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The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property
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The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,477 ratings  ·  265 reviews
Discusses the argument that a work of art is essentially a gift and not a commodity.
Paperback, 327 pages
Published February 12th 1983 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1979)
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Austin Kleon
Amazing, amazing book. My map:

I tried to like this book, since it had come so highly recommended, and it was in a 25th anniversary edition. If it has been in print all those years, there must be something to it, right? Nope. First of all, it's badly structured. The first half is an extended discussion of the concept of gifts (vs paying for things) in ancient vs modern societies. Once you get the basic point, that (especially older) societies exchanged goods and services as gifts, not for money, and that Hyde thinks that's a ...more
I chose this edition because the new one looks like a Valentine's day card. I expected it to be perfumed inside.

The Gift is a large and pretty messy book, to its credit, but the main thrusts are: 1) To use detailed analyses of folk-tales, anthropology, and economic theory to come up with a model for human interaction that parallels commodity exchange but is based around gift-giving, and 2) To give detailed readings of Whitman and Pound, two poets whose careers and lives Hyde sees standing at an
I picked this up at a bookstore where I was killing some time before an appointment. I read the preface and the introduction and wept through them both. I left for my appointment, thinking I'd have to find a used copy of this book sometime and read it. A couple of hours later, I had to go back and buy it because I was still thinking about it. So it lit a fire under me, for sure. Whether or not it fulfilled the promise of that fire is still up for debate. The preface and the intro are really easy ...more
Eric Hansen
I felt I needed to write a review to counter the negative ones here. Any book that calls the zeitgeist into question is bound to draw confusion and pushback. I've bought this book three times because I give it to friends who don't always give it back. That's okay: The Gift was and is a profound touchstone for me (and for an older generation of writers who knew Hyde from his Minnesota days). I recommend it to artists who wonder how their gifts may be appeciated for their worth, if not always alwa ...more
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Now in its 25th anniversary edition, this book is as current and necessary as it was in 1979. A creative mix of ethnography, folklore, economics (the gift economy, the market economy, the vegetable money economy?!), and literary criticism (Whitman and Pound) all seen through the prism of art as a gift and the artist as a gifted person. Keen observations are sprinkled throughout on how an artist needs to protect from market forces that space where the artwork is conceived (essentially a gift), an ...more
While Hyde has given his readers the gift of a lens through which to view artistic endeavors, this could have been done in about 50 pages - not 385. This book reminded me of a typical college freshman essay: I want to write about everything! And therefore, nothing is really achieved. While the gift metaphor is interesting, it's too vague to help in any but the most theoretical way. This could have been a tight essay, a literary work (like a novel or short story) or a scholarly work on the anthro ...more
The title of this book is the most egregious misnomer I've ever encountered. Combined with the misleading jacket description I don't think I've ever had a more disappointing or frustrating experience from a book that I thought was going to be pretty straightforward.

It would have been more accurately subtitled not "Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World," but "An Ethnographic Study Through the Works of Whitman and Pound." If that subtitle still appeals to you, by all means read the book, b
Sorry, but this good-hearted little book, much-loved by the market-alienated artists it praises for preserving the primitive magic of creativity in our cold age -- well, it's kind of a crock. Hyde's emphasis on the processes by which true Art is created pays off in nice biographical readings of Whitman and Pound, but blinds him to the obvious truth that purity of intention does not determine (OK, does not always determine) the meaningfulness of a creation. We sure could use some powerful defense ...more
This books gets me in the mood, creatively speaking, more reliably and more deeply than any other. Maybe I'm already primed by the time I pick it up, but still I highly recommend to artists and aspiring, cynical, doubtful creators that need a little help sometimes getting in the zone. This might help you reconnect to that thing inside of you that digs and gnaws all the time, but stays frustratingly elusive most of the time.
Adam Fisher
I wanted to like this book, but ended up hating it thoroughly by the time I was done with it. His exploration of gift economies is one-sided and glosses over most of their problematic aspects; a text I read by a feminist author last year pointed out that in old school gift economies women were often used as gifts, and traded in the same way, as a form of homosocial bonding. Hyde refuses to acknowledge these less pleasant aspects of gift economies, focusing instead on everything that he can use t ...more
Persevere through this book and I believe you will be rewarded with some interesting observations about human nature and how we perceive one another - in particular, you will find new perspectives on who is considered an "insider" or "outsider" to your group and how you treat them in kind.

You will also be introduced universally shared human traits - in this case, gift-giving. You will learn why there is much more to the practice of gift-giving than you ever thought possible and that the manipul
You who keep such close track of my "currently reading" list may have noticed (I know I have) that when I put something on it, I promptly stop reading it. It's where books in my life go to stagnate. This holiday season, with my glut of unclaimed time, I aim to change this trend. To that end, I have just finished The Gift, which I see I started reading two years ago. This is an AMAZING book. I sort of want to start reading it all over again from the beginning, since what I read two years ago is a ...more
Hyde originally wrote this book with poets in mind, but it is recommended for anyone working in any of the arts, or who wants to devote themselves to a career or calling that does not do well in a market economy. In the first half of the book he draws on cultural anthropology and folktales to lay out his theory of a gift economy, and the characteristics and requirements of a gift. In the second half, he uses that theory to examine the works and lives of Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound. Neither secti ...more
Meghan Jean
Maybe 3.5 stars? I did like this book. It's even brilliant at times. Hyde is at his best in the realms of sociology and anthropology (although the book is decidedly focused on Western cultures). There is some great literary analysis of Whitman and he makes wonderful insights and connections between various folklore. But Hyde is out of his league when he writes about art practice, aesthetics, and economic theory. He makes some ludicrous oversimplifications and perpetuates many false romantic noti ...more
"...a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, (...) works of art exist simultaneously in two 'economies', 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."

This is the premise of Lewis Hyde's 'The Gift' (1983). Part anthropology, sociology and economics and part literary criticism, the book is hard to categorize, let alone summari
I'm a great believer that there's much that's wrong with the art world, proper compensation to artists and fair tax breaks being among them. However, Lewis Hyde opens these dilemmas up with an almost scientific discussion of "gift-culture". As a Christian, and an artist, this idea of gift culture is extremely liberating. While Hyde offers only light, suggestions instead of concrete answers, he does much to advance the discussion of this extremely complex matter.
This is a magnificent book addin
Requires patience, but is ultimately rewarding.

In a curious, gently critical tone, Hyde disrupts modern assumptions about value/worth. Core idea: the most precious things in life are exchanged freely - art, friendship, charity - and in exchanging them, we create community. Despite modern market pressures, we can and should carve out spheres for circulating gifts.

First half imparts these ideas through forays into myth, anthropology, intellectual history, economics - which are at times stimulatin
It's become common sense to talk about artistic creation as part of our market economy, complicating the pressures of artistic creation with expectations for artists to then function as business people to sell, promote, and distribute their creations as well as make them. Hyde, after an analysis of the notion of the gift in various cultures, and comparison of "gift culture" with "market culture," makes an excellent case that what artists do is better understood as a gift than as a product for sa ...more
Aniko Carmean
"It is an assumption of this book that art is a gift, not a commodity."

Hyde opens his treatise on the nature of Art as a gift with anthropological studies of gift exchange coupled with folklore. The diverse sources provide an excellent depiction of the two economies in which the artist (and her art) must participate. One economy is the visible, capitalistic one of which we are all aware in a daily, accounting-ledger way. This is the economy of commerce, and Hyde traces the origins of capitalist
Please see my full review of this book and its importance to any artist--and I believe we all carry an artist within us. My full review, and your comments are welcome is here:

My best hopes to all in whatever field, Mary

I want to add a comment based on another reader's four star review of this book and also a sense of feeling discouraged by the book. Here are my thoughts on that excellent review and the discouragement: I want to address why a reader might
Nathan Wisnoski
I expected this book to be more reflective of its subtitle: "Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World" (if you have the 25th Anniv. Ed.), but as a sociological study of the gift cycle recounted via anthropological narratives, medieval church history, myths/fables, and two case-studies devoted to Whitman and Pound, Hyde's book was a complete success.

Hyde suggests that gifts have worth in their perpetual movement and therefore exist in an economy separate from the commodity-driven market, wh
Restless Books
In the spirit of the book itself, which has become as much samizdat to young people in the arts as Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet , someone recently passed along to me a heavily annotated copy of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. As Hyde describes in his preface, booksellers often have a ten-word tagline with which they can summarize (and thus commoditize) books. Calling upon a vast array of scholarship and a deep reservoir of emotion, this treatise on the endurance of creative work in a world increasing ...more
Really interesting meditation on the conflicts between art and commerce...viewed through the perspective of all art as a "gift" that is not diminished through sharing. I'm just finishing and alreading feeling like I've got to read it again to get the full gist.
To be an artist in the world nowadays is a challenge. Mainly because it is all measured in terms of how much profit it can generate, how much it will sell, etc. (even more so in my home country, where the government clearly thinks that art does not contribute anything to society - you can clearly tell we do not need culture with all these violence...). This book speaks a little about surviving as an artist in a capitalist world that does not treat art as what it is: a gift; and would rather have ...more
Insightful, insightful stuff. Creates a glow of positive, humane, idealistic feelings that sometimes hits right at the core, like almost at a soul level. Its scope is very very broad and sometimes risks turning into whipped cream. But it remains a book that resonates with a rare goodness, a kind of unassailable moral fiber. It illuminates its subject matter rather than pinning it down; what I find most valuable about it aren't its arguments but its way of opening out onto a vast multiplicity of ...more
Tom Phillips
This is no "page-turner." It is, however, a thoughtful critique on the meaning of creative work and was exceptionally inspiring to me as someone who wants to create but isn't always successful at getting myself down to the hard work of creation. If creation is first a gift (to the world, community, neighbor) then, whether or not it helps the artist to make an income, it has done its work and serves its highest purpose.

By the way, the copy I have does not have "erotic" in the subtitle. I'm wracki
Dara Lebrun
I keep TheGift in a stack of books on my bedside table with no intention of reading it cover to cover. Rather, I dip into it for that occasional, necessary perspective on making art in a culture that is ambivalent to art. For that it has proven useful, a good complement to Das Kapital or John Dewey's Art As Experience. Because Hyde's study has opened my awareness of this uncomfortable cultural context, I don't feel inclined to pick on his academic style. Yes, he can be long-winded. So, blow over ...more
It's philosophy and I don't do philosophy, but I like it so far!
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what i got out of it... 1 80 Jun 10, 2008 11:40AM  
  • The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc.
  • Ed Emberley's Drawing Book: Make a World
  • Escapism
  • As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art
  • Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry
  • Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
  • On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection
  • Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style
  • The Paris Review Interviews, II
  • The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel
  • Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists
  • The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
  • The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books
  • The Act of Creation
  • The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
  • The Courage to Create
  • On Beauty and Being Just
  • On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity
Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership The Gift Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking This Error Is the Sign of Love

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“Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.” 13 likes
“Erik Erikson has commented: Potentially creative men like (Bernard) Shaw build the personal fundament of their work during a self-decreed moratorium, during which they often starve themselves, socially, erotically, and, at last but not least, nutritionally, in order to let the grosser weeds die out, and make way for the growth of their inner garden. ” 12 likes
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