What Is Subject Matter In Art?

What Is Subject Matter In Art?

Humans have used art as a form of expression for countless generations. While there are countless ways to create art, a common thread that runs through all of it is the subject matter.

The term "subject matter" is used to describe the central idea or topic of a piece of creative work. The subject matter is what gives any piece of art its meaning and what allows viewers to engage with it on a deeper level, whether it be a painting, sculpture, or photograph.

In this article, we'll discuss the nature of artistic subject matter and its contemporary relevance.

What is subject matter in art?

The artwork's subject matter is its main idea or theme. It includes all that the artist hopes to say with their work. Anything from commonplace items and scenes to abstract ideas and feelings can serve as inspiration for an artist.

The inspiration for an artistic creation can come from anywhere: the artist's own life, mythology, history, current events, social or political issues, feelings, or beliefs.

When creating art, the artist uses the subject matter as a springboard for expressing themselves.

The different types of subject matters in art

In art, there is a wide variety of subject matters, each having its own distinct qualities. A few examples of the most frequently encountered subjects are as follows:


A portrait is a piece of art or writing that depicts a specific individual, usually in whole or partial form.


Nature, such as mountains, woods, or bodies of water, is the focus of landscape art.

Still life

Subject matter in still life depicts inanimate objects like flowers, fruit, or other commonplace goods.

Historical or mythological

The term "historical" or "mythological" refers to stories or characters with prominent roles in history, mythology, or religion.


Everyday life is the primary emphasis of this genre, which often features scenes of individuals doing mundane tasks like eating, drinking, or working.


The term "abstract" is used to describe works of art that don't try to depict real-world objects or scenes.


Relying on visual elements to convey abstract ideals like love, death, and freedom.

Political or social

The subject matter of this genre typically addresses pressing political and social concerns in an effort to spark debate and question accepted norms.

These are only a few of the many different categories of artistic subject matters. Artists can express their message or feeling through multifaceted works of art by combining and manipulating these subjects in a variety of ways.

Why is subject matter important in art?

Subject matter is essential to art because it serves as a vehicle for the artist's self-expression and gives the work its ultimate value. These are a few examples of why artists should pay close attention to their chosen themes:

  1. Subject matter establishes a rapport between the creator and the audience by allowing the artist to provide insights into their own lives, feelings, and thoughts. As a result, they are able to empathize with or understand the work on a more fundamental level.
  2. Subject matter aids in putting the work in its proper historical, geographical, and cultural setting, which is essential for appreciating the full scope of the artist's intentions in creating the piece.
  3. An artist's choice of subject matter can serve as a vehicle for highlighting social injustices, questioning accepted practices, or communicating an important message to the general public.

In general, a work of art's subject matter affects how it is received by the audience, both emotionally and intellectually.

Subject matter vs content

The terms subject matter and content are sometimes used interchangeably in the art world, although there is a nuanced difference between the two.

The term "subject matter" is used to describe the subject of a work of art, whether it be a person, landscape, or still life. It's the main point the artist wants to make.

The content of a work of art, on the other hand, is its actual meaning or message. It's up to the artists to decide if the content is an emotional expression, a political critique, or a social commentary.

A painting of a bowl of fruit, for instance, might feature little more than a simple still life. The subject matter of the work may have something to do with prosperity, the fleeting nature of life, or the aesthetic value of commonplace items.

In a nutshell, the subject matter of an artwork is what can be seen by the naked eye, while the content is what lies underneath the surface.

Subject matter for contemporary artists

The subjects that contemporary artists choose to depict are usually reflective of shifting social mores and political climates. Portraits, landscapes, and still lifes are still important in the art world, but many modern artists are exploring more experimental forms of expression.

Art in the modern era frequently makes use of topical themes to comment on pressing societal, political, and ecological concerns. Climate change, social inequality, and mental health are just a few of the issues that they might choose to highlight through their art.

They often represent the digital age we live in by including technological elements and multimedia in their works. As our societies become more varied and multicultural, new sorts of subject matter, such as identity and representation, are being explored by contemporary artists.

With their work, they critique rigid ideas about gender, ethnicity, and sexuality while also praising the infinite variety of the human experience.

The ability to push the boundaries of art and create works that engage, challenge, and inspire audiences is a direct result of contemporary artists' willingness to explore new and novel subject topics.

In conclusion

One of the most important aspects of any creative work is the subject matter, which gives the creator a platform upon which to vent their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Its forms range from realistic to abstract and symbolic. Although the artwork's subject matter can serve as a starting point for the viewer, it is the work's actual content that provides the final meaning and value.

Artists can create works of art that move people on an emotional and intellectual level by choosing subject matter carefully.

The ability to manipulate and combine different parts is what allows artists to produce significant and profound works of art, regardless of whether the subject matter is representational or abstract.

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1 comment

In a piece of art, it is primarily the theme, content, or focal point. While some artists strive to be loud and obvious, others occasionally are subtle or concealed.

Noah Enholm

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