Enacting Gifts: Performances on Par with Art Experiences


  • Sue Spaid University of Dayton, Ohio




gifts, reception, self-knowledge, rationality, the imagination


Given the coterie of philosophers focused on everyday aesthetics, it's fascinating that gift reception has heretofore managed to escape their scrutiny. To enact a gift, recipients begin by imagining its use. On this level, gifts serve as a litmus test. In luring us, we're taken out of our normal ways of being to experience a different side of ourselves. Enacting a gift is thus a kind of performance, whose value depends on the donee’s interpretation, just as exhibitions, concerts, staged plays or books are performances of visual art, scores, scripts or texts, whose interpretations demonstrate their aesthetic value. To develop the relationship between enacting gifts and performing artworks, I begin by surveying junctures along the gift-event’s arc: reply, imagination, trust, recognition, transformation and memory. Transformations arising from agonistic gifts strike me as significant because they characterise the way gifts challenge our beliefs, eventually altering our values. That we grow to love gifts, which we originally rejected out of hand, casts doubt on self-knowledge. Enacted gifts handily challenge self-knowledge’s twin features: authority and transparency. As this paper indicates, gift reception helps both to understand ourselves better and to remove the obstacles to what Quassim Cassim calls Substantive Self-Knowledge. 

Author Biography

Sue Spaid, University of Dayton, Ohio

Since 1984, Belgium-based philosopher Sue Spaid, Ph. D., has been active in the artworld as a curator, art writer, university lecturer, and museum director. Spaid, who writes regularly for HArt, was on the Contributors Board for artUS, where she published 65 articles between 1997 and 2010. She has organized over 100 exhibitions for artist-run spaces, galleries and museums, most notably “Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses, and Abandoned Lots” (2012) and “Ecovention: Current Art to Transform Ecologies” (2002). While Executive Director at the Contemporary Museum, Spaid published A Field Guide to Patricia Johanson’s Works: Proposed, Built, Published and Collected


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