The gift system was pioneered by anthropologist Marcher Mauss and Bronislaw Malinowski in the mid-1920s. Mauss taught us that social life involves a ‘gift,’ that is indisputable as a combination of labour and service that cannot be reduced to the calculation of contracts. Sociologist, Lewis Hyde draws from Mauss’ philosophy for his book The Gift: Creativity and the Artists in the Modern World. In this book, Hyde (2007) points out two types of economies: A commodity (or exchange) economy where status is accorded to those who have the most, and, a gift economy, where status is accorded to those who give the most to others. Hyde argues that a work of art is a gift, rather than a commodity and those artists are laboring in the service of his or her gifts. Hyde contends that
Art matters to us—because it moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience—that work is received by us as a gift is received. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price…the spirit of an artist’s gifts can wake our own (p. xvii).
Hyde stresses that the daily life of commerce will continue its course, but a gift revives the soul ; he tries to reconcile the value of doing creative work with the exigencies of a market economy. Hyde recognizes that a work of art is what we make of it; even if a work of art contains the spirit of the artist’s gift, it does not necessary follow that the work itself is a gift. For instance, in the commerce of art
A gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it may be possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a pure commodity (p. xviii).
Indeed a gift community puts certain constraints on its members, and these limits the freedom of the gift. That is, Hyde argues that “ideas do not circulate freely when they are treated as commodities” (p.107). As a result, the commodification of art interferes with the creative process. Hyde strongly believes the commodification of the arts could destroy an artist’s gift. However, he recognizes that the marketplace is not going anywhere; it has always existed, and it always will.
How do we find a balance?