1580s, "one who cultivates one of the fine arts," from French artiste (14c.), from Italian artista, from Medieval Latin artista, from Latin ars (see art (n.)).
Originally especially of the arts presided over by the Muses (history, poetry, comedy, tragedy, music, dancing, astronomy), but also used 17c. for "one skilled in any art or craft" (including professors, surgeons, craftsmen, cooks). Since mid-18c. especially of "one who practices the arts of design or visual arts."