An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner 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; this use is becoming rare. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the older broad meanings of the term "artist":
The Greek word "techn?", often translated as "art," implies mastery of any sort of craft. The adjectival Latin form of the word, "technicus", became the source of the English words technique, technology, technical.
In Greek culture each of the nine Muses oversaw a different field of human creation:
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.
The word art derives from the Latin "ars" (stem art-), which, although literally defined means "skill method" or "technique", also conveys 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 at least to the works of Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472): De re aedificatoria, De statua, De pictura, which focused on the importance of the intellectual skills of the artist rather than the manual skills (even if in other forms of art there was a project behind).
With the Academies in Europe (second half of 16th 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.
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 him- or herself through a medium". The word is also 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 the fine arts or 'high culture', activities such as drawing, painting, sculpture, acting, dancing, writing, filmmaking, new media, 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 define artists as those who produce art within a recognized or recognizable discipline. Contrasting terms for highly skilled workers in media in the applied arts or decorative arts include artisan, craftsman, and specialized terms such as potter, goldsmith or glassblower. Fine arts artists such as painters succeeded in the Renaissance in raising their status, formerly similar to these workers, to a decisively higher level.
The term may also be used loosely or metaphorically to denote highly skilled people in any non-"art" activities, as well-- law, medicine, mechanics, or mathematics, for example.
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). Use of the word "artiste" can also be a pejorative term.
The English word 'artiste' has thus a narrower range of meaning than the word 'artiste' in French.
In Living with Art, Mark Getlein proposes six activities, services or functions of contemporary artists:
After looking at years of data on arts school graduates as well as policies & program outcomes regarding artists, arts, & culture, Elizabeth Lingo and Steven Tepper propose the divide between "arts for art's sake" artists and commercially successful artists is not as wide as may be perceived, and that "this bifurcation between the commercial and the noncommercial, the excellent and the base, the elite and the popular, is increasingly breaking down" (Eikhof & Haunschild, 2007). Lingo and Tepper point out:
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies many visual artists as either craft artists or fine artists. A craft artist makes handmade functional works of art, such as pottery or clothing. A fine artist makes paintings, illustrations (such as book illustrations or medical illustrations), sculptures, or similar artistic works primarily for their aesthetic value.
The main source of skill for both craft artists and fine artists is long-term repetition and practice. Many fine artists have studied their art form at university and some have a master's degree in fine arts. Artists may also study on their own or receive on-the-job training from an experienced artist.
The number of available jobs as an artist is increasing more slowly than other fields. About half of US artists are self-employed. Others work in a variety of industries. For example, a pottery manufacturer will employ craft artists, and book publishers will hire illustrators.
In the US, fine artists have a median income of approximately US$50,000 per year, and craft artists have a median income of approximately US$33,000 per year. This compares to US$61,000 for all art-related fields, including related jobs such as graphic designers, multimedia artists, animators, and fashion designers. Many artists work part-time as artists and hold a second job.