Art and the Gift Economy

Here's an example where grace is the currency of an economy.

Ted Gioia, “Gratuity: Who Gets Paid When Art Is Free,” Image, issue 104.

Gioia explains that creatives of all sorts – musicians, artists, poets, journalists, and so forth – are being taken advantage of by Internet platforms that encourage them to share their art as a gift, then use that art to reap billions in advertising revenue.

Artists, eager to give their creative gifts to the public, readily jump on the bandwagon, knowing that someone else is making money off their creativity; however, there’s nothing they can do about it.

It is too easy for the public to shrug at this situation, since many of them can take the arts or leave them. The artists can try charging for their creativity, but Gioia thinks this sometimes undermines their desire to gift their work to the world, and doing so can debase their contribution.

Gioia suggests the need for a “gift economy” such as a Wikipedia, where those who contribute do so freely, and no one profits from their work. I confess that I become a bit rankled every time I see a church post its music license number, indicating it has paid for the right to sing these songs written by Christian composers. In a true gift economy – an economy of grace – creatives would be supported by their communities based on the value they provide in terms of spiritual, aesthetic, or intellectual enrichment. They, like everyone else, would look to the Lord to meet their needs, and share their work and its fruit as an offering to the Lord.

But I suspect they might want to hold on to their day jobs, for a while at least.


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