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April 11, 2008

Subject Matter in Art - Part Three

This is my third post on Subject Matter in Art. Click here for Part One, and Click here for Part Two.




Blue House on Fire - One of my Conte crayon drawings


What subjects are most popular (in other words, what sells the most)? Who cares? Okay, I myself have been interested in knowing this, and I remember once thinking that I should try to draw pictures that people liked. That was before I became much more confident about what I should be drawing (though I have strayed now and then...but not for popularity's sake).

Actually, it's easy to find out what sells. All you need to do is go to the online stores that sell reproductions of artworks (prints, posters, paintings copied by artisans onto canvas, etc.). Those people certainly will have done all the research to find out what sells (at least on their site), and that's what they show you. They would never show things people don't want to buy.

Some of them have lists of the most popular subjects, as if you wouldn't be able to figure out what you liked without knowing what other people like. And then under each main category they may tell you what the most popular sub-category is, and then when you get to that sub-category and start seeing the pictures, they are probably by default arranged in order by popularity (most popular shown first).

Art.com (Posters, Art Prints, and Framed Art) for example, has lists like these. When you get to the site, look at the left side of the page and click on "Most Popular." The main categories are these (in order of popularity, I assume, since they're not in alphabetical order):

1) Scenic
2) Botanical
3) Places
4) Animals
5) People

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Just below is a list of the most popular art subjects at the PaintingAll Art Gallery (where they sell oil painting reproductions), in order of popularity.

The main categories --

1) Landscapes
2) Seascapes
3) Floral still lifes
4) Genre paintings
5) People
6) Still lifes
7) Countries and famous cities
8) Animals

Click on a sub-category (e.g., landscapes/winter) to see their selection of pictures with that subject; presumably the pictures are also shown in order of popularity.

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There's an article at the About.com site called Selling Paintings: Which Subjects Sell Best?

In this article there is a list of the "Top 10 best-selling subjects for paintings in the UK," according to "Art Business Today." Here is the list:


1) Traditional landscapes
2) Local views
3) Modern or semi-abstract landscapes
4) Abstracts
5) Dogs
6) Figure studies (excluding nudes)
7) Seascapes, harbour, and beach scenes
8) Wildlife
9) Impressionistic landscapes
10) Nudes

Also on this page they list the best selling media (different types of prints, different kinds of painting, etc.)

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I don't believe it's a good idea to decide what subjects to draw or paint based on their popularity (see my other posts on the subject -- Subject Matter in Art - Part One, and Subject Matter in Art - Part Two for a lot more I've written about this) but I can understand why some people do so when they must sell their pictures in order to earn a decent living (though I'd think it would be better to make a living doing something else, if possible, and devote their free time to art so they can choose the subject matter they're best at and enjoy most working with).

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"I used to say to my students during 20 years of teaching high school art, 'If you market target your art, it is a sure way of becoming a nobody.' This means you join hundreds of others in reploughing the same furrow and don’t express your unique self." -- Robert Bateman (Canadian naturalist and wildlife artist)


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8 comments:

Wilson said...

My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

oil painting reproductions

Jean Vincent said...

Thanks so much for you comment! - Jean

Jean Vincent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean Vincent said...

Sorry! I meant to say that I wish I hadn't spelled "your" wrong. :-)

6e32a7fc-6861-11e0-9236-000bcdca4d7a said...

As an undergrad I constantly have trouble coming up with subject matter that I would find interesting, while my teacher has no trouble pushing me into what he considers more intrigueing or inspiring topics. This would be useful if not for the constant coersion and the fact that I frankly don't like his ideas. I feel like he is full of tacky inspiration developed from a predetermined idea of what the "art world" wants to see. How would you recommend I try to discover what I want to create?

Jean Vincent said...

I don't know if I'm qualified to give such advice as I am not an art instructor. However, I can tell you about my own experience.

I used to have a hard time deciding on a subject, too. I at first looked for things that were "picturesque" (charming, interesting, appealing), though it didn't take me long to realize that this was exactly the wrong thing to do. Something that is "picturesque" as it is does not need an artist to interpret it.

What subjects (not even thinking about "art") interest you? What do you really care about, what concerns you, irritates you, bothers you or just fascinates you? Those are the things you will have something to say about in your art. To say something "about" subjects you really care about is much more interesting (and challenging) than just sitting in front of a scene (or person, or etc.) and painting or drawing it. That is BORING. Once it is realized - and I am not saying that you do not realize this already - that art isn't about reproducing a scene (or a person, etc.) as it is (a camera can do that much more quickly and easily), or making it more "appealing" or "prettier," but is about your own ideas and getting them across to others through your chosen medium...then whatever you choose to paint (even things you wouldn't normally feel like painting, in a pinch) will be much more interesting to you. Think of the challenge, for instance, of making a still life (or anything else!) say more than "I am an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of objects."

I will have to write more about this in another post, as this is getting to be far too long for a comment!

I do know how it is to have someone else decide what subject matter you "should" be working with because it is what people will like to buy. It is spirit-crushing to have to do that.

.. Jean

Anonymous said...

wow, thank you for your articles about subject matter in art. I stopped painting for a couple of years, and I am having a hard time finding a subject matter. I am just reading your articles, and I feel I already know what I want to paint. The reason why I was having a hard time, I am guessing, is that I was thinking about what people will buy, not what I want to paint. thank you!

yvonnesart said...

This blog has been very helpful! Thanks for all your comments. I think the true 'artist' in us comes out when we are painting that same thing everyone else has done, and during the process, we want to change this , or that, or move an item, or change the color or placement--then it becomes ours.

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