The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2021)
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 refers to a practitioner in the visual arts only. However, the term is also often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers (although less often for actors). "Artiste" (French for artist) is a variant used in English in this context, but this use has become rare. Use of the term "artist" to describe writers is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like used in 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 moving into kitsch.
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.