What is a Theme in Art?

What is Art? Does Art follow a Theme? How many Themes in the Art are there? What are Examples of Themes in Art History? Is Portrait a Theme?

Sometimes when words are not enough to express your emotions you confide in art. You apply your creative skills and imagination to play and produce something phenomenal. Typically visual mediums of creativity like paintings, sculptures, photography, etc are used for the creative showcase. These art pieces defy the boundaries of language, geography, economy, and religion. Though arts around the world may look spontaneous and without a structure but they actually are made with certain themes. You may wonder what is a theme in art? The themes in art are the soul of an art piece. The content ahead will solve all your queries.

1. What is a Theme in Art? What Does Theme Mean in Art?

In terms of visual arts, a theme defines the message or broader meaning of painting, sculpture, photograph, motion picture, etc. The themes in art are about life, society, human nature, inner truth, and outer truth. It is deeper and universal. Some artists like working on a certain theme and some on others. Artists like Domenico Gnoli, Sarah Graham, Georgia O’Keefe, and Brian Scot like working on a theme of close-ups. Whereas, Artistics like Frank Newbould, Seurat, Monet, Maggie Hambling, and Martin Parr create art pieces based on coral scene themes. There are millions of such art themes in the world. (See What Color does Red and Purple Make?)

2. Why is Theme important in Art?

Behind the creation of good art, a lot of elements work on the backend. The technical elements in visual art are painting that includes line, shape, color, space, texture, value, and form. Apart from these technical elements, the subjective element of the theme is very important. The themes in art are profound and omnipresent. 

  • Themes are important for relevancy. They allow the spectator to connect with the art on a personal level.
  • Themes are also timeless and thus make your art timeless. 
  • Working without boundaries may fascinate you as an artist but having a theme and a certain framework can allow you to excel in your creative journey without dilly-dallying. It can help you get exciting results that you might not have even imagined.
  • Themes help you focus on the creative process rather than the finished product. (See Why is Philosophy important Today?)

3. How do you identify Theme in Art?

The themes in art tell you the story, idea, and message behind an artwork. They are mostly about human life, nature, dilemmas, questions, and society. To identify the theme in an artwork analyze the artwork thoroughly. Write intuitively about what you see. Ask your subconscious mind what theme it sees. Search other artwork and tally the artworks. See the similarities. Humans are emotionally intelligent to comprehend a story even without words so when you see an artwork deep enough you will unravel its story. (See The Art of Teaching Art)

4. How many Themes of Art are there?

There is a gazillion of art themes in the world. Art is free and every artist has the liberty to create his/her theme of art. The themes one creates and understands depend on one’s mental and emotional capacity. There isn’t a concept of the truth in the world, there is a truth that you relate to and this truth is different for different people. Some prominent and valued art themes are work, power, everyday life, space and place, self and others, visual culture, and time. (See Anthropomorphic Art Meaning with Examples)

5. What are the 7 Themes of Art?

Different themes of art are important in different countries. In America, these 7 themes of art are very valuable,

  • Conflict and Adversity: This is a recurring theme in the history of American art. In conflict, there was an opposition between people. One group of people is opposed to the ideas, actions, motivations, and reactions of another group of people. For example, during the civil war, there was a union against the confederate states.
    Adversity is a concept of man versus a discriminating society. This talks about the discrimination the society practices against the minorities. For example, during World War II Japanese Americans faced forced segregation. Some paintings following this theme are The Girl I Left Behind Me by Eastman Johnson and Wi-jún-jon by George Caitlin. Must read about the list of field of study examples.
  • Heroes and Leaders: The conflicts in the American past have given rise to a lot of heroes and leaders. Like during the Revolutionary War, George Washington and John Adams became prominent figures, or like during the Great Depression President Franklin D. Roosevelt put the country back on track and became a great leader. You will see reflections of these heroes in art pieces like the painting of John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, the painting of Andrew Jackson by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl, etc. (See What are Examples of Elements in Everyday Life?)
  • Freedom and Social change: Basic rights like freedom of speech, expression, want, worship and freedom from fear are the base of society. But time and again in American society, minorities have failed to have access to these. Society failed them collectively. These discriminations have resulted in struggles and movements like Civil Wars, Emancipation Proclamation, Civil rights Act, etc. Art is inspired by society thus American artists started creating art inspired by the freedom struggles and the social and political changes in the society. However, paintings like Bar and Grill by Jacob Lawrence, Subway by Lily Furedi, etc are inspired by this theme.
  • Identity: It is defined as the characteristics, qualities, or behavior of individuals by the virtue of which they associate themselves with any group. Factors defining one’s identity are caste, religion, caste, heritage, culture, language, and the like. A lot of artworks delve into the themes of identity where they talk about identity either as an individual or a group. The artists question, explore, and answer the realm of identity. Examples are painting The Children by Charles White, Humanscape 62 by Melesio Casas, etc. Also, check out what is a Community?
  • Humans and Environment: In America by the mid-19th-century, the natural environment became a big symbol for modern man. In art or practical life, it became a region for opportunity and exploration. The literature of that time was inspired by this and has a lot of stories as well as novels where the struggle between man and nature was demonstrated. Artists developed a deep interest and respect for nature. This is reflected in paintings like Miners in the Sierras by Charles Christian Nahl and August Wenderoth, Dust Bowl by Alexandre Hogue, etc. Also, check out what is Pointillism Art?
  • Immigration and Migration: A lot of people have immigrated to America in search of a good life and greater opportunities. Internal migration is also common there. There are a lot of artworks inspired by this. They talk about the hope, dreams, and expectations of people migrating to America. They also let you know what attracted these people to America. Examples are the painting named The Speculator by Francis William Edmonds talks about westward migration, or a painting like Eviction (Lower East Side) by Everett Shinn talks about immigrants and migrants.
  • Industry and Invention: In the 19th century, America went through the Industrial revolution. Industries and inventions boomed in America. Things like steamboats, canals, light bulbs, engines, sewing machines, etc came into being. This revolutionary era saw a lot of art inspired by invention, industry, and the progress process in the coming years. Examples are a painting called Natural Bridge by Roger Brown, Subway by Lily Furedi, etc. (See What were some Negative Effects of the Industrial Revolution?)

6. Is Nature a Theme?

Nature is a theme in many artworks. No matter if it’s Korean art, Indian art, American art, or any other culture, all of them have nature-themed art. It is the first muse an artist interacts with on a deeper level. Nature can take various forms in art. This theme is used to depict literal or abstract meanings of things. In this theme, you use elements of nature. Like inspiration from rocks, soil, mountains, minerals, humans, animals, etc. (See What are Coloured Glass Blocks?)

7. Is Portrait a theme?

People are creatively represented in photographs, paintings, sculptures, etc and a portrait is one such theme that does this representation beautifully. In portraits, the subject’s head, shoulder, and sometimes their whole figure are shown. However, the face is the main theme. The face depicts the story behind the art and thus a portrait is them. Freeda Kahlo’s self-portraits like The Two Fridas beautifully depict her story even without words. (See What is Mime Acting?)

8. What are Examples of Themes in Art? What are Examples of Themes in Art History?

Some common themes in art are landscape, daily life, nationalism, society, politics, mythology, self-references, the female body, etc. As mentioned earlier the other examples of themes in art history are freedom, social change, environment, humans, migration, immigration, industry, invention, conflict and adversity, heroes, and leaders. As you already know what is a theme in art, now check out the article and learn how to Zentangle.

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