In classrooms, exercises work well to teach students to use basic elements, principles and techniques, but larger, multi-piece art projects allow students to develop a deeper understanding and become invested in their artwork. Throughout the history of art, master artists created bodies of work that used themes to explore various techniques and elements in their artwork. Students working on a theme-based project learn to incorporate similar elements throughout a series of works to create a collection that tells a visual story.
Selecting one medium to work with is one of the simplest themes that can tie a body of work together, even if the design style varies from piece to piece. Students can stick with a series of acrylic paintings as they work on perfecting a distinctive, recognisable brushstroke. Pen and ink series can explore how various techniques, such as stippling and cross-hatching, change the appearance of the medium. Expanded projects can move into an assortment of mediums that all belong in the same family, such as watercolour and acrylic paintings, or wood, stone and metal sculptures.
Selecting a specific technique to focus on allows an artist to explore how to perfect it in a variety of mediums. For example, students can create the stippling technique with a variety of 2-D mediums, such as acrylic, watercolour, charcoal, pastels and construction paper collages. Add an additional challenge by requiring students to represent their technique in both 2-D and 3-D projects. To continue with the stippling example, the look of the technique can be achieved in a sculpture that combines a multitude of smaller items, such as twinkle light bulbs or multicoloured match heads, to create a larger, representational sculpture.
Pablo Picasso utilised colour-based themes, most notably in his Blue Period. Color-based themes allow students to explore the depth and emotion of a colour family in works that may incorporate a variety of techniques or mediums. Students choosing a colour-based theme for their art project should avoid focusing on one specific shade, but explore the entire range. For example, one piece might focus on the darker midnight blues with only hints of paler blues as highlights, whereas another piece would consist primarily of a lighter sky blue.
An examination of art history shows that thematic elements, such as food, religious icons and nudes, played a significant role in a variety of periods. Students focusing on a subject-based theme might select a specific object, as Claude Monet focused on haystacks, or a more generalised subject, such as landscapes. Subject-based themes can also have a less tangible focus, such as poverty, anger, repression or greed. For art classrooms, the requirement of a subject-based theme works well as a final project, as instructors can require students to create a cohesive series without having to sacrifice the inclusion of certain mediums that cannot be incorporated into other art project themes.