Lewis Hyde

Only Listen

Nothing's worth noting that is not seen with fresh eyes.


Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside, awakens.

Carl Jung

III A Glimpse of the Ox

The meadowlark sings, sitting on a branch.
Warm sun, light breeze, green willows by the river.
The Ox stands right there; where could he hide?
That splendid head, those stately horns,
what artist could draw their likeness?

If he would only listen to everyday sounds he would get it in a second. As for the senses: it was the cicada that made the ear! The thing itself is there no matter what we do. It is like the salt in water and the binder in paint. Rightly opened, the eye sees no difference between the water and the well.

Max Gimblett / A Glimpse of the Ox, 2005-08 / Sumi Ink, HMP American Handmade Paper

Oxherding is based on the Song-Dynasty Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a Zen Buddhist parable of self-discovery composed of pictures and verse. A contemporary American set of perspectives on this greatly venerated Buddhist text, the exhibition includes six collaborative artist books, a series of 10 sumi ink paintings by Max Gimblett, and 10 poems in Chinese and three English versions translated by Lewis Hyde. (Exhibit runs from Oct. 29, 2011 through Mar. 4, 2012 at the new Graham Gund Gallery on the campus of Kenyon College.)

A Gift and a Commodity

Jonathan Lethem talking with Michael Silverblatt (KCRW's Bookworm, 7/19/07) about his latest work, You Don't Love Me Yet:

What bothers me about plagiarism is not that I don’t believe there can be such a thing. Anyone can identify the fringe activity where something is appropriated joylessly and unimaginatively and deceptively. And we can all condemn that very easily. But what fascinates me is that people work so hard to ignore the resemblance between that activity and what artists do routinely, necessarily all the time in their procedure which is grab on to stuff, move it around, transform it. And when the same thing is done and value is added and influence is acknowledged, well this is culture making. It's not some minority activity, this is culture making at its most central. This is what people do.

It's not that an act of art making is either a commodity transaction or a gift transaction—to use Lewis Hyde's vocabulary, the author of The Gift—but that it’s innately both. If I do what I do—do what I mean to do—when I offer a book into the world, sure I’d like to get paid. But if it’s any good at all, I hope to transmit something far more valuable than the $23.95 you’ve shelled out at the bookstore. I want it to sink into you and become a part of you and trouble you. It’s something I could never ideally be repaid for and I wouldn’t want to try. So it’s a gift and a commodity at the same moment. And this is what artists do.