art·​ful ˈärt-fəl How to pronounce artful (audio)
: performed with or showing art or skill
an artful performance on the violin
: using or characterized by art and skill : dexterous
an artful prose stylist
: adroit in attaining an end usually by insinuating or indirect means : wily
an artful cross-examiner
: artificial
trim walks and artful bowersWilliam Wordsworth
artfully adverb
artfulness noun

Did you know?

A writer may produce an artful piece of prose, one that's clearly and elegantly written. The same writer might also make an artful argument, one that cleverly leaves out certain details and plays up others so as to make a stronger case. In the first instance, the prose is well crafted; in the second, the argument might instead be called crafty. But even though both uses are correct, most of us still use artful somewhat differently from artistic.

Choose the Right Synonym for artful

sly, cunning, crafty, wily, tricky, foxy, artful, slick mean attaining or seeking to attain one's ends by guileful or devious means.

sly implies furtiveness, lack of candor, and skill in concealing one's aims and methods.

a sly corporate raider

cunning suggests the inventive use of sometimes limited intelligence in overreaching or circumventing.

the cunning fox avoided the trap

crafty implies cleverness and subtlety of method.

a crafty lefthander

wily implies skill and deception in maneuvering.

the wily fugitive escaped the posse

tricky is more likely to suggest shiftiness and unreliability than skill in deception and maneuvering.

a tricky political operative

foxy implies a shrewd and wary craftiness usually involving devious dealing.

a foxy publicity man planting stories

artful implies indirectness in dealing and often connotes sophistication or cleverness.

elicited the information by artful questioning

slick emphasizes smoothness and guile.

slick operators selling time-sharing

Example Sentences

the artful lawyer got the witness to admit he had been lying that kitchen gadget is an artful tool for extracting cherry pits
Recent Examples on the Web May December — Todd Haynes No American filmmaker has been more inspired by the artful Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 May 2023 The menu is also filled with plants: kaleidoscopic and artful vegetarian dishes by the chef João Ricardo Alves. Seth Sherwood, New York Times, 20 Apr. 2023 And from there, Diop brazenly footnotes Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Medea (starring Maria Callas), Abbas Kiarostami’s courtroom meta-film Close-Up, and Pedro Costa’s artful immigrant sanctifications. Armond White, National Review, 20 Jan. 2023 The graphic lines of the rug, cocktail table, and Barcelona give the space an artful edge. Anna Fixsen, ELLE Decor, 29 Dec. 2022 But the film is an artful seriocomedy that captures '90s suburban ennui. Keith Nelson, Men's Health, 30 Nov. 2022 Though more expensive than the other options on this list, its handcrafted micro rope filigree pattern is uniquely artful and available in six different colors. Barbara Bellesi Zito, Better Homes & Gardens, 21 Apr. 2023 One half-bathroom has an 800-pound floating concrete trough made into a sink and artful wallpaper accents. Dallas Builders Association, Dallas News, 20 Apr. 2023 And Bob McDill from East Texas has written some of the most enduring and artful songs in our genre. Chris Willman, Variety, 3 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'artful.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1583, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of artful was in 1583

Dictionary Entries Near artful

Cite this Entry

“Artful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


art·​ful ˈärt-fəl How to pronounce artful (audio)
: done with or showing art or skill
: clever at taking advantage
artfully adverb
artfulness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on artful

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