subject matter

What Is Subject Matter In Art

Subject Matter In Art Is Exploration In Art Philosophy

What is subject matter in art? As an artist it is a requirement to know this answer. There are three critical components which always exist in art.

Subject, Form, and Content in art will always be present and is consistently within the composition as “components of art“. Your work cannot exist without them but can suffer from improper understanding of them.

The subject matter in art is said to be the “what” within art. It is the focus, core topic of interest, the main image which is used.

Before an artist begins to create a work of art they must first define what subject it is that they wish to use. Form and Content will fill and surround this Subject in how it is presented.

If one were to compare this concept to language there are direct correlations. A subject may be surrounded by verbs, adverbs, and other components of structure.

All of these components will relate back in some way to the subject within a sentence. Each sentence will build a composition. Within art these building blocks will dictate what is known as emphasis in art.

This principle can remain true within many abstract or non representational pieces, though these subjects will be inferred or more subjective in its space.

Often the subject is the impression or emotion which is conveyed rather than the object or image.

While exploring this concept it is important to know we are not discussing art symbols. This is a separate element from the subject. Let’s dig deeper with an eye through ideas of art appreciation.

How To Present Subject Matter As A Work

The presentation of the subject matter should fit into the composition properly along a natural convergence in the art.

If one already knows the Form and Content which one wishes to use, the subject should also fit these ideas to that goal. The relationship between these concepts are symbiotic and depend upon one another.

As the subject will be the focus of the work it must share in relevancy to the balance of the art. Just like within literature think subject, verbs, and adjectives.

Form most often refers to the how of a work. In other words its composition and development.

The Content most often refers to the why behind the work. This relates to the intention and communication of the artists meaning for the art.

The subject within art should represent the meaning to the artists intention. How it is composed and used within the balance of the art should also allow for this message to be conveyed.

Unnecessary elements of art which do not contribute to these purposes should be eliminated from the work.

Most often the relationship of subject to space is found within Representational Art. There are exceptions to this general finding which I will soon mention.

Yet with study, practice, and time, an artist can bring the sum of subject with elements together to create powerful art.

An example of how a subject can be influenced by composition and development can be seen within the Kuleshov Effect. This is a prime example of the relationship between subjects and objects, inferred meaning, context, and use of elements.

When Theme Becomes The Subject Rather Than The Object

Theme begins to take the focus of being the subject more in abstract or nonrepresentational art. It can apply to representational works if symbols, objects, and focus is placed upon the whole of the work.

Art shares many similar relationships with literature. It should be easy for one to remember literature class within school and being asked to define the meaning or purpose of a story.

When the student gives an answer it can be counted wrong because it was not the answer the teacher wanted. While inaccurate, was the student wrong?

If the work gave the impression which the student arrived at then this is how the theme was impressed upon them. While not academically accurate, in the students answer the theme by its composition altered their view.

Nevertheless this shows the power a composition can possess in being more subjective than a mere object that stands alone.

It is this principle which leads many into confusion about defining what non objective art is as compared to objective art.

Within art a subject does not always refer to an object. A subject can also be a theme or message which the work conveys.

In this way it becomes more subjective just as in literary works with more colorful composition. This also allows an artist to use a theme to allow an arrival at alternate views to their art.

Art which is created in this way rely heavily upon the Form and Content to portray the theme. The sum of the whole becomes the subject of the artwork.

Often within representational works there will still be a main actor, object of focus, accent colors, or imagery which is used as a vehicle to convey this core theme.

Within nonrepresentational compositions this imagery is not present in a traditional sense. Rather the composition and form with its color becomes the vehicle to convey the message.

Again this is often more emotional in nature.

How To Give A Subject Form Within Art

When an artist wishes to create a work they often already have a subject in mind. Whether this subject is of an object or theme the same process is used. The subject must be given form in the composition.

If the work is to be of an object then its balance to the work becomes a critical component. How much focus should the object have?

The less focus that is placed on the object the more theme dependent the art becomes. With this the subject in turn is more subjective by the theme and the form of its representation.

Think of this like using a camera with a high power lens. You can focus on one person in a crowd, or the whole of the crowd. Which should be your subject and what is your goal?

There is an easier explanation that can be described in this way. The object is more like a portrait or selfie with a blank background or generic setting.

A theme is more like this object being captured in an image such as a birthday party.

Here the surroundings become a part of the story relating to the object adding context to the image.

The more generic this context becomes the more subjective the theme is within a work. Remove the context of the birthday party and one could assume the event was a family gathering.

Elements within the art can allow for greater focus on the subject, or the whole of the group at work.

An artist may intentionally limit the amount of context by form and content to allow the viewer to gain alternate impressions. Juxtaposition can be a powerful tool in achieving this in simple ways.

This can allow for a more personalized experience for one who appreciates art. In this way artwork can have multiple definitions, themes, and intended use.

It is here that art can become similar to literary work but also more flexible in meaning. While a story may convey a theme, its context may allow for alternate conclusions as to its actual subject matter.

There are times when the artist may intentionally hide its real meaning for personal reasons which are never revealed to the world.

Which Is Better? Theme Or Object As Subject Matter

Knowing when to use a theme or object to convey the subject is usually an easy or obvious choice. There are times when this may not be the case.

As a work becomes more expressive of emotions, ideas, or hold concepts such as moral choice, it then becomes more difficult. Emotion can be abstract or non representational.

Moral choice can be more readily represented by objects, contrasting color, and juxtaposition to depict internal conflict by subject and theme.

Often these works can become more impressionist in nature as it conveys the point of view from the artist. This is storytelling through imagery and emotion.

Yet it is also still subjective in how well the message is conveyed to one viewing the art. Here is where selecting the right Form becomes important.

Representative objects which relate to the emotion or idea should become a key component to the work.

In turn the composition by how these related objects are presented will determine if the message conveyed is a success. With this the Content must allow for the context to be carried with the imagery.

In this way impressionist art can act as a mere image of what an artist saw, such as a landscape. Alternatively it can carry meaning and intent within the work from the artists vision or story.

When a message is of less importance then an object should gain prominence as it becomes the focus as the subject. Other elements are stripped away as to not confuse the context of the art.

If there is less emotion and more appreciation of natural beauty, or a desire to depict what is seen, then the subject is more object oriented.

With this the subject can then become the key focus of the work as Form and Content become more muted.

One is not necessarily better than the other. Rather knowing when to use an object or theme to convey the intended purpose of the artwork becomes critical.

Subject Matter In Nonrepresentational Art

As stated before, often emotion becomes the key component in nonrepresentational art. How it is conveyed by Form and Content though is very different. Within this art there is no object present to take on the form for the subject.

Color is one of the primary vehicles used to convey this subject matter. How the color is used within the work will set the emotional tone.

Its transitions can take on multiple feelings or emotions at one time, or depict what the artist has experienced.

While this art does not take on shapes or represent anything within the real world, it does have some form. The brush strokes in how the colors are applied to the canvas become its own form.

The context is the content which is implied by how it impacts one who views or appreciates the work.

How Important Are These Elements Of Art To The Subject Matter?

If one is to be a successful artist then these elements are absolutely critical to master. If an artist does not achieve this mastery then their work will suffer.

Elements are building blocks. Without them the subject matter is lost, confused, or worse it becomes misinterpreted.

Additional aspects which can aid the building of elements is the use of art symbols. Artists from alternative media may find this more challenging than others. Within wood art for example the number of elements available become quite limited..

Elements within their pure form are more for academic understanding. The ability to blend them naturally within the medium we use requires practice and time. This we must master in order to build the relationships to the subject matter as we wish.

There has never been a great work of art within history which has not possessed proper balance within its subject matter. While this principle is critical we cannot allow it to overcome the creative desire through obsession.

Art is to be expressive, fun, and personal. Explore these principles, elements, and break rules. Yet ultimately return to the core essentials to bring together all you have learned.

Fundamental Questions To Ask

Does the object represent the intended purpose which you sought to achieve? This question may seem elementary in nature.

If you answer yes, then other aspects within the art may be eliminated or focus given to this object. In this case more elements, objects, or composition may mute the subject at hand.

Is emotion or moral questions the focus? If yes then theme will carry greater focus than objects as the subject. Color may be a vehicle you select here through juxtaposition or contrast.

Often balance between the content and context is the greatest issue with these questions.

path on floor

Do you wish to allow more subjective Subject Matter? If you do wish for this then a properly applied form with surrounding content will be required.

Alternating colors, focus, depth of field, maybe even play with the internal geometry of the art may help you achieve your goal.

Drawing out multiple emotions from the work may be the purpose to necessitate this. Allowing alternate paths of thought or even presenting a question which has no answer. This is pure expression.

Is the Subject relational to its surrounding content and presentation? While this may seem obvious to be required, you would be surprised by this issue where artists find difficulty in building the context.

What is relational to one person may be less so to another. These relationships should be able to be recognized by others.

Does the Subject as a focal point add to or take away from the context? Here balance is the issue in order to ensure that the sum of the whole achieves the desired theme.

There are other questions which will apply to your work. This is especially true when large, or more complex works are composed.

Also works of abstract nature will require alternative questions. Yet these above questions are the primary starting points for many artists to achieve a foundation in what they seek to do.

With These Elements, Is Art Really Subjective?

Some have said that art is completely subjective. This is not true. Even within abstract forms while there are many subjective aspects, the artist does control the general direction which the work will be perceived.

Here we step into a little of art theory rather than its elements.

Whether or not someone likes a specific work of art, or if they like art at all, is completely subjective. Not all will share the same tastes or preferences within art.

Yet this does not mean that art is subjective.

To claim that art is subjective is to imply that the Subject of the art can be interchanged, replaced, or is irrelevant.

Knowing that the Subject is one of the three key components to any work removes the ability for it to be completely subjective.

The context, emotions, definition, and meaning can have subjective elements. This can be seen with the impression one takes from these aspects.

Yet it will always be within the boundaries of the work based upon the artists purpose. These boundaries are defined within how the composition relates to the subject matter.

Again this is much like literary work where multiple meanings can be found within one story. Nevertheless it does not change the story or its outcome.

The boundaries of the work is the story itself despite the impressions one can take away from its morals, dynamic changes of character, and influence from the setting or surroundings.