More or less mechanical producer of art-products

The descent from Artist to the more or less mechanical producer of art-products is marked by many grades. There is the grade which does not pretend to any free exercise of the creative faculty, confining itself to interpretation or execution. This in music and in certain other fine arts is signified by adopting the French term 'artiste'. But some of this interpretative work affords large scope for truly creative work. A traditional or written drama, a score of music, or other necessarily imperfect and half-mechanical register of some great creative work, requires a constant process of re-creation by a sympathetic spirit. In such arts there is a genuinely creative cooperation between the original composer and his interpreters, the latter enjoying some real liberty of personal expression and giving merit to the performance by this union of reproductive and creative achievement. The great actor or musician may thus even come to use the work of the playwright or the composer as so much material for his own creative expression. He may even carry this to an excess, ousting his predecessor and parasitically utilising his reputation for the display of his own artistic qualities or defects. In painting and sculpture, of course, we come to a mode of skilled imitation, that of the copyist, where the free creative element is confined to far narrower limits. The main skill here is that of technical imitation, not of interpretation.

As we descend from the higher grades of distinctively creative art to these interpretative and more or less imitative grades, it will be evident that larger human 'costs' of production are apt to emerge. All imitation or repetition, either of oneself or of another, is not inhuman. There is a rhythm in the processes of organic life which even requires some repetition. But this repetition is never precise, for organic history does not exactly repeat itself. The attempt, therefore, to induce a person to perform an intricate process many times and at short intervals with great exattitude, is against humanity. It involves some physical and moral injury, a human cost. We shall consider the more serious effects of this procedure when we come to consider that work of industry most widely removed from art. In considering, however, the sub-artistic workers it will not be right to rate the human costs too high. A good deal of scope for personal satisfaction remains in many of these kinds of work. The sense of skill in overcoming difficulties, evoked wherever any intricate work is done by brain and hand, yields a vital joy. This the executant artist, even though mainly a copyist, experiences in no mean measure. It sustains a fine vitality, and, what is significant for our particular enquiry, it involves low human cost, unless the pace and strain of repetition are carried to excess. Wherever any reasonable scope for individual expression or achievement remains, though the main body of the product may be rigorously prescribed by close imitation, or ordered by mechanical contrivance, the art spirit lives and the human costs are low. The photographer, or even the skilled performer on the pianola, retains a larger measure of the nature and the satisfaction of the artist than a merely cursory consideration of his occupation would suggest.

A considerable and growing proportion of productive energy is given out in these various levels of artistic or creative work, and the proportion of the national income represented by this product is growing with fair rapidity in every modern civilised community.

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