This is ONE OF 2 responses to Vol 16 Larry 3 ("Define artist")...
Rats! I think I'm going to have to agree with you on this one. "Art" and "Artist" rank up there with "Intelligence", "Suffering", and "Personality" as major world class slippery-bar-of-soap words. I've had "What IS Art?" discussions dozens of times with lots of different people, and none of us have ever even come close to a decent definition.
In my mind, all of the examples you mentioned could qualify as art. I certainly believe that computer programming is an art form, and the world might be a better place if more universities put their CS departments in the College of Fine Arts instead of the College of Engineering (or, even worse, BUSINESS!).
I would, however, limit membership in the Universal Artist Guild to those people who not only create, but who in some sense devote their lives to the work of creation. I see art as more of a spiritual orientation than an activity or a skill. An artist is a person who communicates through the act of creation and who NEEDS to communicate more than anything else. This need is almost more of a weakness than a talent. And a person blessed or cursed with this need views the world in a very different way from someone who occasionally creates just in order to relax.
As for the question of who gets to define art and artists, I think these definitions evolve over time. Painting and Literature are widely recognized as art forms primarily because a whole lot of people have been painting and writing for a very long time. If a whole lot of people devote their lives to the creation of beautiful programs, and if this activity continues for a long enough period of time, programming will be widely recognized as an art form. It just takes time for other people to perceive a pattern and give it a name.
So I guess what I'm saying is that it's not so much what you do, but why you do it, and the way you look at the world that matters.