Visual Arts

These are the arts that meet the eye and evoke an emotion through an expression of skill and imagination. They include the most ancient forms, such as painting and drawing, and the arts that were born thanks to the development of technology, like sculpture, printmaking, photography, and installation art, the latter a combination of multiple creative expressions. Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, different eras in art history have had their own principles to define beauty, from the richly ornamented taste of the Baroque to the simple, utilitarian style of the Prairie School.

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  • rooster weather vane
    Folk art
    Folk art, predominantly functional or utilitarian visual art created by hand (or with limited mechanical facilities) for use by the maker or a small circumscribed group and containing an element of retention—the prolonged survival of tradition. Folk art is the creative expression of the human…
  • Michelangelo: Profile with Oriental Headdress
    Drawing
    Drawing, the art or technique of producing images on a surface, usually paper, by means of marks, usually of ink, graphite, chalk, charcoal, or crayon. Drawing as formal artistic creation might be defined as the primarily linear rendition of objects in the visible world, as well as of concepts,…
  • Detail from Popular History of Mexico, mosaic by Diego Rivera, 1953; on the Teatro des los Insurgentes, Mexico City.
    Latin American art
    Latin American art, artistic traditions that developed in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America after contact with the Spanish and the Portuguese beginning in 1492 and 1500, respectively, and continuing to the present. This article will not discuss the art of non-Iberian colonial holdings…
  • Spencer, Frederick R.: Family Group
    Painting
    Painting, the expression of ideas and emotions, with the creation of certain aesthetic qualities, in a two-dimensional visual language. The elements of this language—its shapes, lines, colours, tones, and textures—are used in various ways to produce sensations of volume, space, movement, and light…
  • Foster and Partners: the Great Court
    Architecture
    Architecture, the art and technique of designing and building, as distinguished from the skills associated with construction. The practice of architecture is employed to fulfill both practical and expressive requirements, and thus it serves both utilitarian and aesthetic ends. Although these two…
  • Ziggurat at Choghā Zanbīl near Susa, Iran.
    Iranian art and architecture
    Iranian art and architecture, the art and architecture of ancient Iranian civilizations. Any reservation about attributing to Iran primary status among the countries contributing to the art of the ancient Middle East must be associated with the discontinuity of its early history and the…
  • Anubis weighing the soul of the scribe Ani, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, c. 1275 bce.
    Egyptian art and architecture
    Egyptian art and architecture, the ancient architectural monuments, sculptures, paintings, and decorative crafts produced mainly during the dynastic periods of the first three millennia bce in the Nile valley regions of Egypt and Nubia. The course of art in Egypt paralleled to a large extent the…
  • de Kooning, Willem: Woman II
    Abstract art
    Abstract art, painting, sculpture, or graphic art in which the portrayal of things from the visible world plays no part. All art consists largely of elements that can be called abstract—elements of form, colour, line, tone, and texture. Prior to the 20th century these abstract elements were…
  • Video art
    Video art, form of moving-image art that garnered many practitioners in the 1960s and ’70s with the widespread availability of inexpensive videotape recorders and the ease of its display through commercial television monitors. Video art became a major medium for artists who wished to exploit the…
  • Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Virgin), oil on panel by the workshop of Dieric Bouts, 1480/1500; in the Art Institute of Chicago.
    Early Netherlandish art
    Early Netherlandish art, sculpture, painting, architecture, and other visual arts created in the several domains that in the late 14th and 15th centuries were under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy, coincidentally counts of Flanders. As the terms “Burgundian” and “Flemish” describe only parts of…
  • Syro-Palestinian art and architecture
    Syro-Palestinian art and architecture, the art and architecture of ancient Syria and Palestine. The countries bordering the Mediterranean between the Sinai Peninsula and the Nur Dağları (Amanus Mountains), to which the names Palestine and Syria are often loosely applied, had in fact no geographic…
  • Gris, Juan: The Sunblind
    Cubism
    Cubism, highly influential visual arts style of the 20th century that was created principally by the artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The Cubist style emphasized the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting the traditional techniques of…
  • raffia-fibre cloth
    African art
    African art, the visual arts of native Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, including such media as sculpture, painting, pottery, rock art, textiles, masks, personal decoration, and jewelry. For more general explorations of media, see individual media articles (e.g., painting, sculpture,…
  • Tower of the Rising Clouds, colour on silk by Mi Fu; in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    Mi Fu
    Mi Fu, scholar, poet, calligrapher, and painter who was a dominant figure in Chinese art. Of his extensive writings—poetry, essays on the history of aesthetics, and criticism of painting—a considerable amount survives. Mi was born of a family that had held high office in the early years of the Song…
  • Romanesque archivolts over the arches of the nave of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire, England, mid-12th century
    Romanesque art
    Romanesque art, architecture, sculpture, and painting characteristic of the first of two great international artistic eras that flourished in Europe during the Middle Ages. Romanesque architecture emerged about 1000 and lasted until about 1150, by which time it had evolved into Gothic. The…
  • Vasarely, Victor: Sign Sculpture
    Op art
    Op art, branch of mid-20th-century geometric abstract art that deals with optical illusion. Achieved through the systematic and precise manipulation of shapes and colours, the effects of Op art can be based either on perspective illusion or on chromatic tension; in painting, the dominant medium of…
  • Northeast Indian moccasins, decorated in a geometric motif with quillwork, glass beads, and strips of wool.
    Native American art
    Native American art, the visual art of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas, often called American Indians. For a further discussion of the visual art of the Americas produced in the period after European contact, see Latin American art. The very use of the word art suggests one of the basic…
  • Medieval fortifications of the Cité, Carcassonne, France.
    Art conservation and restoration
    Art conservation and restoration, any attempt to conserve and repair architecture, paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and objects of the decorative arts (furniture, glassware, metalware, textiles, ceramics, and so on) that have been adversely affected by negligence, willful damage, or, more…
  • Mona Lisa, oil on wood panel by Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1503–06; in the Louvre, Paris.
    Art
    Art, a visual object or experience consciously created through an expression of skill or imagination. The term art encompasses diverse media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, decorative arts, photography, and installation. The various visual arts exist within a continuum that…
  • Enwezor, Okwui
    Okwui Enwezor
    Okwui Enwezor, Nigerian-born poet, art critic, art historian, and curator who helped bring global attention to African art. Enwezor was raised in Enugu in eastern Nigeria. In the early 1980s he relocated to the United States to attend Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University),…
  • The Snake-Charmer, oil painting by Henri Rousseau, 1907; in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
    Naïve art
    Naïve art, work of artists in sophisticated societies who lack or reject conventional expertise in the representation or depiction of real objects. Naïve artists are not to be confused with hobbyists, or “Sunday painters,” who paint for fun. The naïve creates with the same passion as the trained…
  • van Eyck, Jan and Hubert: Ghent Altarpiece
    Flemish art
    Flemish art, art of the 15th, 16th, and early 17th centuries in Flanders and in the surrounding regions including Brabant, Hainaut, Picardy, and Artois, known for its vibrant materialism and unsurpassed technical skill. From Hubert and Jan van Eyck through Pieter Bruegel the Elder to Peter Paul…
  • Kinetoscope, invented by Thomas A. Edison and William Dickson in 1891
    Motion picture
    Motion picture, series of still photographs on film, projected in rapid succession onto a screen by means of light. Because of the optical phenomenon known as persistence of vision, this gives the illusion of actual, smooth, and continuous movement. The motion picture is a remarkably effective…
  • Ziggurat at Ur (modern Tall al-Muqayyar, Iraq).
    Mesopotamian art and architecture
    Mesopotamian art and architecture, the art and architecture of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations. The name Mesopotamia has been used with varying connotations by ancient writers. If, for convenience, it is to be considered synonymous with the modern state of Iraq, it can be seen in terms of…
  • Chartres Cathedral
    Gothic art
    Gothic art, the painting, sculpture, and architecture characteristic of the second of two great international eras that flourished in western and central Europe during the Middle Ages. Gothic art evolved from Romanesque art and lasted from the mid-12th century to as late as the end of the 16th…
  • Rauschenberg, Robert: Monogram
    Modern art
    Modern art, painting, sculpture, architecture, and graphic arts characteristic of the 20th and 21st centuries and of the later part of the 19th century. Modern art embraces a wide variety of movements, theories, and attitudes whose modernism resides particularly in a tendency to reject traditional,…
  • Byzantine quincunx church(Left) Perspective drawing of a quincunx, or five-domed, church, a church type of the second Golden Age based on the domed cross element; (right) plan of church, showing cross-in-square design.
    Byzantine art
    Byzantine art, architecture, paintings, and other visual arts produced in the Middle Ages in the Byzantine Empire (centred at Constantinople) and in various areas that came under its influence. The pictorial and architectural styles that characterized Byzantine art, first codified in the 6th…
  • Versailles, Palace of: gardens
    Garden and landscape design
    Garden and landscape design, the development and decorative planting of gardens, yards, grounds, parks, and other types of areas. Garden and landscape design is used to enhance the settings for buildings and public areas and in recreational areas and parks. It is one of the decorative arts and is…
  • Mongol shaman wearing a ritual gown and holding a drum with the image of a spirit helper, c. 1909.
    Central Asian arts
    Central Asian arts, the literary, performing, and visual arts of a large portion of Asia embracing the Turkic republics (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan), Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and China. As used here, the…
  • Jane Avril, lithograph poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893; in the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi, France.
    Printmaking
    Printmaking, an art form consisting of the production of images, usually on paper but occasionally on fabric, parchment, plastic, or other support, by various techniques of multiplication, under the direct supervision of or by the hand of the artist. Such fine prints, as they are known…
  • Baroque coffered ceiling of the cupola of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, designed by Francesco Borromini, 1638–41.
    Baroque art and architecture
    Baroque art and architecture, the visual arts and building design and construction produced during the era in the history of Western art that roughly coincides with the 17th century. The earliest manifestations, which occurred in Italy, date from the latter decades of the 16th century, while in…
  • stereoscope
    History of photography
    History of photography, method of recording the image of an object through the action of light, or related radiation, on a light-sensitive material. The word, derived from the Greek photos (“light”) and graphein (“to draw”), was first used in the 1830s. This article treats the historical and…
  • Mridanga; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
    South Asian arts
    South Asian arts, the literary, performing, and visual arts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Despite a history of ethnic, linguistic, and political fragmentation, the people of the Indian subcontinent are unified by a common cultural and ethical outlook; a wealth of ancient textual…
  • The Royal Academy of Arts, mezzotint by Richard Earlom (1742/43–1822), after Johann Joseph Zoffany.
    Academy of art
    Academy of art, in the visual arts, institution established primarily for the instruction of artists but often endowed with other functions, most significantly that of providing a place of exhibition for students and mature artists accepted as members. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a…
  • Copper finial showing a stag and two steers, from Alaca Hüyük, c. 2400–2200 bce; in the Archaeological Museum, Ankara, Turkey.
    Anatolian art and architecture
    Anatolian art and architecture, the art and architecture of ancient Anatolian civilizations. Anatolia is the name that is currently applied to the whole Asian territory of modern Turkey. Its western half is a broad peninsula connecting the continent of Asia with Europe. Because the country lacks…
  • Torso of a Young Girl, onyx on a stone base by Constantin Brancusi, 1922; in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, U.S.
    Sculpture
    Sculpture, an artistic form in which hard or plastic materials are worked into three-dimensional art objects. The designs may be embodied in freestanding objects, in reliefs on surfaces, or in environments ranging from tableaux to contexts that envelop the spectator. An enormous variety of media…
  • Wassily Kandinsky.
    Wassily Kandinsky
    Wassily Kandinsky, Russian-born artist, one of the first creators of pure abstraction in modern painting. After successful avant-garde exhibitions, he founded the influential Munich group Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”; 1911–14) and began completely abstract painting. His forms evolved from…
  • The Breaking Wave off Kanagawa, woodblock colour print by Hokusai, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, 1826–33.
    Japanese art
    Japanese art, the painting, calligraphy, architecture, pottery, sculpture, bronzes, jade carving, and other fine or decorative visual arts produced in Japan over the centuries. The study of Japanese art has frequently been complicated by the definitions and expectations established in the late 19th…
  • Fresco of the Preaching Buddha at the Wet-kyi-in, Gu-byauk-gyi, Pagan, c. 1113.
    Southeast Asian arts
    Southeast Asian arts, the literary, performing, and visual arts of Southeast Asia. Although the cultural development of the area was once dominated by Indian influence, a number of cohesive traits predate the Indian influence. Wet-rice (or padi) agriculture, metallurgy, navigation, ancestor cults,…
  • Liangzhu ceremonial cong
    East Asian arts
    East Asian arts, the visual arts, performing arts, and music of China, Korea (North Korea and South Korea), and Japan. (The literature of this region is treated in separate articles on Chinese literature, Korean literature, and Japanese literature.) Some studies of East Asia also include the…
  • Outsider art
    Outsider art, any work of art produced by an untrained idiosyncratic artist who is typically unconnected to the conventional art world—not by choice but by circumstance. The “classic” figures of outsider art were socially or culturally marginal figures. They were usually undereducated; they almost…
  • Eduardo Kac
    Eduardo Kac, Brazilian American artist who was best known for his works featuring genetically altered organisms in ways that frequently had conceptual or symbolic import. He termed these endeavours “bio art” or “transgenic art.” Kac began staging performance art pieces in Rio de Janeiro as a…
  • art market
    Art market
    Art market, physical or figurative venue in which art is bought and sold. At its most basic an art market requires a work of art, which might be drawn from a very wide range of collectible objects; a seller; and a buyer, who may participate directly in negotiations or be represented by agents.…
  • dilly bag; Aboriginal Australian art, Northern Territory, Australia
    Oceanic art and architecture
    Oceanic art and architecture, the visual art and architecture of native Oceania, including media such as sculpture, pottery, rock art, basketry, masks, painting, and personal decoration. In these cultures, art and architecture have often been closely connected—for example, storehouses and…
  • Warhol, Andy: Campbell soup can paintings
    Pop art
    Pop art, art in which commonplace objects (such as comic strips, soup cans, road signs, and hamburgers) were used as subject matter and were often physically incorporated in the work. The Pop art movement was largely a British and American cultural phenomenon of the late 1950s and ’60s and was…
  • Deposition, fresco by Rosso Fiorentino, 1521; in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Volterra, Italy.
    Mannerism
    Mannerism, (from maniera, “manner,” or “style”), artistic style that predominated in Italy from the end of the High Renaissance in the 1520s to the beginnings of the Baroque style around 1590. The Mannerist style originated in Florence and Rome and spread to northern Italy and, ultimately, to much…
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