What Is Visual Art?

Posted by Robert Lange on

What are visual arts? These are all the means of artistic expression that use visuals to express emotions and convey meanings. These may include photography, painting, sculptures, pottery, or even architecture (as long as there is a meaning behind it). Visual arts aren’t necessarily fine arts, as they can also be commercial or decorative. Do you want to learn more? Then keep reading!

What Is Visual Art?

Visual art is the term coined to describe artwork that appeals mainly to the sense of sight. After all, poetry or music are also art, yet you won’t display them in an art gallery, due to them using different means to convey messages.

What is visual art, technically speaking? Any form of artistic expression using visuals. Against the common belief, visual arts aren’t limited to fine arts; they can come in much more common forms, as even advertisements could be considered ones (if you consider well-thought-out ads art).

What Is a Visual Arts Piece?

Knowing what visual arts are, let’s put the theory into practice. We’ve underlined the diversity of those works of art, so why don’t we take a look at several types that they could be categorized into?

Fine Arts

We shall begin with those visual arts that are also fine arts. Here, we can distinguish:

  • painting,
  • printmaking,
  • sculpture,
  • drawing,
  • illustration.

You can find all of these visual arts in offline and online art galleries, and most of them are created by professional artists who make a living out of creating their pieces. What’s more, what defines them is that they are created purely for their aesthetics, hence their categorization in the fine arts.

Contemporary Arts

What is considered contemporary art may often be considered visual arts as well. Often, these boundaries blend even further, as you’d find critics and artists who claim that contemporary arts are a part of fine arts. Nevertheless, what makes the latter stand out is that it's fairly new, so this distinction is relevant. What contemporary arts are visual arts? Take a look here:

  • photography,
  • happenings,
  • performance art,
  • commercial art.

As you can see, there’s one extra reason why we cannot merge these two categories together – visual contemporary arts may serve other purposes. A photograph might not be taken for its aesthetics but also as a way to remember an event; happenings are often used for advertising purposes and so can be said about performances, no matter how artistic they are; commercial art naturally comes with its dualistic nature.

Applied Arts

These are the most modern and questionable types of visual art. They include:

  • graphic design,
  • packaging design,
  • fashion design,
  • interior design,
  • jewellery design.

While it’s undeniable that graphic design is a visual art, packaging, and fashion could be questionable. In the first case, not every package is artistic, though brands recognize the power of symbolism and aesthetic design, hence its place on the list. The same could be said for fashion design, though fashion shows prove that it is treated as art.

The most controversial element here is interior design. Is it visual art if someone designs with convenience in mind (e.g., choosing colors that don’t get dirty easily)? What if the interior is prepared to make it easier to navigate through it, not to appeal to the sight? Well, the truth is that there might be instances where we could treat it as if it were not an art, but in most cases, it is – one that people most often interact with!

Decorative Arts

Decorative arts usually combine the visual aspect with practical uses, so we can definitely put them on our list. But, what do we mean by decorative arts? Namely:

  • ceramics,
  • tapestry,
  • glass art,
  • mosaic,
  • metalwork.

Body Art

Finally, there is body art. Fun for children at numerous events, but also important for adults. Here, we could name:

  • tattoos,
  • body paint,
  • make-up,
  • piercing.

One could even argue that tattoos should be included in the fine arts – after all, their main aim is to be aesthetically pleasing and to convey a meaning. And this is true somehow, as body paint and tattoos are, in most cases, much closer to the fine arts than the decorative or applied arts.


Beckon- 20" x 30" acrylic on panel - Megan Aline

What Is the Importance of Visual Art?

When it comes to the role of visual art, it is quite paramount. Why? Because it’s unrestricted. Visual arts give artists the possibility to express themselves in hundreds more ways than literature, poetry or music, and led to the growth of many important art movements – especially the abstract ones.

Take Surrealism art, for example. Artists from this movement tried to tap into the unconscious and initially believed that it could only be done through words. Yet, visual artists proved that they could also do it at many different levels, creating doodles or abstract paintings that had a hidden meaning and were free, unlike poems which were still imprisoned by words.

The Takeaway

We hope that now you understand what visual art is. After all, it surrounds us everywhere, whether we like it or not. Beautiful vases, colorful billboards, paintings in our favorite restaurants, or even the adverts the graphics that we see when surfing the internet – all of these are visual arts that we interact with on a daily basis.

You might also read: The Allure of Red: Exploring the Magnetic Power of Red Paintings

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