Current usage of the term "visual arts" includes fine art as well as the applied or decorative arts and crafts, but this was not always the case. Before the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and elsewhere at the turn of the 20th century, the term 'artist' had for some centuries often been restricted to a person working in the fine arts (such as painting, sculpture, or printmaking) and not the decorative arts, craft, or applied art media. The distinction was emphasized by artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who valued vernacular art forms as much as high forms. Art schools made a distinction between the fine arts and the crafts, maintaining that a craftsperson could not be considered a practitioner of the arts.
The Four Stages of Cruelty is a series of four printed engravings published by William Hogarth in 1751. Each print depicts a different stage in the life of the fictional Tom Nero. Beginning with the torture of a dog as a child in the First stage of cruelty, Nero progresses to beating his horse as a man in the Second stage of cruelty, and then to robbery, seduction, and murder in Cruelty in perfection. Finally, in The reward of cruelty, he receives what Hogarth warns is the inevitable fate of those who start down the path Nero has followed: his body is taken from the gallows after his execution as a murderer and is mutilated by surgeons in the anatomical theatre.
The prints were intended as a form of moral instruction; Hogarth was dismayed by the routine acts of cruelty he witnessed on the streets of London. Issued on cheap paper, the prints were destined for the lower classes. The series shows a roughness of execution and a brutality that is untempered by the humorous touches common in Hogarth's other works, but which he felt was necessary to impress his message on the intended audience. Nevertheless, the pictures still carry the wealth of detail and subtle references that are characteristic of Hogarth.