1610s, "learned, well-versed in the (liberal) arts," also "characterized by technical skill, artistic," from art (n.) + -ful. Meaning "cunning, crafty, skilled in adapting means to ends" is from 1739. Related: Artfully; artfulness. The Artful Dodger (Jack Dawkins) is from Dickens' "Oliver Twist" (1837-39).
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early 13c., "skill as a result of learning or practice," from Old French art (10c.), from Latin artem (nominative ars) "work of art; practical skill; a business, craft," from PIE *ar(ə)-ti- (source also of Sanskrit rtih "manner, mode;" Greek artizein "to prepare"), suffixed form of root *ar- "to fit together." Etymologically akin to Latin arma "weapons."
In Middle English usually with a sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c. 1300), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts. This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c. Meaning "system of rules and traditions for performing certain actions" is from late 15c. Sense of "skill in cunning and trickery" first attested late 16c. (the sense in artful, artless). Meaning "skill in creative arts" is first recorded 1610s; especially of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1660s.
Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead. [William Butler Yeats, journal, 1909]
Expression art for art's sake (1824) translates French l'art pour l'art. First record of art critic is from 1847. Arts and crafts "decorative design and handcraft" first attested in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in London, 1888.
It is rare in Old English and Middle English, where full was much more commonly attached at the head of a word (for example Old English fulbrecan "to violate," fulslean "to kill outright," fulripod "mature;" Middle English had ful-comen "attain (a state), realize (a truth)," ful-lasting "durability," ful-thriven "complete, perfect," etc.).
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an artful choice of metaphors
the artful dodger