Art,  Visual Communication

What are the visual arts ?

Visual arts are sometimes considered to be limited to painting or drawing, but it encompasses all visual mediums like film, visual communication, design, arts, product development, media arts, animation and creative media. It is valuable to not discern too closely between these things in one way as it inhibits the merging of these areas, and it can stay within a constructed pre determined box that is not particularly useful other than that for us to also tick the box it is in and move on.

Visual Art could be described as something that we see with our eyes, the etymology of the word Visual is Latin for ‘sight’ or ‘to see’. Our eyes drink in the images and make them into meaning through complex reference points within each of our lived and learned experience. Do you see what I mean? An often used colloquialism that renders in one sentence both the superficial meaning of this innocent question in one sense – the eyes, and also the deeper meaning of why we must study the visual arts. To see for myself. To understand each other, to share how we see, to see as another see’s, to see experiences, perspectives, and to open our minds to see new possibilities.

The etymology of the word Art, in common parlance, can only be dated back a few hundred years, and surprisingly for what it now means that meaning came after the Renaissance. Art also began as a Latin word, this time for ‘fit together’ or ‘join’. When we look at these meanings we can see that the purpose of Visual Arts grew out of ideas of ‘showing how things fit together’.

Within the Victorian Curriculum, the perspective is that each student is an Artist, a doer, a creator, and it is not intended as a way to build an audience for art in general. This distinction is important because within it lies a beautiful idea of democracy, equality and humanity. That each of us has something to say, that we are all individuals and the expression we make is valuable. Often when we are making art, we are asking to be heard, and wanting something to be understood. We are also connecting with our ancestors who used art and craft as a daily part of life, as a way of connecting with their surrounds, an expression of the divine, or to find practical solutions for important things for making and doing within the community.

Referring again to the Victorian Curriculum, the areas identified for students to respond to include exploring and expressing ideas, visual arts practices, present and perform, respond and interpret. This offers students an opportunity to explore the practices and styles for inspiration, to express their own ideas, and review the current and historical methods others have used. In the practicing, they are doing, a ‘Learner is a doer’ (McLuhan, 2019), and conceptualise, plan and design artworks that express ideas, concepts and intentions. Students are also presenting and analysing the displays of artwork and considering how it impacts audiences, and finally they are analysing and interpreting artwork from a range of different cultures, historical and contemporary contexts to answer that burning question, ‘do you see what I mean?’

Reviewing the work of the Top Arts exhibition, the quality of the students submissions is evident. The visual diaries speak of the individuals using art to say something about their experience of the world and things in and of it. Further, in the video of them talking about their work, they speak with eloquence beyond their years, referencing artists who have shown us how to see things in new ways. Some take these experiences and perspectives to other professions and further studies that are not related superficially to art. But what they carry with them is an experience and understanding of looking within and without to think about their own perspective of where they are in the world at large. They have explored how to solve problems and thought of logical and illogical solutions, made mistakes, taken a long time to finish things, investigated complex problems, and have thought of an original idea and pursued it to its end. Design thinking is used as a methodology to develop projects in an iterative design process all the while exploring subjects and perspectives that sit in sometimes opposing spaces. They have expanded their minds in new ways and this builds valuable connections that weren’t there before.

What are the visual arts? Everything, everywhere, all the time.

Visual Literacy is an important skill, and it might come as a surprise that some philosophers like Marshall McLuhan have said we are living in a post literate society, and what that means is that we are living and communicating with each other via a complex system of signs that we don’t fully understand. Visual arts helps us to step outside of this to develop our critical thinking and evaluation of the environment that we live in, an environment that has been described as a maelstrom of media, an overwhelming cacophony of media and noise that we need to decipher. Interrogating the visual arts process and the visual communication process puts us in the seat of identifying, evaluating and judging this media, and we add our voices to it.

Where might the visual arts lead?

The visual arts can lead to a myriad places, artist, designer, illustrator, industrial designer, architect, teacher, games designer and developer, animator. But it can also really help other disciplines develop crucial skills for thinking outside the box. Design thinking and iterative design are two key concepts that are taught through the subjects, and these could be used in any number of careers. With our 21st Century problems we need 21st century thinkers that can respond to the things we need.

Careers and jobs related to the visual arts, would usually need further study (souce: Northern College of the Arts & Technology. 2019.):

Communication Designer
Graphic Designer
Art Director
Interior Designer
Interior Decorator
Interior Architect
Web Designer
FX Designer
Experiential Designer
App Designer
Multimedia Developer
Concept Artist
Set Designer
Costume Designer
Fashion Designer
Fashion Merchandising
Textile Designer
Landscape Architect
Industrial designer
Digital Games Designer
Jewellery Designer
Urban Designer
Exhibition/Display Designer
Furniture Designer
Visual Merchandiser
Industrial Designer
Product Designer
Book Designer
Web Content Manager
Copy Writer
Sign writer
Food Stylist
Commercial Photographer
Food Photographer
Food Stylist
Fashion Stylist
Museum Conservator
Art Gallery Conservator
Art Curator
Gallery Curator
Arts Administrator
Community Arts Administrator
Exhibitions Curator
Art Historian
Events Manager Set Painter
Community Arts Project Officer
Local Arts Administrator
Art Supply Salesperson
Artists Model
Art Buyer
Copy Writer
Fashion Designer
Art Teacher
Art Therapist
Tattoo Artist
Visual Artist
Fine Artist
Concept Artist
Site Specific Artist
Portrait Painter
Art Critic/Writer
Art Lecturer
Art Technician
Art Curator
Gallery Manager
Art Historian
Art Appraiser
Art Conservator
Museum Conservator
Makeup Artist
Hair Stylist
Glass Blower
Mosaic Artist
Art Hanger
Furniture Conservator
Conservation Framer
Canvas Stretcher
Sign writer
Cake Decorator
Art Gallery Conservator
Gallery Director
Gallery Assistant
Fine Art Photographer
Art Historian
Art Teacher


Northern College of the Arts & Technology. 2019. Careers and Pathways in the Arts | Northern College of the Arts & Technology. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 22 April 2019].

Learning designer, digital designer and educator with extensive experience teaching creative subjects. Qualifications include: MA in Teaching (Secondary), MA Creative Media (Multimedia), BA Arts (Fine Art), Dip. Training Design and Development, Dip. Vocational Education and Training, Cert IV Training and Assessment