December 28, 2013

YOU, ME AND THE GIFT CARD

image for blogPablo Picasso, Tete de Taureau (Bull’s Head), Bicycle saddle and handlebars. 1942, Musée National Picasso, Paris

This year it was decided that gift cards of a pre determined dollar amount would be exchanged between family members for Christmas.

I actually had never purchased gift cards before. At first blush this dramatically simplifies Xmas gift purchasing, reducing hours if not days of gift hunting to just minutes.

Once I knew that this year I would be giving gift cards as presents I noticed them everywhere. Every store has them. These, I found out are a boom to the respective businesses as many, once purchased never are redeemed and show up on the books almost like an impersonal donation or a year end Christmas gift from us to Amazon or Starbucks. Also, if the card is redeemed the chances are that more will be purchased, adding still more to the profits of the business. It certainly is a win win for these various retail businesses.

I noticed that Credit Card companies have gotten in on this idea too. If you buy a gift card from Master Card or Visa the recipient can go anywhere at anytime and buy something. The only limitation being of course the amount the gift giver – me – has paid on to the card – in this case fifty dollars.

Of course it is pretty easy to pop around to the various stores and pick up the gift cards but once I saw I could just get half a dozen Master Card gift cards I then realized that I didn’t even have to do this step. In fact I could just order these cards online including its accompanying white envelope and I would be done. Xmas shopping this year could be accomplished without actually ever having to go to a single store.

When I told my daughter my plan she said that this would actually be taking it too far. Merely buying and handing out mini credit cards without specifying or thinking at all about which store your gift might come from was just too impersonal.

The exchanging of the cards went without a hitch. No piles of wrapping paper to clean up, no too small sizes, no feigned “No really, I did really, really want this basalt carving of a moose for my dresser!”

The thank yous were sincere. I think everyone was pleased.

For me, however, it kind of fell flat. At first I couldn’t figure out why. Everyone was getting what he or she wanted or would in the coming months. What was the problem? And then it dawned on me.

Finding a gift is mostly a brief preoccupation, a small obsession perhaps with a question. “What do I think would fit into this person’s life? What would make them happy?” The answer to this question is of course the gift.  However, part its value is derived because the answer, was in fact, your answer and not the receivers.

The gift card has drastically reduced the individuality, the creativity of the gift giver.

The card carries with it no particular quality, no particular whiff of me. All gift cards are identical in look and feel. There is no way I can change this. I simply cannot make a gift card more like me.

Unlike a paintings or a work of art’s that derives its value from the amount of individuality contained within it, a gift card somehow has lost entirely any aspect, besides perhaps generosity, of the giver.

We want a Picasso because we want to be reminded of his particular individuality, the way he lived the way he chose things to put in his art. It is refreshing and of value because it is so NOT like us.

A gift card would be like giving someone an empty frame as a placeholder for a gift and saying now go frame anything you want and when you’re done hopefully you will think of me.

So in years past, although it was exhausting perhaps and sometimes resulted in a mismatched gift, at least the gift carried some degree of the giver within it. In the future will we not be able to say  “Oh yeah, yes, that odd thing sitting on my dresser is totally strange but it was a gift from my Dad years ago and I just kind of like it now as it reminds me of him”?

I am not sure the answer but perhaps next year there will be some kind of online service that allows us to make our own gift cards. You just upload your picture and it is redeemable for something that you and only you can make or do. That would be truly wonderful.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays, and were able to spend it with those important to you.

Warm regards, Nicholas

Nicholas Wilton

Hi! I’m
Nicholas Wilton
the founder of Art2Life.

With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.

Join me and artists from all over the world in our Free Art2Life Artists Facebook Group or learn more here about Art2Life.