The visual arts can roughly be divided into four categories: commercial art, fine art, craft, and multimedia art.
Commercial art is art used by advertising, publishing, public relations, and other business enterprises to attract attention, sell products and services, illustrate concepts, convey messages, and document events. Commercial artists include illustrators, graphic designers, art directors, and photographers. Some commercial art, particularly some illustration and photography, is also considered by some people to be fine art. Most commercial art combines pictorial elements with text, and artists use a variety of media to create two- and three-dimensional works that can be easily reproduced. Computers and design software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are important tools that commercial artists use to design page layouts, specify type fonts and sizes, scan photos and artwork, separate colors for printing, create illustrations, and manipulate photos. In many cases, art directors develop or approve specific concepts that a commercial artist then executes for a given project.
Fine art is art created more for personal expression than financial gain. Although some fine artists are commissioned to create works for a particular place, such as a park or an office building, usually the art comes from the artist's own ideas. The list of materials fine artists use to create their art is inexhaustible. Painters use oil, acrylic, or watercolor paints on various surfaces, such as paper, canvas, wood, and plaster. Sculptors use materials, such as clay, metal, wood, stone, papier mâché and plastic, to build, carve, sandblast, cast, or mold three-dimensional forms. Calligraphers use ink, pencil, paper, books, wood, even gold and silver. Printmakers make prints from carved blocks, etched plates, and silk screens. Ceramic artists use clay and glazes to create sculpture, tableware, beads, tiles, or architectural decorations. Other fine artists use airbrush, pastels, charcoal, collage or mixed media, to name a few of the more traditional media.
Only a few fine artists make a living from their art. Most earn income from other occupations, such as teaching art, while making art in their free time. The most common way for fine artists to show and sell their art is through galleries, which hold single-artist shows, group shows, theme shows, and competitions. They also represent specific artists and act as art brokers between artists and buyers. Artists assemble a portfolio of slides of their most representative work and present it to gallery owners and operators. The gallery operators consider the artwork's appeal, its theme or concept, the media and technique used, the artist's skill, and the work's salability. Gallery operators look at the artist's body of work when they consider representing them. They like to see a progression of concept or technique and to know that the artist is likely to continue producing quality work. Upon acceptance for exhibit, the work is installed in the gallery. There is usually an opening reception, to which interested viewers, critics, and potential buyers are invited to meet and talk with the artist. The installation or exhibit may be open for public viewing for a week or several months. Fine artists also display their art in public buildings, restaurants, museums, office buildings, hotels, and via online and social media. Many fine artists use the Internet and social media to make their works visible and available to a much wider audience than is possible by galleries and other exhibiting venues.
There are many other fields open to artists. Some artists, such as illustrators, straddle the line between fine art and commercial art. These artists often accept assignments, but may also produce art simply for personal expression with less commercial value. Technical artists, such as medical and scientific illustrators, usually have an extensive knowledge of their subject and produce precision drawings to illustrate important concepts. Cartoonists and comic book artists specialize in producing sequential images that convey a story. Caricaturists may work in amusement parks or public places, selling their drawings directly to the public, or they may produce caricatures of celebrities and public figures for use in news media.
The field of visual arts also includes craft, sometimes called handcraft, or arts and crafts. Craft refers to art objects that usually, but not always, have a function. Needle arts, jewelry making, basketry, wood carving, mosaic, some ceramics, and bookbinding are examples of crafts, although there is some disagreement about what is craft and what is fine art. Crafters sell their works through retail stores, fairs, catalogs, galleries, and online through their Web sites.
A recent branch of the visual arts includes work that is primarily created using computers and other digital and electronic tools and is often meant to be reproduced or distributed through similar means. Multimedia artists create everything from animated logos for Web sites to breathtaking fantasy backgrounds for the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Some specialize in storyboards (still drawings that outline actions and scenes) and others work solely as animators, bringing cartoon characters and computer-generated heroes to vivid life for film, television, and video. They may specialize in visual effects, which is also known as computer-generated images or CGI, designing scenery or backgrounds or creating images of actors performing. Some may also create images and animation for video games.