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, but in the 20th century the distinction became rather less relevant.
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:
Create places for some human purpose.
Create extraordinary versions of ordinary objects.
Record and commemorate.
Give tangible form to the unknown.
Give tangible form to feelings.
Refresh our vision and help see the world in new ways.
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:
arts consumers don’t restrict themselves to either “high” or “common” arts; instead, they demonstrate “omnivorous tastes, liking both reggae and Rachmaninoff” (Peterson & Kern, 1996; Walker & Scott-Melnyk, 2002)
data indicates “artists are willing to move across sectors and no longer see working outside the commercial sector as a badge of distinction or authenticity” (Bridgstock, 2013; Ellmeier, 2003)
academic, policy, and government leaders are adapting—widening—programs & opportunities in recognition of “the role of artists as drivers of economic growth and innovation” (Bohm & Land, 2009; DCMS, 2006, 2008; Florida, 2012; Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010; Lloyd, 2010; Iyengar, 2013).
arts graduates name “business and management skills” as the “number one area [they] wish they had been more exposed to in college” (Strategic National Arts Alumni Project [SNAAP], 2011; Tepper & Kuh, 2010).