- Date: 1538
- 1 : a worker who practices a trade or handicraft : craftsperson
- 2 : one that produces something (as cheese or wine) in limited quantities often using traditional methods
An artisan (from Italian: artigiano) is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewelry, household items, and tools. The term can also be used as an adjective to refer to the craft of hand making food products, such as bread, beverages and cheese.
Manufacture by hand and with hand tools imparts unique and individual qualities to artisanal products, in contrast to mass produced goods where every one is nearly identical. Artisans traditionally work in media such as stone, wood, ceramics, glass, common and precious metals, basketry, textiles, esparto grass, leather, fur, wax, paper, and flowers.
Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the Industrial Revolution. According to classical economics theory, the division of labor occurs with internal market development (Adam Smith). However, according to economist John Hicks, merchants and artisans originated as servants to the rulers, which occurred much earlier. Artisans employ creative thinking and manual dexterity to produce their goods.
During the Middle Ages the term "artisan" was applied to those who made things or provided services. It did not apply to unskilled laborers. Artisans were divided into two distinct groups: those who operated their own business, and those who did not. Those who owned their businesses were called masters, while the latter were the journeymen and apprentices. One misunderstanding many people have about this social group is that they picture them as "workers" in the modern sense: employed by someone. The most influential group among the artisans were the masters, the business owners. The owners enjoyed a higher social status in their communities.