The Circle of the Gift

Lamotte's Romanesco Broccoli

“A work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies,’ a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.”

-Lewis Hyde, “The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World”

It calls your attention from the street, but step inside and you feel its full presence. Viewed either as a collection or as dozens of individual works, Michael Lamotte’s selection of stunning photographs from his project: From the Source (on display at 18 Reasons through January), embodies Hyde’s astute claim: “a work of art is a gift.”

Lamotte's Saucisson Provencal

Lamotte has a gift. Talent is a gift. Lamotte is unarguably a talented photographer. And his photographs, the physical artifacts of his gift, possess the same spirit as their maker, making them a gift in and of themselves.

On opening night, I observed the gift of reciprocity as the photographs (and the artist) were given a new energy from the outpouring of supporters who came to pack our community space. In the receiving of these works and the witnessing of Lamotte’s talent, the community was also bestowed with a gift.

Perhaps what makes artists involved with, and artworks exhibited at, 18 Reasons most special is their unique stance under the umbrella of modern art. The art here never stands alone. Food, agriculture, and community always stand by its side to form a network of interconnected purpose.

Lamotte’s From the Source project is a testament to this. It is a visual survey of local food taking form as both a blog and as aesthetically gripping black and white images of foods from small, local producers. Its intention is to foster a deeper level of appreciation for the foods and those who make them. In support of Lamotte’s work, several local food vendors whose products are represented in From the Source were present on opening night, some gracious enough to donate food for the public to enjoy free of charge. This is proof that giving breeds more giving.

This enacting of the gift economy is symbolically important because all three overarching entities—18 Reasons, Bi-Rite, and Michael Lamotte’s From the Source project—share the same core value: to create and strengthen community. All three aim to show that richness is measured in giving—an important message to spread especially during a holiday season that has become colored by commodification, consumerism, and a hollow desire to accumulate.

The clincher: although it is unavoidable, as Hyde points out in the above quote, that works of art exist in both a market economy and a gift economy, Lamotte turns the commodification element of the market economy on its head by vowing to donate all proceeds from works sold in the show to benefit the SF Chapter of Slow Food. Hence, the circle of the gift continues to grow!

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