Themes In Art: Exploring Art Themes

themes in art featured image

What makes an artwork intriguing? 

It’s the subject! well, up to some extent, it is correct but what if I tell you there’s something that is equally important to give a base to your art?

That is: “Themes in Art“.

The themes in art not only give the artist a viewpoint for the painting but also give an idea of what the subject may look like.

Also, every painting is created in accordance with the underlying theme.

In simple words, themes in art can be explained as the subject of the composition or the conceptual idea of the artwork.

If this doesn’t provide you with enough clarity, then hold on and read along, as we will be discussing the concept of themes in art in depth.

mona lisa ad of reproduction

But before moving any further, I would like to make it clear that the subject of the painting and the theme of the painting are two different key concepts.

So, let us understand that first.

Are Subjects and Themes in Art Different?

A girl questioning between two paintings
Image Source: Freepik, Wikipedia, edited by PortraitFlip

Many people may confuse the subject with the theme of the painting, but this is not the case.

Subjects and themes in art may have equal importance but they differ in many ways.

To be precise, the theme is the message that the artist wants to convey to his/her viewers through painting, whereas the subjects are the characters or elements of the piece.

Subjects can easily be used to adjust the theme of the painting, but the theme is constant and it depends on the artist as well.

For example, an artist can use a horse as a subject in an art piece  but once again, it depends on the theme.

The artist can portray the horse as a warrior on a battlefield or as a carrier in a market.

In both cases, the subject is constant but the theme is changing, where one is a sign of power and the other is more inclined towards companionship. 

I hope with this example you’ve gotten a hold of what a subject is and what a theme is in art.

So, let’s go ahead and understand why themes in art are important.

Suggested Read: Shape in Art

Significance Of Theme In Art

Three of the famous paintings in a mockup
Image Source: Wikipedia, ascholarlyskater, arthive, edited by PortraitFlip

Are themes in art important?

Well, this is a common question that comes up while exploring this topic.

Don’t worry, I will let you know why themes in art are important and how they make your art piece significant!

  • The theme serves as a road map for creating a solid and cohesive piece of art.
  • Themes in art are also known to enhance the quality of your work.
  • In art, themes help you stand out from the crowd and focus on your intended audience.
  • It makes you more flexible with perspectives and it also guides you in giving your art a new direction.
  • Fun fact: deciding on a theme beforehand will also help you overcome the creative block. 

These were some points revolving around the significance of themes in art and not to forget that themes not only act as a backbone to the art but also add life to it.

Moving forward, let us jump straight to the most common themes in art and their characteristics.

Also Read: Composition In Art

Most common Themes in Art

To understand the visual elements of art, one must be aware of the theme the art is based on.

To elaborate further, themes in art help you dive deeper into what the painting is about and also give you a viewpoint to carry your work forward.

Using these contemporary themes in art, many artists have established their own interpretations in the art world.

Even though there are many themes in art, we will be focusing on the top five themes that are most common in every time period and region.

So, read along:

1. Historical

The painting of liberty leading the people.
Image Source: arthive, edited by PortraitFlip

The paintings of battles and wars, injured horsemen and soldiers across the canvas, with a warrior shining bright.

Yes, this is what the context of historical themes in art signifies.

It started off early but with time, the depiction of historical events and important scenes from history gained a lot of popularity and respect.

This is one of the themes in art that can be interpreted in many different ways and can be used to convey some important messages to the art world.

Additionally, the word historical might be confusing but it is mostly about some of the most important events in history that embarked on a new journey.

Now you may wonder how you will be able to identify this theme in a painting?

Starry Nights Reproduction AD

Well, if you observe the artwork and see the characteristics mentioned below, then viola, you’re looking at art with a historical theme.

  • You can spot at least one or more flags.
  • You can spot a major or happening event from history.
  • It will either represent a warrior fighting a battle, a horse with soldiers or a leading figure.
  • Bloodshed or tragedy can also be witnessed in some of the paintings.
  • You can spot many people in a courtroom or at a social gathering.
  • You can witness such themes in one of the popular works by Eugene, Liberty leading the people

2. Religion

Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus is a painting with religion medium.
Image Source: Wikipedia, edited by PortraitFlip

Historically, the priests or the church community have specifically commissioned paintings and panels that are considered works of art.

The religious themes in art were directed towards the biblical images that featured paintings of Jesus.

There was this era before the 16th century when every other painting was related to the theme of religion.

Not only then but even today, the concept of religion in art is appreciated and welcomed in the art world.

For your interest, you can observe various biblical paintings that add many interesting aspects to the representation of religion.

Here are some characteristics you can look for in a painting if you think that the primary theme in that specific artwork is based on religion:

  • You see angels and baby cherubs in the painting.
  • The use of gold is significant, especially to highlight the subjects of the painting.
  • The depiction of a virgin Mary with a cross during her lifetime.
  • Symbolism and cruxifixction are two of the common scenes that are used in the paintings.
  • You can also see the use of flowers and thorns on the sides of subjects to highlight them. 
  • Some paintings that used this theme: The Last Supper by Da Vinci, The Sistine Madonna by Raphael, etc. 

3. Authoritative

Portrait of Henry VIII is a painting that has authoritative medium.
Image Source: Wikipedia, Edited by PortraitFlip

There are a lot of paintings that were used to make people feel elite and powerful.

Not only this, but many important elements and features were added to make the painting seem naturally dynamic.

As it is a fact that art is always used to enhance the status of the people or subjects covered, this theme in art is just about it.

To highlight the status of the kings and queens in these kinds of paintings, artists often use colors to enhance their dress materials and appearance.

It is stated in history  that the sense and power of authority came from knowledgeable individuals and those who were rich.

So, stacks of books, globes and glasses made the paintings look more authoritative. 

If you observe some of the mentioned characteristics in an artwork, then it is possible that the theme of that art is authoritative.

  • The details of clothing like silk, satin and lace.
  • Use of components associated with wealth, intelligence, and decision-making ability.
  • Portraits of people with books, preaching notes and a group of people.
  • A teaching figure or knowledgeable person is highlighted with lighter colors.
  • Some paintings that used this theme: London visitors by James Tissot, Music Lesson by Henri Matisse, etc.

4. Mortality and Life

a painting that shows mortality and life as a theme
Image Source: Wikimedia, edited by PortraitFlip

The idea of death and life may sound absurd but when artists decided to pick their brushes, they surely gave life to the canvas.

Life and death as a theme in art were explored by many artists, like Caravaggio.

Now you might be wondering why depicting life and death in a painting was necessary.

Well, to present the fact that life is temporary and a human comes across a lot of temptations that they sometimes fail to control.

To highlight life and death in paintings, artists used elements like flowers, skulls, thrones, newborn animals and, in some cases, rotting fruits.

Death and life as a theme in art was very famous around the 17th and 18th centuries, when Italian artists were rising to fame.

Now, if you observe some of the mentioned characteristics in an artwork, then it is possible that the theme of that art is based on life and death:

  • Use of flowers and skulls.
  • Still life images with rotten leaves, flowers or fruits.
  • Melting candles and dark color palette. 
  • Skulls are generally used to represent death and after-life whereas flowers symbolize the beginning of new life or nature of life as well.
  • Some paintings that used this theme: The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, Basket of fruits by Caravaggio, etc. 

5. Ideal Figures

the birth of venus is a painting that showcases the theme of ideal figures
Image Source: 1st art gallery

Beauty standards are not just something that is influencing today’s society; they date way back in time.

During the 16th century and onwards, the concept of beauty and idealizing figures became very common. 

Female nude paintings, Greek paintings, sculptures, and many other paintings were prime examples of how the use of human figures was becoming prominent.

It is often said that artists used to paint these types of themes in art to convey their preferences or to portray an ideal type of body and persona. 

Not only was this theme used to express and ideate human figures in art but it was also used to express emotions and memories.

If you come across a painting that you think is based on this theme, then look out for these characteristics in it:

  • Nude figures highlight muscles and in case of females, they usually highlight their femininity.
  • Graceful figures are surrounded by nature or in a room setting.
  • Emotions can be felt through the painting and you can see the figure being idolized.
  • A seductive gaze in the eyes of the subjects is common in terms of the partially nude paintings.
  • Some paintings that used this theme: The Birth Of Venus by Botticelli, Lady Godvia by John Maler, etc. 

Also Read: Famous Nude Paintings


Every work of art has a story behind it and the artist is the narrator of the painting. 

But what if I tell you that if you master the analysis of the above discussed themes, you can nearly understand any artwork?

Surprising, right?

With this being said, here comes the end of this blog.

There are more than 100 themes in art but we have discussed the top 5 and most common themes that have been used throughout the history of art.

Talking about the history of art, if you are someone who is easily intrigued by historical artworks, then we have something for you:



What is the difference between subject and theme in art?

To explain the difference between the subject and theme in art, here is an example: Suppose you are an artist who loves to draw leaves and trees.
In this case, you can draw leaves and trees in any variant. So, hereby, the subject will be leaves and trees, whereas your theme can be aging.

Name 3 common themes in art.

The 3 common themes in art are: religion, historical and melancholy.

Considering the case of classical art, name two themes in it.

In the case of classical art, the two themes that we can talk about are: sacrifice and rebellion.

What is generally considered a theme in art?

The theme in art can be described as the story behind the painting and the process that goes on in an artist’s mind while creating the painting.


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