Art as Gift

Art as Gift was an Art and Theory Reading Group collaboration with Denise Weston’s Arts Council England funded project, ‘Women of a Nervous Disposition,’ and ran from January to May 2017.  The following is the information given at the start of the project.


The aim of the Art as Gift project is to examine the implications of the concept that we experience the presence of things, such as works of art, as something given, i.e. as gifts. The main theoretical sources of this idea are the writings of the philosophers Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger. In art, the gift is explicitly referenced in Marcel Duchamp’s final major work: Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage … (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . . ).

The concept of the gift is further referenced in Denise Weston’s claim that the works of the subjects of her project, artist Camille Claudel and writer Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, are gifts, but gifts that have been forgotten. Women of a Nervous Disposition can be seen, in part, as an attempt to retrieve these forgotten gifts.

Yet we are immediately confronted by a barrier, Derrida claims that central to a gift being a gift is that it should be forgotten in the instant it is given; the act of remembering destroys the gift. Does this mean Weston’s project is impossible, or that Derrida’s concept of “gift” is not applicable to the work of art?

Art as Gift has been established to clarify how we might answer these questions. There are three principle theorisations of the gift that will inform its discussions:

  1. The first is the commonly held belief that art, or rather the ability to make art, is itself a gift. This idea will be proposed as theological, mirroring the Christian idea of the donum Dei, God’s Gift of the Holy Spirit, as theorised by St. Augustine.
  2. The second concept is economic, which sees the gift as part of a process of exchange, as set out by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss in: The Gift (1950).
  3. Finally there is the philosophical idea that the gift is the “impossible,” as proposed by Jacques Derrida in his book: Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money (1991).

Derrida’s text will provide the theoretical thread that will be woven into the fabric of the reading group, informing its discourse at every stage. For a short overview of  Derrida on the gift click here (external site)

The reading group will, over four meetings, employ discussion, exposition and reading to clarify the relationship between the gift and art. Each meeting, led by Derek Hampson, will be informed by a short text, given out in advance. To support the meetings Derek Hampson will publish a series of detailed notes on each chapter of Given Time as a series of blog posts, on this website*. The Art as Gift project will culminate in a public presentation, informed by the thinking developed within the group. Reading group meetings will be held at Wollaton Street Studios, 179 Wollaton Street, Nottingham, NG1 5GE, starting @ 6pm.

* These blogs have now been posted, click here to read them from the beginning

Reading Group 1 – January 26
Introductory presentation by Derek Hampson, then discussion
Texts: The Identity of the Holy Spirit in The Mystery of the Triune God, p.77, then ‘The Time of the King’ in Given Time

Reading Group 2 – February 23
This meeting will focus on reading and discussing chapter 2 of Given Time: The Madness of Economic Reason: A Gift without Present (34-70). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted as blog posts by group members on this website.

Reading Group 3 – March 30
This meeting will focus on reading and discussing chapter 3 of Given Time: “Counterfeit Money’ 1: Poetics of Tobacco” (71-107). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted as blog posts by group members on this website.

Reading Group 4 – April 27
Final meeting, dedicated to reading chapter 4 of Given Time: “Counterfeit Money” II:Gift and Countergift, Excuse and Forgiveness (108-172). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted as blog posts by group members on this website.

Art as Gift Symposium – May 13
11:00am at the Lace Market Gallery, Stoney Street, Nottingham. The artist and critic Peter Suchin (Art Monthly) will address the question: “What is Given in Marcel Duchamp’s Given?”

Click on image below to download “Given Time” as a pdf