‘Derivation of Subject Matter/Content from Themes among University Fine Art Students - Analysis of Selected Paintings by Students at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya

  • Kamau Wango, PhD Kenyatta University
Keywords: Painting, Themes, Subject Matter, Content, Context, Spontaneity
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In certain painting unit requirements, students are expected to interpret themes and generate appropriate subject matter that ultimately expresses or depicts how they artistically interpret given themes and generate painted pictorial compositions that showcase the same. Themes are specific compartments or clusters of the description of life in its natural existence or manifestations. Themes may feature the environment, nature, manifestations, occurrences, perceptions, and philosophies that are segmented in a way that is orderly and comprehensible to human beings. Hence themes are as broad-based as the entire body of manifestations that underscore human existence, endeavours, and behaviours. Without this demarcation and description of themes, it would be difficult to understand the myriad of ways in which human beings respond to their existence. Since themes are broad and exciting from an artistic context, they are, in essence, infinite and have to be broken down into fathomable subject matter that the artist can accommodate, justify, and explain; and the audience can, subsequently, appreciate and rationalize. Fine art students are, in this regard, introduced to the importance of themes as consolidated lenses through which the world is viewed, but more importantly, the need to develop the skill of deconstructing themes into tangible subject matter or digestible content. The ability to break down themes into specific content is of importance to student artists as they learn to construct their ideas. These ideas, whether or not they bear a certain element of spontaneity, are based on some form of focused response to a given inspiration. The issue of spontaneity and precision of thematic interpretation can often be confusing to students and artists alike but while they all must be aware of the need for a thematic approach to their work, they must be at the same time mindful of the need for expressive freedom and space. This paper seeks to determine the extent to which subject matter is used by students as a strategy for expressing themselves and, further, the extent to which the content they develop within this subject matter is successfully derived from themes as a source of inspiration. The paintings featured in this paper were developed during the course of the semester at Kenyatta University and were in specific response to the derivation of subject matter from themes. The students were, however, free to interpret themes in the way they found appropriate and were not bound to depict certain contents or contexts in their work. In keeping with the general belief that paintings are themselves not necessarily based on the dogmatism or rigidity of themes in their expressiveness, and in being careful not to stifle the ability of students to express their ideas, the students were encouraged to display a level of spontaneity in their work which is a hallmark of the beauty of the painting. This paper pre-supposes, therefore, that an effective approach to the development of good paintings is found in their spontaneity just as much as it is found in the interpretation or breakdown of themes


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17 April, 2023
How to Cite
Wango, K. (2023). ‘Derivation of Subject Matter/Content from Themes among University Fine Art Students - Analysis of Selected Paintings by Students at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya. East African Journal of Arts and Social Sciences, 6(1), 199-236. https://doi.org/10.37284/eajass.6.1.1175

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