Sufjan Stevens and art as gift

The following blog post by Sufjan Stevens helps the listener understand his vision of making art as a gift:

Everyone must read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. (Although it seems the subtitle has been recently white-washed?) Hyde makes effort to parse the difference between giving and selling (not quite as obvious as it appears). Our loyalty to reciprocity is profoundly linked to capitalism, supply and demand. He suggests the highest gift is that of the incarnate spirit. This is not a religious book, but I couldn’t resist the association to Eucharist—“Take, eat; this is my body.” Generosity is spiritual made corporeal. Inverse sublimation. The bread and the body are strange citations, for they speak of the physical, the practical, defying cosmology. The definitive gift is of oneself, the gift of one’s time, the gift of one’s body. A mother gives her breast to the child. Lovers give the intimacy of their bodies to each other.

A loan expects recompense, with interest. But a gift seeks nothing in return. How does this relate to art and eroticism? Eros, literally: “creative, sexual yearning, love, or desire.” In psychiatry: “The sum of all instincts for self-preservation.” To make art is to make love. The creative impulse may be a simulation of the procreative one. The product of our creative labors (the art object) is an artificial representation of the product of our procreative labors: that of progeny (the ultimate act of self-preservation). “I believe the children are our future…” and other poems.

To objectify art is to measure its commercial value and squander its transcendental powers of benevolence. Reciprocity demeans art; or, rather, it functions to incarcerate its powers, to judge it for its charity. Like putting Mother Theresa on trial, or in prison, for the crime of compassion. On the contrary, perfect art, as a perfect gift (without ulterior motive, without gain, without compensation) courageously gives itself over to the world asking nothing in return.

Do I engage with my work as a father cultivates his child, with loving-kindness, with fierce enrichment, with awe and wonder, with unconditional love, with absolute sacrifice? I make this my impossible objective.

Here is Sufjan Stevens performing at Austin City Limits in 2006.

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