Classifications of the Visual Arts

While the term “visual arts” covers a broad range, the most common interpretation for the subject includes all art forms that are primarily visual in presentation. For colleges and universities that offer degrees in visual arts, that includes subject that may go beyond the traditional definition. Here are the main subjects that fall under visual arts;

-       Drawing

-       Painting

-       Sculpture

-       Crafts

-       Printmaking

-       Photography 

-       Filmmaking & Videography 

-       Design

-       Architecture 

In addition, applied arts are included in the category of visual arts which includes graphic design, industrial design, interior design, fashion design, and even decorative arts. Depending on the interpretation, it is possible to include other disciplines of the arts such as conceptual, textile, and performing in terms of visual presentation. 


Before the turn of the 20thcentury, visual arts were more limited in terms of what artistic disciplines it included. During this time, an artist was someone who worked in the fine arts such as sculpting, printmaking, or painting. A person who worked in craft, applied art media, or handicraft was not considered an artist. A craftsperson could not be considered an artist in the traditional sense. 

That all changed starting in the 20thcentury when new technology and new perspectives brought much of the applied arts into the visual art field. Thanks to advancing technology, it’s certainly possible that new areas will fall into the category of visual arts. 

In the United States, works of visual arts can be protected by copyright laws if they fall under the legal definition. This means that all works of print, sculpting, and painting are protected, even if they are copied up to 200 times. This protects limited edition works to a certain degree. Copyright protection also extends to still photographs from a single copy up to 200 as part of a limited edition. All works must bear the signature of the author or some mark that identifies the owner. 

It should be noted that copyright protection for visual arts does not apply to the applied arts, such as technical drawings, models, diagrams, publications, and the like as they fall under a different category. 

Visual Arts Programs

For those who are interested in pursuing a career in visual arts, there are several degrees available depending on the college or university that you choose. Many schools offer associate degrees and certification programs which may be enough for entry-level work, but the more advanced degrees include the following;

-       Bachelor of Arts

-       Bachelor of Fine Arts

-       Master of Arts

-       Master of Fine Arts

The more advanced the degree, the more likely you are to qualify for positions in the visual arts field. There are exceptions of course depending on the exact field that you choose. For example, many individuals without degrees are successful in selling their own works in the visual arts field in terms of painting, sculpting, photography, and the like. However, to work for a company it is usually required that you have some type of degree or certification.