What are Visual Arts – A Brief History

Visual arts as a name should be self-explanatory, yet the term evolved over the years. What this means is that it used to cover only certain arts that appease the visual sense, meaning painting, sculpture and later, printmaking (once printing became prominent enough).

Over time, the term evolved to include things like photography and craftsmanship, architecture and many other forms of art such as theatre and performance-based arts which stimulate the visual sense. It was not always like this, however, as the term “Fine Arts” dominated history for a long time, separating forms of art into different categories.

The Fine Arts Dilemma

With art nowadays being everywhere, especially online, visual arts have become even more important. Every website contains a form of visual art and so does every video you might catch on YouTube or other video-sharing website.

Back in the middle ages, a term called Fine Arts was used to separate the other forms of art from the magnificent five or rather, sculpture, painting, music, poetry and architecture. Performance-based arts like theatre and dance. This term was separate from applied arts because fine implied a more conservative and pure view of things which only a refined and upper-class mind could conceive.

Today, fine arts are a lot more liberal and put the artist forward and not the means which said artist used to express their art.

Visual Arts Today

Everything has a bit of visual today and even though many arts overlap and contain a part or form other arts, visual arts are still separated into more specific forms. Arts considered visual are painting and drawing, sculpture and architecture, printmaking and filmmaking, photography and video, design and crafts. Applied arts which fall under the category of visual arts include graphic design, fashion design, decorative art and interior design.

It is worth noting the arts other than painting, sculpture, architecture and filmmaking were considered craft and practitioners of such were not considered artists. The rigid definition of visual arts remained until the 1920s and was changed after the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Performance arts, textile arts and conceptual art include many aspects of visual arts.

A Look into the Visual Arts


Painting has its origins in times well before Christ, some 42000 years ago. Those are most often cave paintings, given how humans had no other accommodation options at the time. Over the years, many painters became prominent like Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Picasso.


Sculpture is also an interesting art, being a bit younger than painting, the oldest sculpture being around 35000 years old. It is a sculpture of the Venus of Hohle Vels. Famous sculptors include Michelangelo, Donatello, Rodin, Marcel Duchamp and Picasso, once more.


The first known photograph to survive the years was made by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in either 1826 or 1827 in his estate in France. Famous photographers include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange. In this modern age, photography is widely available to almost everyone with the evolution of smartphones and nanotechnology.


The first film was made in 1888 and is called the Roundhay Garden Scene. After that, there are countless filmmakers or directors, as they are referred to now, notably Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock Quentin Tarantino and many more.

The visual arts will soon include virtual reality products and many more things, as technology allows for new forms of expression.