Visual arts today are anything that creates a visual effect on people, or rather works which are visual. Specifically, the arts are photography, architecture, filmmaking, design, printmaking, crafts, painting, sculpture, but have in mind that these are just several of the arts, as you cannot take the definitions as strictly as they were used a couple of centuries ago. Other forms of art such as performing arts or conceptual arts use parts of other arts and are thus partly visual, at least.
Things were not as open-minded in the past couple of centuries but were rather strict about which art belongs where and which arts are the fine arts.
The Fine Arts
Before, arts such as painting or sculpture were generally placed above all other arts, and that was present in both the Western and the Eastern cultures. Painting and sculpture had the highest priority as they were attributed to people who had great minds and were able to achieve amazing feats of imagination and realization of that imagination.
In the east, the most cherished and respected type of painting was scholar-painting. In the west, the hierarchy of genres was used as a guideline for a long time.
The hierarchy of genres distinguishes between genres of art place some as superior and others as inferior. The many academies of art throughout Europe developed and popularized this hierarchy, rating the genres from top to bottom.
History paintings or mythological and allegorical paintings
Painting scenes of everyday life
These genres were defined by the artist’s ability to use their intellect and depict a universal subject or capture the universal essence of things. On the other end of the spectrum were artists who simply copied particular appearances mechanically.
These beliefs and rankings changed as every new movement got attention.
Today’s Visual Arts
Anything from ceramics to textile arts is a part of visual arts. Painting and sculpture are the obvious ones, but any sort of modern design is also a part of visual arts, including video games. One cannot deny the beauty of modern triple-A titles which are graphically very esthetic. Some use that esthetic to convey a story, while others just look good for the sake of looking good. Video games fall under the category of computer art. Computer art encompasses a lot of arts, all of them created by using a computer.
Filmmaking is another great example of visual arts which are undoubtedly visual. There are not that many restrictive definitions of visual arts today, except in the United States Copyright law definition of visual arts. They exclude a lot of obviously visually-oriented arts from the definition of visual arts, especially if they are made in advertisement purposes.
Visual arts are anything visually stimulating or visual in nature, so that can be anything from painting to filmmaking and dancing, even. Many applied arts cross their paths with visual arts and are partly visual, making the definition of visual arts very broad.