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The definition of an artist is wide-ranging and covers a broad spectrum of activities to do with creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The normal meaning in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practicioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers (less often for actors). "Artiste" (the French for artist) is a variant used in English only in this context. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is certainly valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.

Dictionary definitions

Wiktionary defines the noun 'artist' (Singular: artist; Plural: artists) as follows:

  1. A person who creates art.
  2. A person who creates art as an occupation.
  3. A person who is skilled at some activity

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the older broad meanings of the term "artist,"

  • A learned person or Master of Arts (now rather obselete)
  • One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry (also obselete)
  • A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice - the opposite of a theorist
  • A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic - partly obselete
  • One who makes their craft a fine art
  • One who cultivates one of the fine arts - traditionally the arts presided over by the muses - now the dominant usage

History of the term

In Greek the word "techně" is often mistranslated into "art." In actuality, "techně" implies mastery of a craft (any craft.) The Latin-derived form of the word is "tecnicus", from which the English words technique, technology, technical are derived.

In Greek culture the nine Muses patronaged each a different field of human creation:

  1. Epic poetry
  2. Lyric song
  3. History
  4. Erotic poetry
  5. Tragedy
  6. Sacred song
  7. Dance
  8. Comedy and bucolic poetry
  9. Astronomy

No muse was identified with the visual arts of painting and sculpture. In ancient Greece sculptors and painters were held in low regard, somewhere between freemen and slaves, their work regarded as mere manual labour [1].

The word art is derived from the Latin "ars", which, although literally defined means, "skill method" or "technique", holds a connotation of beauty.

During the Middle Ages the word artist already existed in some countries such as Italy, but the meaning was something resembling craftsman, while the word artesan was still unknown. An artist was someone able to do a work better than others, so the skilled excellency was underlined, rather than the activity field. In this period some "artisanal" products (such as textiles) were much more precious and expensive than paintings or sculptures.

The first division into major and minor arts dates back to Leon Battista Alberti's works (De re aedificatoria, De statua, De pictura), focusing the importance of intellectual skills of the artist rather than the manual skills (even if in other forms of art there was a project behind). [2]

With the Academies in Europe (second half of XVI century) the gap between fine and applied arts was definitely set.

Many contemporary definitions of "artist" and "art" are highly contingent on culture, resisting aesthetic prescription, in much the same way that the features constituting beauty and the beautiful, cannot be standardized easily without corruption into kitsch.

The present day concept of an 'artist'

Artist is a descriptive term applied to a person who engages in an activity deemed to be an art. An artist also may be defined unofficially, as, "a person who expresses themselves through a medium". The word also is used in a qualitative sense of, a person creative in, innovative in, or adept at, an artistic practice.

Most often, the term describes those who create within a context of 'high culture', activities such as drawing, painting, sculpture, acting, dancing, writing, filmmaking, photography, and music—people who use imagination, talent, or skill to create works that may be judged to have an aesthetic value. Art historians and critics will define as artists, those who produce art within a recognized or recognizable discipline.

The term also is used to denote highly skilled people in non-"arts" activities, as well—crafts, law, medicine, alchemy, mechanics, mathematics, defense (martial arts), and architecture, for example. The designation is applied to high skill in illegal activities, such as "scam artist" (a person very adept at deceiving others, often profiting (semi-illegaly) from other people) or "con artist" (a person very adept at committing fraud).

Often, discussions on the subject focus on the differences among "artist" and "technician", "entertainer" and "artisan," "fine art" and "applied art," or what constitutes art and what does not. The French word artiste (which in French, simply means "artist") has been imported into the English language where it means a performer (frequently in Music Hall or Vaudeville). The English word 'artist' has thus, a narrower range of meanings than the word 'artiste' in French.

Examples of art and artists

  • Abstract: Jackson Pollock
  • Actress: Greta Garbo
  • Animation:Walt Disney
  • Architect: Antoni Gaudí
  • Ballet: Margot Fonteyn
  • Calligraphy: Rudolf Koch
  • Choreographer: Martha Graham
  • Comics: Will Eisner
  • Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
  • Conceptual artist: Damien Hirst
  • Dancer: Isadora Duncan
  • Designer: Arne Jacobsen
  • Fashion designer: Alexander McQueen
  • Floral designer: Junichi Kakizaki
  • Game designer: Peter Molyneux
  • Graphic designer: Peter Saville
  • Garden design: André le Nôtre
  • Illusionist: Houdini
  • Illustrator: Quentin Blake
  • Industrial designer: Pininfarina
  • Jewelry: Fabergé
  • Landscape architect: Frederick Law Olmsted
  • Movie director: Sergei Eisenstein
  • Multimedia: Pablo Picasso
  • Muralist: Diego Rivera
  • Musician: John Lennon
  • Novelist: Charles Dickens
  • Musical instrument maker: Stradivari
  • Orator: Cicero
  • Outsider Art: Nek Chand]
  • Painter: Rembrandt van Rijn
  • Photographer: Bill Brandt
  • Photomontage: John Heartfield
  • Pianist: Glenn Gould
  • Playwright: Alan Bennett
  • Poet: Pablo Neruda
  • Potter: Bernard Leach
  • Printmaker: Albrecht Dürer
  • Sculptor: Michelangelo Buonarotti
  • Singer: Maria Callas
  • Street Art: Banksy
  • Typographer: Eric Gill

See also


  1. In Our Time: The Artist BBC Radio 4, TX 28th March 2002
  2. P.Galloni, Il sacro artefice. Mitologie degli artigiani medievali, Laterza, Bari, 1998)


  • P.Galloni, Il sacro artefice. Mitologie degli artigiani medievali, Laterza, Bari, 1998
  • C. T. Onions (1991). The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Clarendon Press Oxford. ISBN 0-19-861126-9

External links

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