The Artistry of Gifting


The Artistry of Gifting

In the book The Gift, Lewis Hyde described (among other things) how Bob Dylan benefitted enormously by having copyright-free access to traditional folksongs with which to hone his craft (and gain young artist income for performing them). The production of new art needs the free nourishment of old art in order to continue the cycle of cultural rebirth.

Bob Dylan just sold his entire catalog of songs (to Universal Music Group) for probably upwards of $300,000,000. Stevie Nicks (of the band Jefferson Airplane, etc.) had previously sold her entire catalog for $100,000,000. Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread, the Summer of Love has withered into the Winter Of Our Discontent: COVID spiking, mass loss of income, mass foreclosures, mass you’re on your own healthcare (mass health don’t care), mass social contamination, exclusive celebrity indemnification.

Tom Lehrer (now 92), the wickedly funny satirist and songwriter, has put his entire music catalog — lyrics and sheet music — in the public domain. He grants everyone permission to do anything they want with his entire artistic/musical output, without cost and in perpetuity. You have till 31 December 2024 to download any or all of Tom’s songs, before he closes his website.

Who knew in 1959 that “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” would morph into official U.S. government public health policy (for us homo sapiens pigeons) in 2020?

Jonas Edward Salk (1918-1995) was a medical researcher who developed the first vaccine against the polio virus. Before the Salk injected vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio was considered one of the most serious public health problems in the world. The 1952 U.S. epidemic, in which 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis, was the worst polio outbreak in the nation’s history, and most of its victims were children. According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” During 1953 and 1954, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000; by 1962 that number had dropped to 910.

“Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible.”

Between 1954 and 1961, Albert Sabin (born Abram Saperstein, 1906-1993), a medical researcher, went through a tremendous effort to develop and test an oral vaccine against all three strains of the polio virus. To develop and prove the safety of Sabin’s oral vaccine, upwards of 100 million people — in the USSR, Eastern Europe, Singapore, Mexico and the Netherlands — were tested with it.

The success of that campaign by 1960 opened the door to testing in the United States, on 180,000 school children in Cincinnati. The mass immunization techniques that Sabin pioneered with his associates effectively eradicated polio in Cincinnati, and that technique along with the oral vaccine itself broke the chain of transmission of the virus, and has led over the last four decades to nearly eradicating the disease worldwide.

“Sabin refused to patent his vaccine, waiving every commercial exploitation by pharmaceutical industries, so that the low price would guarantee a more extensive spread of the treatment. From the development of his vaccine Sabin did not gain a penny, and continued to live on his salary as a professor.”

On 12 April 1922, Frederick Grant Banting (1891-1941), Charles Herbert Best (1899-1978), James Bertram Collip (1892-1965), John James Rickard Macleod (1876-1935), and John Gerald “Gerry” FitzGerald (1882-1940) — the key participants in the project (in Canada) to develop therapeutic insulin, a project initiated by Banting in 1920 — wrote jointly to the president of the University of Toronto to propose assigning the patent for the artificial production of insulin to the Board of Governors of the University in such a way that:

“The patent would not be used for any other purpose than to prevent the taking out of a patent by other persons. When the details of the method of preparation are published anyone would be free to prepare the extract, but no one could secure a profitable monopoly.”

The assignment to the University of Toronto Board of Governors was completed on 15 January 1923, for the token payment of $1.00. Following further concern regarding (drug company) Eli Lilly’s attempts to separately patent parts of the manufacturing process, Robert Defries (Assistant Director and Head of the Insulin Division at Connaught Laboratories, which administered the insulin patent) established a patent pooling policy which would require producers to freely share any improvements to the manufacturing process without compromising affordability.

“Tell me someone who’s not a parasite, and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him.” — Bob Dylan

Some people are successful in life and lucky, but some are successful at life and are radiant.

Seisetsu, a Zen master in ancient Kamakura, required larger quarters to alleviate the overcrowding of his many students. Umezu Seibei, a well-to-do merchant, decided to donate 500 piecers of gold (called ryo) for that purpose. “All right, I’ll take it,” said Seisetsu. But Umezu was dissatisfied with Seisetsu’s response because a person could live a whole year on 3 ryo, and Umezu had expected an effusive thanks. So he reminded Seisetsu that 500 ryo was a lot of money that he had been donated. “Do you want me to thank you?” asked Seisetsu. “You ought to,” replied Umezu. “Why should I?” asked Seisetsu, “the giver should be thankful.” [see #53 in the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps (1895-1990)].

And that’s it, isn’t it?: you donate because you are grateful that you are able to do so. Gratitude is enlightenment, and that is the artistry of gifting.

The Gift is an excellent book, if you are an artist, or at least appreciate art, read it (try your public library).