What is an artist? Are there different concepts after this word? Do the different disciplines in the artistic creativity, produce different types of artists? Is it possible to establish a categorization of artists, and a categorization for different types of creativity? Some answers could be very different and, perhaps, clearly opposed. But, the concept of ‘artist’ exists, because some people think and produce art. In this article, I suggest some approaches regarding this concept.
In any case, in my mind, an artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts, and/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. Using this word to describe writers, for example, is certainly valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.
What are the definitions in a Dictionary ?
Wiktionary defines the noun ‘artist’ 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
• One who pursues a practical science, traditionally medicine, astrology, alchemy, chemistry
• A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice
• A follower of a manual art, such as a mechanic
• One who makes their craft a fine art
• One who cultivates one of the fine arts – traditionally the arts presided over by the muses.
A definition of Artist from Princeton.edu: creative person (a person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination).
And just now, a little history of the term:
Although the Greek word “techně” is often mistranslated as “art,” it actually implies mastery of any sort of craft. The adjectival Latin form of the word, “technicus”, became the source of the English words technique, technology, and technical.
In Greek culture, each of the nine Muses oversaw a different field of human creation:
• Calliope (the ‘beautiful of speech’): chief of the muses and muse of epic or heroic poetry
• Clio (the ‘glorious one’): muse of history
• Erato (the ‘amorous one’): muse of love or erotic poetry, lyrics, and marriage songs
• Euterpe (the ‘well-pleasing’): muse of music and lyric poetry
• Melpomene (the ‘chanting one’): muse of tragedy
• Polyhymnia or Polymnia (the ‘[singer] of many hymns’): muse of sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing, and rhetoric
• Terpsichore (the ‘[one who] delights in dance’): muse of choral song and dance
• Thalia (the ‘blossoming one’): muse of comedy and bucolic poetry
• Urania (the ‘celestial one’): muse of 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 labor.
The word art derives from the Latin “ars” (stem art-), which, although literally defined, means “skill method” or “technique”, and 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 artisan 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.