Not sure how well these comments will fit into your post but having drawn all my life, after having been to art school, working professionally as an animator and hanging out at a local atelier for a year and a half I have put a lot of thought into art and what it is.
I think everybody to one extent or another does art even if they don't consciously recognize it as such. I agree with you that once the basic needs are met there is something inherent in humanity that makes us strive for more...and that can be called art.
With that said, I think there are also different degrees of art. Jackson Pollock has been mentioned in your comments at how profound his work actually IS and how you have to be educated to "get it," and that opinion is fine but you'll forgive me if I would rather look at Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling. I'm sorry but working on a fresco painting THAT good, THAT large for THAT long brings me to my knees more than dribbled paint on a canvas.
Someone can make the most incredible hats out of polar fleece and that's great...but you'll forgive me if I am more blown away by the paintings done by the artist who owns the atelier.
I guess I am an elitist but I think while art has a slipperly definition, it is disingenious to consider all artists...and all art to be on the same playing field.
I went to an art show a few months ago at the University of Utah. It was for one of the student's master thesis and when I talked to him about it... (most were small pieces of cobbled together tiled art and various collages,) I asked him how long it had taken to put togther this current body of work. I was frankly stunned when he said it had been 4 really intensive months for about 90% of it. (There were over 50 pieces hanging on the wall.)
How much thought can go into something that you crank out in 2 days? And for a masters?
Now, I'm a cartoonist...I take about 2 hours for a really good cartoon though when I go into color they have been known to take up to 12 so I'm not exactly of the opinion that art needs to take a long time and be a tortured laborious process...
...but then I don't consider cartooning to be easily compared with something like say, "The Last Supper."
Apparently universities are starting to come under a(in my opinion a long over due) backlash of students who are tired of being told, "Oh be free! Challenge yourself and the audience and bascially splatter paint around!" They are more increasingly frustrated students who want to learn to draw things that look like THING...to paint figures that look like FIGURES.
More and more co-op and ateliers are cropping up with the intent of studying the old masters and their techniques and I for one couldn't be more pleased.
I suppose I am rambling but I guess in my elitist brain while I admire all things creative...(my sister made the most AMAZING wall quilt!) I don't consider all art to be equally great and study and disclipline are more impressive to me than some street artist who wants to "challenge the audience."