Lewis Hyde writes in The Gift that “the artist in the modern world must suffer a constant tension between the gift sphere to which his work pertains and the market society which is his context.” Hyde also writes of a “disquieting sense of triviality” that haunts artists in societies like ours. You know the feeling. Every so often we’re neck deep in doubt and ask ourselves “why bother writing, painting, etc. if I’m not going to be paid for it?”
Even the questions we ask ourselves are framed in terms of their market value. But John McPhee thinks different. The author Tim Ferris studied under McPhee at Princeton and in his class notes he wrote “McPhee never has suggested that the point of writing is to make money, or that the merit of your writing is determined by its market value. ‘A great paragraph is a great paragraph wherever it resides’ he’d say. ‘It could be in your diary.’”
But I think so long as the market exists there will always be a temptation to cater to its demands and become what Seth Godin cautions us not to become in The Practice, a hack.
But what about worth? Again Hyde says “I mean ‘worth’ to refer to those things we prize and yet say ‘you can’t put a price on it.’ We derive value, on the other hand, from the comparison of one thing with another.” When we live in a society where almost everything has a price and we’re bombarded day and night by adverts it’s hard to recognise worth apart from value, especially the worth of one’s art when we also believe time is money.
And it’s Black Friday today. See what I mean?