Why Wouldn’t You Give? Part 3

A Google image search only solidified my opinion of performance art.

Okay, one more post about this, then I’ll go back to talking about cats, pet peeves, and how oxygen masks should be available in every workplace.

How does reciprocation affect your decision to give or not to give? When you give to someone’s 5k for the cure, do  you expect for them to return the favor in the future? If someone has given to you in the past, are you more likely to give as well?

For me, the answer about expectations is largely no, I don’t expect reciprocity, especially not when money is in play. I mean, if we’re all just giving each other $25, we’re all breaking even.

However, it is nice when someone finds a different way to give back. If I give you $50 for your cause, it would be great in the future if you’d comment on my blog or share it with someone else. That’s currency to me.

Reciprocity gets really interesting when money isn’t involved at all. Here’s a little story to end this series. I’m curious what you think. I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve noticed a trend among artists (in all forms of the arts): Artists are self-centered. We think what we’re doing is important and special and unique. That’s why we keep doing it. To a certain extent I think that’s okay, but we need to rein it in when we’re talking to other artists. I’ve had conversations with artists when I feel sucked dry by the consuming vortex that is their passion. Nothing else exists or matters by their art. And I think that’s really unfortunate, because us active creative types have a lot to learn from each other.

Anyway, I once had an artist friend who I’ll call Jaswanda (apologies to all the Jaswandas out there! Say hi to your mothers for me!). When we were first getting to know each other, I was writing a novella, and Jaswanda asked to read it when I was finished. So a few months later after finishing the work and circulating it among friends, it ended up in Jaswanda’s hands.

A week or two passed and I didn’t hear anything from her, and I forgot she had the novella. In fact, a year passed, and then I got a mass e-mail from Jaswanda inviting me to a performance art show that she was creating.

Now, I’m not a fan of performance art. To me, it is the NASCAR of sports–is it really art, or did you just convince me to watch you drive in circles for three hours? To me it screams, “Look at me! Please, someone–anyone–pay attention to meeee!”

That said, under normal circumstances, I would support a friend by showing up for his or her art show even if I don’t care about the art. I’ve done this many times, and I’ll do it many times in the future.

But when I got the invitation, I couldn’t help but remember that Jaswanda had never read my novella. If she wasn’t willing to spend an hour reading something that had taken me many hours to write, why should I feel obligated as a friend to support her work?

So I didn’t go. A few days after the show, which apparently consisted of her taking of many of her clothes, hanging them on a clothes line, burning money, and then rolling around in the ashes (I couldn’t make that up), I got an irate e-mail from her saying how disappointed she was that I hadn’t support her show despite all the work she put into it.

I wouldn’t have said anything about the novel had I not gotten that e-mail (although maybe I should have a long time before it), but when I heard that, I simply replied, “Did you ever read the novella that I spent a ton of time writing, revising, and refining?”

Of course the answer was no. She went on to say that it wasn’t fair for me to compare the two, that her art took a whole different level of commitment than my writing, and that I should have attended her show regardless of whether or not she read the novella.

Maybe she was right about the last part. Friendship isn’t pure give and take. But it’s also not a one way street, especially when passions are involved. Jaswanda had demonstrated that she didn’t want to spend the time patronizing my art, and yet she expected me to appreciate hers. She couldn’t see beyond the importance of her own art.

What do you think? How does reciprocity play into your decision to give, especially to a friend or family member?