Analyzing art/Theme

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Theme and subject[edit | edit source]

Theme versus subject[edit | edit source]

Death Comes to the Banquet Table - Memento Mori - Martinelli NOMA

As Wikipedia explains, theme and subject are not the same thing. While subject is what is presented in the painting, themes are rather implied than openly stated - they are the messages conveyed by the work of art. To make it clear: in the painting to the right, the subject is simply a gathering of people at a dinner table. But because of the quite obvious symbolism of the skeleton appearing in the scene, we may readily deduce that the painting's theme is the inevitability of death, memento mori; that all earthly pleasures will come to an end.

Themes[edit | edit source]

There are thousands of themes to be explored. Check the | Art Inspired[1] website for an incomplete list and try to think about some more examples that you have encountered in art.

Subjects[edit | edit source]

As for the subjects, there are almost equally many of them.[2] The most popular are:

  • portraits
  • landscapes
  • seascapes
  • animals
  • still lifes
  • marine scenes
  • religious and mythological scenes
  • batallistic scenes
  • abstract scenes.

The painter's development[edit | edit source]

Themes and subjects are equally important in terms of the painter's artistic development as any other aspect discussed in this project. Let us take a look at Piet Mondrian's collection of paintings. Beginning with quite realistic renderings of trees, Mondrian moved to more and more simplified versions of the same image. The end result bears no resemblence to what the artist saw and began with - instead, the viewer might be puzzled with the vertical and horizontal lines constituting the Composition in Black and White (see below). Mondrian's theme was simplification, minimization, he aimed at showing that what we perceive as real might be in fact detached from reality. While analyzing a work of art one must pay attention to the theme itself, considering not only its meaning and impact on the work's reception, but also the artistic process and the purpose designed by the author.

Click [[[Wikipedia:File:Composition in Black and White, 1917.jpg#filelinks|here]]] to see the final version of Mondrian's trees.

The thematic riddle[edit | edit source]

The Creation of Adam

Some paintings are quite straightforward when it comes to their subjects and themes, but some can be troublesome. It's time for a curiosity: you probably know Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel. But did you know there are some theories as to its real meaning? It is, after all, Michelangelo - he might have actually tried to say something else than he seemingly does. What is striking about this piece is the shape behind the Creator. When you look at it closely, you will discover that it actually resembles the shape of a human brain. It makes sense, as Michelangelo studied anatomy and dissected many a corpse from a church graveyard. And it seems hardly coincidental, as even the difficult to explain green fabric is shaped after the vertebral artery[3]. You may see the details on this oddee website. Now take some time to think about the consequences of such a measure. While everyone thinks that the fresco praises the Creator and his oeuvre, it might be in fact implying something completely different. Who created whom, then? Is God merely a creation of a human mind? The mysterious theme might be even blasphemous in this case.

References[edit | edit source]