Several years ago, my daughters and I attended a dance performance at the Children's Museum of Richmond. Half a dozen or so young Chinese dancers, on tour to the States, performed folk-style dances with great athleticism.
Of the hundreds of thousands of dancers there must be in China, they weren't the best, I'm sure, but as I watched, I was struck by how sincerely they seemed to view the act of dancing as a gift to the audience. It was a gift they felt honored to give, and in turn, I felt honored to receive.
I had never thought so directly about how important this attitude is to performance. When a musician or dancer or actor is so wrapped up in his or her own experience of the work (because she's struggling to do it well; or because she looks down on the audience as being merely bourgeois; or because she loves her own pleasure more than the audience's), the performance may be decent, but it won't be lasting, because it wasn't given. It just disappears in the space between.
This sounds awfully dreamy, I guess. And it's not the final, or the only, word: performances can make permanent impressions on individual, receptive audience members, whether or not the performers have this "spirit of giving." But I think as a generality, it's true.