The Game of Giving Gifts

A watercolor I painted as a present

Gift-giving has always had a political element to it. Tribal groups typically exchanged gifts in order to keep good relations, build new alliances, or repair tensions; from the Middle Ages through the Reformation and the Victorian Age, elements of charity and philanthropy evolved into various forms– but they were always based on the foundation of the Gift.

Today I might argue that gift giving has become less political, but no less strategic. In a globalized free market, our primary form of exchange is monetary, and certainly that economic element infuses our gift-giving: last year we spent $446.8 billion dollars on retail gifts alone during the holiday season.

But real strategy of the gift game plays out on an individual level:

  • How well do I know this person? (How personal should this gift be?)
  • What kind of a relationship do we have? (How much time or money should I spend preparing or buying this gift?)
  • What is this person’s personality? (What the hell should I actually give?)

The political element hasn’t disappeared from gift-giving, though– especially when women complain how hard it is to buy presents for men. Or when men feel frustrated because they don’t know how to shop for women (or how to shop at all). Marketing and sales industries are primarily aimed at women; women are taught how and when to spend money from a very young age. Men, on the other hand, are given a small range of typical gifts for women they care about: flowers, jewelry, candy. It kindof limits their creativity, don’t it.

I’m feeling the strategy of gift-giving these days. All of the birthdays in my family but one fall within the October to December range (not to mention that whole Holiday Season thing…).

I recently made the painting at the top as a gift for one of my co-workers (a cheaper alternative than pitching in for a gift certificate). But now I’m questioning my strategy: is it appropriate; will she like it; is it her style…

I’ve also never done a still life before– I tried a lot of new techniques with this piece. A word of advice to artists: it’s REALLY FRIGGIN’ RISKY to experiment with a new technique when you’re planning to give away the painting as a gift.


4 Responses to “The Game of Giving Gifts”

  1. 1 tony October 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    I really like that still life, it has enough realism and at the same time almost an impressionistic quality. Is contains colours I love and if the woman you intended it for doesn’t like it, then I’ll take it πŸ™‚

    As a middle aged man, I find the stereotypes attached to us alarming on the one hand and unsurprising on the other. I am not a testosterone bound mindless hulk who does not appreciate the act of giving or buying presents and feel we should all try not to reinforce them. Some of us do have brains. no, really, we do πŸ™‚
    Once a month, or so, my wife (of 24 years) and I go into town and buy presents and things for ourselves and others (often fountain pens, ink and paper for me πŸ™‚ ) and I thoroughly enjoy this time spent together (without our offspring for a change)

  2. 2 Cole October 3, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Re: Tony

    I’m sure that 24 years of marriage has helped build the kind of relationship where gift-giving becomes more intimate and–dare I say– fun?

    I think most men appreciate the act of giving or buying presents, but I also think that many (if not most) men find it very, very difficult to do. Many men feel embarrassed/awkward going into a “girly” store to buy gifts for their wife or girlfriend… and they find it difficult to personalize a gift beyond jewelry. It certainly gets easier with age and intimacy, though– my dad is a pretty excellent gift giver, for both my mom and his three daughters πŸ™‚

    I, on the other hand, despise most store-shopping… but I still love to give gifts. I guess that leaves me with a lot of handmade and do-it-yourself projects πŸ™‚

  3. 3 mum October 5, 2010 at 1:45 am

    It’s beautiful! ALL of your gifts are thoughtful and I say give it! Don’t second guess yourself. You thought to do this for this co-worker and I would imagine it will be most appreciated:)

  4. 4 Gentian December 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    It’s a lovely still life. I do hope she likes it.

    I worry too, about giving art as gifts though this year I had a couple of requests to make art gifts for others. But usually I try to get gifts that are well thought through. I’m struggling this year though, I’m not really sure what to give anyone and I’m low on ideas πŸ™‚

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