Artist - History of The Term

History of The Term

Although the Greek word "techně" is often mistranslated as "art," it actually implies mastery of any sort of craft. The Latin-derived form of the word is "tecnicus", from which the English words technique, technology, technical are derived.

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 ' of many hymns'): muse of sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric
  • Terpsichore (the ' 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 is derived from the Latin "ars", which, although literally defined means, "skill method" or "technique", holds 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 to Leon Battista Alberti's works (De re aedificatoria, De statua, De pictura), focusing the importance of 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.

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