I closed “The Gift”, its cover a soft cream with a pinkish heart confirming its romantic words, pressed as dried flowers between the pages. The esoteric view of the artist always leaves me a bit uncomfortable. My eye catches the glossy black book sitting on my nightstand. On it ‘bad girl’ Patti Smith mischievously peers from a black and white photo. Mmmm maybe I need to ask her?

*Hyde, Lewis. “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World”Vintage. 2007
*Smith, Patti, “Just Kids”, HarperCollins Publishers. 2010.


Lewis Hyde: “Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say that most artists converted to art by art itself. The future artist finds himself or herself moved by a work of art, and, through that experience, comes to labor in the service of art until he can profess his own gifts….We come to  painting, to poetry, to the stage, hoping to revive the soul. And any artist whose work touches us earns our gratitude.” (Hyde, pp59)

Patti Smith: As a child..” I drew comfort from my books. Oddly enough, it was Louisa May Alcott who provided me with a positive view of my female destiny. Jo, the tomboy of the four March sisters in Little Women, writes to help support her family, struggling to make ends meet during the Civil War. She fills page after page with her rebellious scrawl, later published in the literary pages of the local newspaper. She gave me the courage of a new goal, and soon I was crafting little stories and spinning long yarns for my brother and sister. From that time on, I cherished the idea that one day I would write a book.” (Smith, pp10-11)


Lewis Hyde: “Having accepted what has been given to him[the artist]- either in the sense of inspiration or in the sense of talent – the artist often feels compelled, feels the desire to make the work and offer it to an audience. The gift must stay in motion. “Publish or perish” is an internal demand of the creative spirit, one that we learn from the fit itself, not from any school or church.(Hyde, pp188) “Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz speaks of his “inner certainty”as a young writer “that a shining point exists where all lines intersect . . . This certainty as also involved my relationship to that point, ” he tell us. ” I felt very strongly that nothing depended on my will, that everything I might accomplish in life would not be by my own efforts but given as a fight.” (Hyde, pp 186) Art as a way of life: Not any self-control or self-limitation for the sake of specific ends, but rather a carefree letting go of oneself; not caution, but rather a wise blindness; not working to acquire silent, slowly increasing possessions, but rather a continuous squandering of all perishable values.(Hyde pp 194)

Patti Smith: ” … I wondered what was the point of creating art. For whom? Are we animating God? Are we talking to ourselves? And what was the ultimate goal? To have one’s work caged in art’s great zoos- the Modern, the Met, the Louvre?…Why commit to art? For self-realization, or for itself? It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination…I understood what matters is the work: the string of words propelled by God becoming a poem, the wave of color and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that magnifies His motion. To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution. From this state of mind comes a light, life charged.” (Smith, pp650)


LH: “Once a gift has stirred within us it is up to us to develop it. There is a reciprocal labor in the maturation of a talent. The gift will continue to discharge its energy so long as we attend to it in return. (Hyde, pp 62)For the slow labor if realizing a potential gift the artist must retreat to those Bohemias, halfway between the slums and the library, where life is not counted by the clock and where the talented may be sure they will be ignored until that time, if it ever comes, when their gifts are viable enough to be set free and survive in the world.(Hyde, pp 67)The fruit of the creative spirit is the work of art itself, and if there is a first-fruits ritual for artists, is must either be the willing “waste” of art (in which one is happy to labor all day with no hope of production, nothing to sell, nothing to show off, just fish throw back into the sea as soon as they are caught) or else, when there is a product, it must be this thing we have already seen, the dedication for the work back toward its origins.(Hyde,pp192)

PS: “One cannot imagine the mutual happiness we[with Robert Mapplethorpe] felt when we sat and drew together. We would get lost for hours. His ability to concentrate for long periods infected me, and I learned by his example, workings side by side.(Smith pp57) We gathered our colored pencils and sheets of paper and drew like wild, feral children into the night, until, exhausted, we fell into bed…Sometimes I would awaken and find him working in the dim light of votive candles. Adding touches to a drawing, turning the work this way and that, he would examine it from every angle.” (Smith pp60-1)


LH:”A gift can also move out of a desire of some oppressed part of the soul to come to power. In politics affection and generosity usually lose their autonomy and become the servants of power. Also warns when this power is not received a bitterness can set it. Bitterness is the biggest danger to an artist.(Hyde,pp314)The artist who hopes to market  work that is the realization of his gifts cannot begin with the market.He must create for himself that gift-sphere in which the work is made, and only when he knows the work to be the faithful realization of his gift should he turn to see if it has currency in that other economy. Sometimes it does, sometimes it does not.”(Hyde,pp360)

PS: “The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation. I left Mephistopheles, the angels, and the remnants of our handmade world, saying, “I choose Earth.”(Smith, pp256)


LH:”We are sojourners with our gifts, not their owners even our creations do not belong to us.”(Hyde,pp 364)

PS:”I preferred an artist who transformed his time, not mirrored it.” (Smith pp69)

I like the idea that Patti Smith can step out of the cerebral muse world and back into reality. I bet she can smoothly dance between these two worlds, giving and receiving the gift at the same time.