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The visual arts are works of art that have been created in any number of styles with various tools and in different media. Art consists of painting, drawing, sculpture, illustration, photography, filmmaking, computer animation, crafts such as needlework, and more. The visual arts are meant to be seen, with each person experiencing the artwork differently. Some artwork expresses ideas and comments on political or social issues, while other artwork depicts moments from everyday life, or explores shapes, colors, sizes, and/or textures. Some visual arts are meant to be functional objects, such as jewelry and pottery.

Art has early roots. For as long as mankind has existed, so too has the desire to share experiences or tell stories through artwork. The tools and materials used to create art in the beginning were what nature made available, such as rocks, twigs, leaves, berries, insects, animals, even blood. Pictures of hunting scenes painted on cave walls in southwestern France and northern Spain are believed to be 20,000 years old. Countless sculptures of animals and fertility figures that have been unearthed in archaeological digs date back to prehistoric times. Egyptians honored their pharaohs by painting mythological figures and scenes on their tombs. The Greeks, and later the Romans, surrounded themselves with artwork by creating mosaics on their floors and painting landscapes and various scenes on their walls and ceilings.

The visual arts have evolved over the centuries to encompass four main categories, which are commercial art, fine art, craft, and multimedia art. Commercial art is art that is used for business purposes such as to attract consumers and promote products and services. It usually combines text with artwork. Commercial artists include illustrators, graphic designers, art directors, and photographers, and these artists may also work in the fine arts. Other types of illustrators include medical illustrators, comic book artists, and caricaturists. With fine art, the artist usually comes up with the idea for the piece, for the purpose of self-expression. Clients may also commission a fine artist to create a piece for a specific place, such as a painting for a business office or a sculpture for a park. Fine artists include painters, calligraphers, ceramic artists, printmakers, and sculptors, among many others. There are also mixed media artists, who combine different materials in their work. Craft includes needle arts, jewelry making, mosaic, basketry, and wood carving. Multimedia artists use computers and digital and electronic tools in their artwork. They develop storyboards for key scenes, and create two- and three-dimensional models, animation, and special effects for film, television, and video. 

Many visual artists work on a freelance basis or operate their own studio and manage staff. They may work on jobs that clients have assigned them or on projects based on their own ideas. Those that are employed full time may work for advertising, publishing, public relations, or other related businesses, or in nonprofit arts organizations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2018, approximately 217,810 graphic designers, 49,560 photographers, 28,560 multimedia artists and animators, 90,990 artists and related workers, including illustrators, painters, sculptors, as well as 40,210 art directors, were employed in the United States.