By: Jess Canty (and WikiPedia)
The Greek word "techně", 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:
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 labour.
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 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.
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 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.
Technical Mastery of Craft. Creativity. Technique. Skilled Excellency. Expression. Innovation. Practice. Imagination. Talent. Creating within the context of high culture.
These are pretty lofty attributes to attempt to attain.
To be able to fill in the "Occupation" line with "Artist?" That is a pretty amazing feeling.
What are you doing today to enhance your skill? What are you doing in service of technical mastery of your craft? How are you being creative today? What technique can you practice? Have you expressed yourself today? What innovation are you bringing to your chosen craft? How many hours of practice have you put in today? Did you use your imagination? How can you apply your talent? What have you created in the context of high culture?
Writers write every day. Actors act every day. Singers sing every day. Dancers dance every day. Cinematographers photograph every day. Directors guide craftspeople every day. Producers bring craftspeople together every day.
Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore and Thalia are watching. Waiting for you to reach out to them.
And maybe even Urania too - for "if you reach for the moon at least you'll land among the stars."