Thoughts on Gift Exchange: The value of a creative work

Matthew 16:26-27 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to His works."

What will a man give, in exchange for his soul? Soul meaning "heart", the seat of the emotions and intellect, the core elements of a person's life. When I give something of my own creative birthing, it contains a part of my heart, my very life poured into it. What could possibly be given in exchange for that? Who could put a price tag on the soul of a man? Jesus says, the Son of Man will come and reward each according to his works. This is to say, only a heavenly, spiritual currency could equal or be given in exchange for the produce of one's heart and soul. (Admittedly, my use of this scripture veers from what Jesus was referring to in the context of the parable, yet the question posed, remains valid for this purpose as well. Jesus is making the point that a man's soul is worth more than any amount of earthly riches.)

Because we function in a market place society, monetary currency is the primary exchange system we use. However, concerning the creative arts, it is my persuasion that we are dealing with things on a much different plane than when we purchase a car, or pay to have our carpets cleaned. We are handling the offspring of the creator's life essence. Their creative works are their legacy, their contribution to the world, to their generation and to our lives. Because of this, our method of exchange must also function from a different plane as well. It is one of gift exchange, a reciprocal honoring of each other and recognition of the quality of the gift itself. It is a building of trust and community. It comes more in the way of giving and receiving than in the payment of a service or an item. Heart must be put behind the currency of the exchange on both sides.

If I give a piece of art that I have poured countless hours of prayer, preparation, and resources, sacrificing time from my family to create, is it not conceivable to expect a particular reciprocity on the part of the one to receive this gift? This is much different from my window cleaning business where I provide a particular service to the customer and allot a determined payment according to my time and costs to perform the service. However, at the very same time, because what I give is a "gift", I must also be willing to give it generously, for less than what I deem proportionate or for no exchange at all, if it is truly considered a gift.

Jesus, gives us the example of the widow's mites. He said that she gave more than all of the wealthy because she gave her all. She gave from her heart. She gave in poverty, in faith and in trust. This is the true currency I'm speaking of. The currency of the heart. The currency of the Spirit. The one Paul exhorted to be done cheerfully, not grudgingly or of necessity.

In the realm of gift exchange, I could set a bear minimum on my work to cover the cost of materials, but a truly proper exchange must begin with a mutual understanding of the heart on both sides. It should entail honor, a building of community and reciprocity, not just the purchase of items.

In the end, there will still be a product offered for a monetary exchange, but what I hope to facilitate is a deeper understanding and a counter cultural perspective on gift giving and supporting of the artist through reciprocal exchange.

In my own life, I don't how these thoughts will yet play out on a practical level. Does this mean I set no definitive costs for my books, CD's and other creative works? I don't know. I do know however, that a subtle revolution is taking place below the surface, at least within my own perspectives. There is a transformative wave upon us, that I hope will grow into something great, we can all benefit from. I hope it will allow us to live from a much deeper level, giving greater meaning to every aspect of our lives, breathing creativity and gratitude into every hidden corner and every living moment from the most mundane to the grandest of our experiences. The seed of all things is holy, spiritual and rooted in the soil beds of heaven.