.' Is there some way round - and through - this? I like to think so.
There are times when conflicts can be creative and tensions productive, but I must admit that this particular dilemma continues to be an area of considerable discomfort to me. In my dreams - naive as this may seem - our community would grow forward (as opposed to the cliched adage, 'go back') to a modus operandi where gift, exchange and barter are once again our primary currency. Once upon a time, this used to be the way - and it worked. It wasn't all that long ago, either.
Can an echo sound retrospectively?
Apparently so... In an earlier book - a memoir, titled Journal of a Solitude - poet and novelist May Sarton wrote: "There is only one real deprivation, I decided this morning, and that is not to be able to give one's gift to those one loves most... The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up..."
Gifts - unlike so many 'things' - are not used up in circulation or in use.