The word artisan has its roots in French. It refers to a skilled craftsman or craftswoman who makes or creates objects partially or entirely by hand. These products created by craftsmen may be functional or decorative.
Artisans practice a craft and may–through continued practise, experience and aptitude–reach the expressive levels of an artist. It is the work of many lifetimes.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, artisans were the dominant producers of commodities. The term “artisanal” is usually used to describe creating something by hand; in contrast to the modern day norm of relying on an industrialised and mechanised process that is largely standardised.
During the Middle Ages, the word artisan was used to refer to those who made objects thereby providing a service to the community. It did not apply to unskilled manual labourers. Customisation was not only common, but was most likely the norm. Bespoke was the only way to go.
The list of artisanal products that were created are as exhaustive as the number of items in the world. They included: furniture, decorative art, sculpture, jewellery, woodworking, clothing, food and household items. It also encompassed tools and mechanisms such as: clockwork and watchmaking.
Artisans were divided into two distinct groups: those who owned and operated their own businesses and those who did not. The former were called masters while the latter were the journeymen and apprentices.
The most influential group among the artisans were the masters: the business owners. The owners enjoyed a higher social status in their communities and often organised into guilds.