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Visual arts are made for observation by an audience that looks at them. They are generally complete prior to the audience encountering them. Visual arts are often contrasted with performing arts, which are performed in front of an audience. The visual arts include two-dimensional and three-dimensional arts, for example, the decorative arts, drawing, graphic design, painting, photography, printmaking, and sculpture. A visual artist is a maker of visual arts.
A visual artist with any of the specialties named could work in very different ways. For example, a painter might work with watercolors, acrylics, or oil paints. A photographer might specialize in black and white photography or might create color photographs that were highly manipulated by means of a photo-editing software program. A sculptor could work in wood, clay, marble, granite, or wood, or use found objects to create sculptures. A visual artist who draws might favor charcoal, pencil, crayon, pastels, felt markers, or pen and ink. There are also visual artists who work in multiple disciplines or combine disciplines in new ways.
A visual artist may receive training in an art school or through a college or university art department. Often the degree received will be a Fine Arts degree. The degree candidate will often study art history and theory as well as a variety of media before choosing a particular medium to focus on. There are bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts available. Often the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is considered a terminal degree, but it is possible to receive a PhD in visual arts, though doctoral degrees are often more theoretical, focused on theory and criticism.
There are a number of different jobs that a visual artist may hold besides the job of making art, which is often done by visual artists who are self-employed. A visual artist who draws, makes prints, takes photographs, or paints may become a book illustrator, for example. A graphic designer might join an advertising agency or become a web designer. A number of visual artists become teachers, either in school districts, colleges or universities, or in art studios or museums with art education programs. Other visual artists may take jobs in museums or become critics.