What is Visual Arts and 12 Examples?

visual art in the classroom

Published: September 29th, 2022

When discussing visual art, many people will think of renowned fine artists rather than conceptual art. However, the term refers to a large variety of art forms, which are discussed in detail below. From painting to performance art, you’ll learn about something new when reading through the examples listed below.

If you’re wondering how you can incorporate visual arts into the classroom, this can easily be done with an interactive display and a little imagination. Visual arts in the classroom is just as important as ‘traditionally academic’ subjects like maths or science, but what are they and how can you incorporate them into the classroom? 

What are the visual arts?

Visual art is a broad term encompassing a wide range of art forms and mediums. It is a sub-category of The Arts which covers all forms of creative expression, including music, drama, and literature.

Visual arts are divided into two main subcategories, fine arts and contemporary art. Up until the 19th century, only the mediums falling under fine arts were recognised as visual arts. However, thanks to the British arts and crafts revolution, applied and decorative art was included under the term ‘contemporary art’. 

Since then, more disciplines have been added under the contemporary art umbrella, such as various forms of design, commercial art, digital art and performance art.

Examples and explanations of the visual arts 

Fine arts

Fine Art refers to art that is created purely for its aesthetics and holds no practical or utilitarian value. Fine art was originally considered the only form of visual art and consists of painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture and printmaking, amongst others.

Painting

Painting  is one of the oldest art forms, dating back more than 40 000 years.

Artists use a variety of paint mediums, such as oils, acrylics, or watercolours, as well as different application techniques in order to create a unique piece of art.

Their choice of paint medium, as well as application technique, will depend on the type of painting they wish to create – a mural will be created in a very different way to an illuminated manuscript, for example.

Printmaking

Printmaking involves replacing images onto parchment, paper or other media to create a printed image. While technically not original artworks, due to the fact that they are replications, these impressions are still regarded as being works of art in and of themselves, despite being produced in multiples.

Modern printmakers are well-versed in the majority of printing techniques, thanks to the medium’s inclusion as a key component in many fine arts training curricula. The various printing methods include but are not limited to woodcuts, screen-printing, engraving, digital prints, and etching.

Sculpture

Four main characteristics defined traditional sculpture prior to the 20th century. It was three-dimensional, representational, seen as a form of solid art, and created either by carving or modelling. Sculptors either worked directly from their chosen material, such as wood or stone, or they built their sculptures from scratch, using clay, plaster, and wax. 

Modern sculptors are no longer limited by the traditional sculptural concepts, materials or production methods used in the past. Abstract sculptures have grown in popularity, as well as sculptures that emphasise empty space.

Forms of kinetic and interactive sculptures are also coming to the fore, and sculptures can now be projected (as a holograph), assembled, glued, or constructed using a variety of techniques, in addition to being modelled or carved. 

Drawing

Many artists use drawing to explore their ideas and plan their projects, whilst others create art solely through drawing. 

And drawing doesn’t always have to involve a pencil! Pens, graphite, crayons, charcoal, and chalk are just some of the mediums that can be used to draw. 

Illustration

The most common forms of this visual art in the past have been book illustrations and magazine or newspaper illustrations. Illustrators have also employed their graphic design abilities in the creation of posters, commercials, comic books, animation art, greeting cards, and cartoon strips.

The majority of illustrative drawings were created in pen-and-ink, charcoal, or metal point and were then reproduced using a range of print techniques, such as woodcuts, engraving, etching, lithography, photography, and halftone engraving, among others.

There are five basic categories of illustrations today: informative illustration, such as scientific drawings or botanical illustrations; literary, such as children’s books; fantasy books and games, including graphic novels and board games; media, such as newspapers and magazines; and commercial, which includes product packaging, branding, and various forms of advertising.

Contemporary art

Defined as “the art of today”, contemporary art is often interpreted more widely as art created from the 20th century to the present day. It includes the broad categories of decorative arts and crafts, commercial art, and applied arts. Many of its sub-categories have only been acknowledged as visual arts since the mid to late 20th century.

The realm of contemporary art is constantly expanding, with more and more art forms being accepted as visual art. The quick advancement of technology has resulted in a digital creative boom, with new forms of digital visual arts being created at a rapid pace.

Photography

Since its invention, there has been a battle to get photography recognised as one of the fine arts rather than a contemporary art or craft. Due to the mechanical nature of the photographic camera, some critics determine that the art of photography is better defined as a craft.

Some of the first examples of photography as art can be found in the Pictorialist movement, which developed between 1889 and 1914. Through the development of various darkroom techniques in which they added colour, brushstrokes, or other forms of surface manipulation, Pictorialists produced images with soft focus and painting-like qualities.

Their aim was to create images of beauty rather than images that were factually accurate. This has remained the goal of many fine art photographers, who use a variety of interesting techniques to bend light, change focus, and create multiple exposures, resulting in unique pieces of art.

Happenings

A unique form of postmodern visual art, happenings are closely related to performance art but differ in that they are often spontaneous and linked to an anti-art movement. Happenings originated with the avant-garde Dada movement in the early to mid-20th century.

Performance art

While some critics debate whether or not performance art should be included as one of the visual arts and should instead be considered as one of the performing arts, this avant-garde art form is widely considered to be part of visual art.

The key aspect of performance art is for the artist to perform in front of a live audience, either by creating a piece of art (of any form) or giving a performance. This sub-category of contemporary art is an intersection between drama and the visual arts.

Commercial art

Commercial art is the creation of art for commercial uses, such as advertising, product packaging, branding and the like. Commercial artists have the same training as fine artists but are just working in a different industry. Commercial art was not always considered art, but its value is recognised in modern times.

Without the contributions of commercial artists, the world would be a very bland place and the world of the consumer would be vastly different to what it is today. Despite the reservations that some art critics have about the inclusion of commercial art under the broad term of visual arts, it is hard to deny this medium’s importance and relevance to the art world.

Applied arts

Another art form that is a more recent addition to the visual arts is the applied arts. These art forms are often included with decorative and commercial arts, as they are often utilised more in commercial art than in the fine arts realm.

  • Graphic design
    Often referred to as visual communication design, graphic design is the art of using typography and graphics to communicate ideas.
  • Packaging design
    Packaging design combines supporting design elements with the materials, structure, form, typography and any regulatory information necessary to create a market-ready product.
  • Fashion design
    This form of visual art is dedicated to creating clothing and accessories by applying new ideas to clothing construction and design while incorporating elements of natural beauty.
  • Interior design
    Interior design is one of the visual art forms that we interact with on a daily basis. It is the utilisation of design elements and decorative art to make the interiors of a building aesthetically pleasing whilst retaining usability.
  • Jewellery design
    One of the earliest forms of decorative and applied art, jewellery design, is the creation of wearable ornaments in the form of rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets, to name a few.

Decorative arts and crafts

Decorative arts are visual art forms made not purely for aesthetics but also for functional purpose. They are sometimes referred to as crafts and were only included in the realm of visual arts in the 19th century.

  • Ceramics
    While fine art ceramics exist, many ceramic art forms can be defined as decorative arts, as they serve a practical purpose. The art of ceramics is using clay to create a form, which is fired in a kiln, decorated with glaze, and refired before reaching its final form.
  • Tapestry
    Tapestry art has been around for many years and has been present in many different cultures. Falling in the decorative arts category of the visual arts, tapestries have been utilised for a variety of purposes over the millennia.
    Used as shrouds in Ancient Egypt and by the Incas and later as wall hangings by the Romans and Greeks, this form of textile art remains popular today.
  • Glass art
    Glass art encompasses all art that wholly or partially utilises glass as its primary medium. While some glass art is functional, modern glass art can be purely aesthetic in design.
  • Mosaic
    A mosaic artwork is created by embedding small pieces of marble, ceramics, glass or other materials into adhesive, cement or plaster. Originating in Greece, this visual art form was (and still is) used as interior and exterior decoration on the walls and floors of buildings.
  • Metalwork
    This ancient art form was originally used for practical items such as swords, shields and armour but later developed into a decorative art form that utilises a wide range of techniques to create a large variety of visual art pieces.
    From casting and hammering to engraving and embedding, examples of this art form can be found in civilisations as early as Mesopotamia.

Body art

Body art is a form of contemporary visual art where the artist’s body becomes the canvas. It can encompass make-up, body and face painting, tattoos, miming, and live statues, amongst others.

  • Tattoos
    The oldest known example of tattoo art is from the Neolithic period and dates back to 6000 BCE. Created by inserting indelible ink into the upper dermis, this form of art has been prevalent in many cultures and has become a part of popular culture in modern times.
  • Face painting and Make-up
    Dating back to the palaeolithic era, face painting was first used to identify key tribe members and later was used as tribal art in the form of war paint, for example.
    In modern times, make-up is used along with face paints in a variety of industries. Basic makeup is used on a daily basis by many people, whereas show make-up is used in the film industry, and fashion make-up, often dramatic and colourful, is used for high-fashion fashion shows.

How to incorporate visual arts into the classroom

With the ever-increasing prevalence of information and communication technology in the world, the realm of visual arts is expanding to include a diverse range of digital art forms.

By incorporating a smart display into the classroom, teachers can easily educate their students in both classical and modern art. 

Using an interactive whiteboard and the relevant teaching software will create a fun and exciting environment to teach and learn about visual arts.

For an easy example of how you could bring visual arts into your classroom, take a look at this Promethean Cares Playlist – select video number three to see how you could bring an artist brainstorm into your classroom using the ActivPanel

Or, why not take a look at the Promethean Resource Library and find hundreds of lessons that can help bring visual arts into the classroom. Simply type “art” or “visual art” into the search bar to find art-related resources that you can incorporate into your teaching. 

The free lesson delivery software, ClassFlow, also has a fantastic selection of free and paid lesson plans in the ClassFlow Marketplace to use on an ActivPanel in the classroom. Simply select the ‘Art and Design’ filter to have access to hundreds of art-related resources.

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