What happens when we consider works of art as gifts and not commodities? Talent is certainly a gift. Inspiration, too, is often a gift. Finally, the work we inherit from other artists may leave us feeling grateful—grateful that the work exists and grateful that someone dedicated a life to make it so.
Bob Dylan speaks candidly about his debts to artists who came before him. In turn, a multitude of artists acknowledge how Dylan’s work has inspired theirs.
— Lewis Hyde, curator
Poet and essayist Lewis Hyde writes about the nature of creativity and the debt artists owe to those who came before.
SHAKER GIFT DRAWINGS
The Shakers, formally known as the United Society of Believers, were part of a Protestant monastic community from the mid-1700s. Shaker gift drawings were considered literal translations of a spiritual experience, vision or directive.
They were created by “instruments”-mostly women, who received and recorded these spiritual events. The women were said to be “laboring for a gift,” and the works they created circulated as gifts within the community.
A Bower of Mulberry Trees (above)
Seen and painted in the City of Peace by Hannah Cohoon, age 68, September 13, 1854
Courtesy of Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Dr. and Mrs. Edward Deming Andrews Collection
Reprint of the text appearing within the artwork
Sept 13th 1854. Blessed Mother Ann came into meeting we had a very powerful meeting and I saw a beautiful great bower four square on the ground; the trees met together overhead as you will perceive by the representation; it was painted upon a large white sheet and held up over the brethren’s heads, I saw it very distinctly. Afterward the spirit presented to my view three leaves painted, belonging to the bower which was shown me in meeting so that I might know how to paint them more correctly. The long white table standing under the bower stood at the left hand close by the side of the trees with cakes knives &c upon it; I saw Elder Ebenezer Bishop and Elder Nathaniel Deming take off their hats go into the bower then to the table ate standing up. From thence they went to the spring just beyond the square to the right hand and drank keeping off their hats until they got fully out of the bower. N.B. The ground was cover’d with beautiful short green grass; I saw the small trees bearing the fruit of Paradise very plainly, there was much ripe fruit on them which was very smooth and of a lively deep green color, the size of our largest English cherries. (They appeared to shine) The spirits said they were green when ripe, each berry appeared to grow separately close to the limbs – Afterwards I saw many brethren sitting upon long benches in the bower.
Below the table:
A Bower of Mulberry Trees
See 2nd Samuel 5th 24th v. Chron. 14th and 15 v.