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7 Methods for Choosing Better Subject Matter

7 Methods for Choosing Better Subject Matter

Eric Maisel

5. Give Us An Impression

Impressionism proved that fleeting glimpses of objects provide as big a punch as those objects fully rendered in lifelike fashion. There is the “real” Rouen Cathedral and then there are Monet’s impressions of it. Imagine rendering an apple in the style of “Rouen Cathedral, Façade (Morning Effect).” It would still be an apple — but might look more like an iced version of itself!

6. Use It In A Narrative


Ford Madox Brown’s “William Tell’s Son”

The apple may have its place, and get its look, as part of the narrative an artist is telling: as, for example, as part of a Garden of Eden or William Tell narrative painting. In the first painting it might need to look particularly delicious, in the second painting frightening by virtue of being hard to see (and hard to hit). Consider, as one example of the narrative use of an apple, Ford Madox Brown’s painting called “William Tell’s Son,” which shows a young boy holding an arrow-cleaved apple.

7. Use It Suggestively


"One Bad Apple" by supersairuh, Flickr

What might an apple suggest? Rosiness? Health? Youth? Beauty? Might it suggest a simpler time, a quieter place, and a romantic idealization of America? Objects have cultural connections and artists can use them suggestively to put the viewer in mind of whatever it is the artist intends. To take one example, consider the following phrase: “He’s a bad apple.” In our culture, we understand what that phrase means—and how an artist might use an apple suggestively to portray evil.

The professional artist doesn’t just “see an apple” and rush off to render it. He has intentions.

The better you understand your intentions as an artist, the less trouble you will have knowing “what to do with” the objects of the world.

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