The artistic producer who sells his freedom to the moneyed public may incur the heaviest of human costs, the degradation of his highest quality. The temptation to incur these moral and intellectual damages is great in any nation where the dominant standard of personal success is money income and expenditure. But perhaps there is a false simplicity in the romantic view of artistic genius, which assumes that the artist and his work are necessarily degraded by inducements to work for a public, instead of working for himself alone. It may, indeed, be held that an artist who is so self-centred as to have no conscious consideration of the artistic needs and capabilities of his fellow-men, is so essentially inhuman as to be incapable of great work. The use of an art-gift for communion with others, involving some measure of conscious social direction, seems involved in the humanity of the artist. Even when that direction takes the shape of market-prices, it does not necessarily incur the violent censure bestowed by romantic persons. When a sound public taste operates, this direction may be justified. The nature, again, of many creative minds seems to require the application of an external stimulus to break down a certain barrier of sterile self-absorption or of diffidence, which would rob humanity of many of the fruits of genius. At any rate it need not be assumed that working for a public, or even for a market, is essentially injurious. Where the taste which operates through the demand is definitely base, and where the practice and the consciousness of having sold one's soul for money are plainly realised, no doubt can exist. But where public sympathy and appreciation, even exercised through the market, induce the artist to subordinate some of his private tastes and proclivities to the performance of work which, though of secondary interest to himself, has a sound social value, the pressure of demand may produce a larger body of real wealth at no real human cost to the producer. Very different, of course, are the instances urged with so much passionate insistence by Ruskin, where depraved public tastes, springing directly from luxury and idleness, debauch the natural talents of artists, and poison the very founts of the creative power of a nation. Corruptio optimi pessima. The production of base forms of art, in painting, music, the drama, literature, the plastic arts, must necessarily entail the highest human costs, the largest loss of human welfare, individual and social. For such an artist poisons not only his own soul but the social soul, adulterating the food designed to nourish the highest faculties of man.
There is, however, a sense in which it is true that every pressure of social direction or demand upon the artist impairs the creative character of his work. For such social demand rests upon a similarity of taste among the members of a public, and its satisfaction requires the artist to repeat himself. An artist, endowed by the State or some other body, might express himself in unique masterpieces, as was the case with the great artists of antiquity or of the Renaissance who were fortunate in their private or public patrons. But art, supported by numerous private purchasers, whose social standards mould their tastes to tolerably close conformity, must stoop to qualify creation by much imitative repetition. This often involves a large human cost, imposing an injurious specialisation, mannerisms or mechanical routine. This is particularly true of arts where a refractory material gives great importance to technique, and where the practice of this technique necessarily restricts the spontaneity of execution.