Visual Art: Elements of Various Genres

Instructor: David White
There are many different types of visual art like drawing and painting, and each has its own techniques and styles. Through this lesson, you will explore various genres, or categories, of visual art and consider some examples of the different elements that contribute to the finished product.

What Is Visual Art?

When you think about all the different ways that you can communicate with others, do you count art among them? Art can be a very powerful means of communication, particularly when the concepts or messages are difficult or highly emotional. As a broad category, art is generally broken down into several different types such as visual art, which includes, among others, painting, film, and drawing.

In very basic terms, visual arts are creative works that stimulate the visual sense, though they often engage other senses by including things like music or the opportunity to touch the work. There are several different types of visual art (more than would fit into a single lesson), but each has distinct elements and characteristics that make them different from the others. In the following sections, we'll explore a number of these different types.


Within the category of visual art, one of the types that you're probably most familiar with is painting. Paintings can be produced using a wide variety of base materials applied to something like canvas or wood. While painters will generally use acrylic, oil, or latex based paint, you could use just about any colored liquid that will dry, from crushed berries to blood.

One of the more common genres under the umbrella of painting is landscape paintings. In a broad sense, landscape paintings depict the various elements that one might find in a natural setting. Looking out your window, for example, you might see trees, other houses, a field, or other natural elements that make up the landscape. Landscape painters often include horizons and skylines that show how different types of natural light illuminate the objects in their work.

If you've ever taken a painting class, you're probably familiar with a genre known as still life painting, which is a painting that captures a particular arrangement of inanimate objects like a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers. This genre may appear simple because of the often ordinary subject matter, but still life paintings can be very detailed and include things like shadows cast or reflections off glass surfaces.

Despite their simple subject matter, still life paintings can be very detailed.
still life


Another great example of a popular visual art is film, which includes things like documentaries, full-length features and short films. As with the other types of visual art, the specific genre of film chosen by the filmmaker helps to achieve the overall objective.

The genre that most people are familiar with is narrative film, which are films that tell character and plot-driven stories. Most films tell a story, but that doesn't mean that they're all narrative films. A narrative film is one in which the events portrayed are connected and help the movie unfold sequentially. Non-narrative films, on the other hand, are films that jump back and forth through time or include a sub-plot or characters that are not connected to the larger story or main characters. The Jim Jarmusch film Coffee and Cigarettes, for example, is non-narrative because its a series of vignettes telling unconnected stories.

Another common genre of film is documentary film making, which focuses on real-life events, people, or subjects. Like narrative films, documentaries also tell a story; however, they do so using things like first-person interviews, news footage, or other primary source material. These films can cover just about any subject, from sports and entertainment to war and death, but the common thread is that they use documented evidence to tell their story.


In photography, the artist uses still photographs to convey their message and it can be done in many different styles. For instance, commercial photography is a genre that you're very familiar with from posters, print advertisements, or other promotional materials. The primary objective of commercial photography is to sell something or make money, but that doesn't mean that it isn't art. There are many examples of commercial photography that are artistic and creative, despite the fact that they are advertising something.

Action shot photography captures a photograph of something as it is happening.

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