If the following questions have been vexing you then you may find these musings interesting:-
"…. I could happily engage in my work whilst doing no harm to myself or others".
Rather than bashing my head against the perennial problem of finding different ways to make a living in the arts I thought I’d start again, from another angle, and design what my own personal “success landscape” looks like.
In the course of my researches I have encountered the concept of Right Livelihood from the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. I’ve used this to identify the factors that, for me, mean that I could happily engage in my work whilst doing no harm to myself or others.
“Do myself no harm”
“Do no harm to others”
I have recently encountered the work of Charles Eisenstein and particularly his Sacred Economics. He argues in favour of a Gift Economy.
“Indeed, to charge a fee for service, or even for material goods, violates the spirit of the Gift. When we shift into gift mentality, we treat our creations as gifts to other people or to the world. It is contrary to the nature of a gift to specify, in advance, a return gift, for then it is no longer giving but rather bartering, selling. Furthermore, many people, particularly artists, healers, and musicians, see their work as sacred, inspired by a divine source and bearing infinite value.”
I was stunned by how closely this seemed to fit into my own idealisation of a Right Livelihood. In this context I could create work and “do no harm”.
"…. the Gift Economy is so new, so different from our ingrained mindset that we all have to find our way"
But how to ensure that I “gain reasonable return” so that I can make a “responsible contribution” to my home?
Well Eisenstein has built his self-employed practice as a writer and speaker on this basis. He makes his writing available via the internet for free but people can also buy the book. In other words they can choose to make a return Gift.
He goes into more detail about exactly how your practice might look with some interesting examples:-
But he stresses that, actually, the Gift Economy is so new, so different from our ingrained mindset that we all have to find our way. I see the perfect manifestation of my Right Livelihood as being a self-employed writer/performance animateur/speaker who offers all of her services on a Gift basis. Maybe your Right Livelihood looks different.
It's scary though isn’t it? A risk? It depends upon others valuing my Gifts enough to allow me a reasonable and responsible income. How can I get myself ready to take such a risk?
Well, the first part of my answer to stage the transition. I know what my Right Livelihood looks like now, I have some of the tools to get there – particularly Eisenstein’s Gift concept – but in order to be responsible I may not be able to get there all at once. I’m going to try some things out, learn as I go, grow it slowly.
"But when the performance itself is a Gift then surely the return Gift, made in recognition, is also performance?"
The second part of my answer is to consider where the Gift part of the process sits in the artwork itself. Currently, when we pay a fixed fee before we see a performance the act of payment is thoroughly removed from art. It is not part of the process, it is an evil necessity to be got out of the way in a dark box-office where no one can see.
But when the performance itself is a Gift then surely the return Gift, made in recognition, is also performance? It is part of the art. Maybe the audience should be invited on stage to make their gift in the light, directly to the performers. Maybe they should be invited to make a short statement of critique or gratitude?!
A terrifying concept. But I would like to explore it. I am ready to take my first step to Right Livelihood as an independent artist and I am offering my first show Vega on a Gift basis at the Bike Shed Theatre on 14th January 2013 at 7.30. Pre-booking advised!
JoJo Spinks is a Westcountry writer in love with her landscape and her life. She is a founding member of Interwoven Productions CIC and the creator of the Squilometre tool for sustainable community engagement. JoJo writes here on landscape, art, community animation and working in the gift,