Gift Economics

Hyde explores the importance of gifting for artists in his book, The Gift. He quickly defines the essential quality as, “the gift must always move” (Hyde, p. 4). Whatever the technical nuances of culture may be, they all require the gift includes movement. The movement connects gifts to ecology because nature is also a model of unending cycles of growth.  Hyde links life and gifts, for example, when he says, “We nourish the spirit by distributing our gifts” (p. 193). He gives examples of what a nourishing or uninterrupted flow of gifts could be. Hyde says,

“Just as circulation of ceremonial gifts among tribal people’s preserves vitality of the tribe, so the art of any people, if it is a true emanation of their spirit, will stand surely with the lives of the citizenry” (p. 200).

I believe Hyde’s point is that a gift is primarily spirit. This idea is reflected in the common saying about gifts that is, ‘it is the thought that counts’. Seen with Hydes lens, the statement does not mean that the gift object itself is unimportant, but that it’s the intangible and spiritually nourishing property of it that differentiates it from other transactions. As such, art and artists specialize in nourishing gifts by their production of objects that freely transmit spirit. The artist is compelled to share their creative gifts in agreement with the nature of life or spirit itself.  Also, there is commerce that accompanies the sale and distribution of art objects. It is up to each artist to negotiate the two worlds, of spirit and man.  While most artists are familiar with civic rules of commerce, Hyde adds the lesser known but vital information on the spiritual laws of artistic gifts.


Hyde, L. (2007). The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (25th Anniversary edition). New York: Vintage.


  1. When gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake, and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges. p. xx
  2. Gift economies tend to be marked by three related obligations: the application together, the application to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate. p. xxi
  3. Gift exchange tends to be an economy of small groups, I’ve extended families, small villages, close-knit community’s, brotherhoods and of course, of tribes. . xxii
  4. My concern is the gift we long for, the gift that, when it comes, speaks commandingly to the soul and irresistibly moves us. p. xxiii
  5. The only essential is this: the gift must always move. p. 4
  6. When someone tries to dam up the river, one of two things will happen: either it will stagnate or it will fill the person up until he bursts. p10
  7. To say that the gift is used up, consumed, and eaten sometimes means that it is truly destroyed as in these last examples, but more simply and accurately it means that the gifts parishes for the person who gives it away. In gift exchange the transaction itself consumes the object. p. 11
  8. Our choice is whether to keep the gift moving or be eaten with it. p. 13
  9. A man who owns the thing is naturally expected to share it, to distribute it, to be it’s trustee and dispenser. p18
  10. “Reciprocity,” the standard social science term for returning and gift, has the sense of going to and fro between people.
  11. Circular giving differs from reciprocal giving in several ways. First, the gift moves in a circle no one ever receives it from the same person he gives it to. p 19
  12. So the circle is a sign of ecological insight as much as a gift exchange. p 23
  13. Forests abundance is in fact a consequence of man’s treating its wealth as a gift. p.24
  14. You not only can have your cake and eat it too, you can’t have your cake unless you eat it. p 27
  15. Scarcity appears when wealth cannot flow. p 27
  16. A commodity is truly “used up” when it is sold because nothing about the exchange assures it’s return. p 29
  17. Gifts that remain gifts can support and affluence of satisfaction, even without numerical abundance. p 29
  18. Our generosity may leave us empty, but our emptiness then pulls gently at the whole until the thing in motion returns to replenish us. Social nature abhors a vacuum. p 29
  19. The whole idea of compassion, which is central to Mahayana Buddhism, is based on an awareness of the interdependence of all living beings. p 30
  20. Usery and interest are sisters to commodity; they allow or encourage a separation. p 143
  21. The idea of usury therefore appears when spiritual, moral, and economic life began to be separated from one another, probably at the time when foreign trade, exchange with strangers, begins. p. 145
  22. Hau, the spirit of the gift. p.145
  23. As the industrialized nations have shown us, but people may grow richer and richer and commodities will becoming more and more isolated from one another. Cash exchange does not engender worth. p 147
  24. It is always the ideal: one does not take usury from a brother and all men should be brothers. p 156
  25. The spirit of the gift demands that no one make a living off another man’s need. p.162
  26. Interest is civil usury; now we have capitalism. p 163
  27. No one by himself controls the cycle of gifts he participates in; each, instead, surrenders to the spirit of the gift in order for it to move. p 166
  28. Bad faith suspects that the gift will not come back, that things won’t work out, that there is a scarcity so great in the world that it will devour whatever gifts here. In bad faith the circle is broken. p 167
  29. When all property is privatized, faith is privatized and all men feel fear at the boundary of the self. p 168
  30. Now the entrepreneur and the man with ready cash seek each other out. Interest is the sign of a lively community…. The gifts of nature and the role of society are now kept in motion and grow through usury; interest on capital feeds the widows and orphans, and allows the poor to start a new and share in the wealth. p 175
  31. In equable dealings, neither side gains or loses and there is no enduring social feeling, neither good nor bad well. To this end ethics of equity permit the reckoning of time and value which the ethics of gift exchange restrain. p 177
  32. The sphere of positive reciprocity has been shrinking for the last four centuries, until now the bulk of our dealings occur at that middle distance in which people are neither real friends nor real aliens but what I call cordial strangers. p 177
  33. With the rise of the commodity as a form of property, the giving of gifts starts to look suspiciously like the old way of dealing with strangers. p 179
  34. Charity is not gift. The recipient of a gift should, sooner or later, be able to give it away again. p 179
  35. Perfect gift is like the blood pumped through its vessels by the heart. Or blood is a thing that distributes the breath throughout the body, a liquid that slows when it carries the inner air and hardens when it meets the outer air, a substance that moves freely to every part but is none the less contained, a healer that goes without restraint to any needy place in the body. p 181
  36. An essential portion of any artist’s labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, biceps location, but according, by creating within ourselves that “begging bowl” to which the gift is drawn. p 186
  37. The artist often feels compelled, feels the desire to make the work and offer it to an audience. p 189
  38. So long as the gift is not withheld, the creative spirit will remain the stranger to the economics of scarcity. p 189
  39. On the contrary, it is a talent which is not in use that is lost or atrophies, and to bestow one of our creations is the surest way to invoke the next. p 189
  40. For a creative artist, “feeding the spirit” is as much a matter of attitude or intent as it is of any specific action; the attitude is, at base, that kind of humility that prevents the artist from drawing the essence of his creation into the personal ego. p 192
  41. We nourish the spirit by distributing our gifts, not by capitalizing upon them. p 193
  42. An artist who wishes to exercise the esemplastic power of the imagination must submit themselves to what I shall be calling a “gifted state,” one in which he is able to discern the connections inherent in his materials and give the increase, brining the work to life. p. 195

  43. Any such art is itself a gift, a cordial to the soul. p 196
  44. The gift is lost in self-consciousness. p 197
  45. These creations are not “nearly” simple, they do not “stand for” the larger self; they are it’s necessary embodiment, a language without which it would have no life at all. p 199
  46. Just as circulation of ceremonial gifts among tribal people’s preserves vitality of the tribe, so the art of any people, if it is a true emanation of their spirit, will stand surety with the lives of the citizenry. p 200
  47. All cultures and all artists have felt the tension between gift exchange and the market, between the self-forgetfulness of art and the self agrandisment of the merchants, and how that tension is to be resolved has been a subject of debate since before Aristotle. p 205
  48. The more we allow such commodity art to define and control our gifts, the less gifted we will become, as individuals and as a society. p 205
  49. Where gift comes from, what obligations of reciprocity it brings with it, how and toward whom our gratitude should be discharged, to what degree we must leave a gift so alone and to what degree we must discipline it, how we are to feed its spirit and preserve its vitality – these and all the other questions raised by a gift can only be answered by telling just so stories.