Monday, December 15, 2008

While We're on the Subject

Artists, such as painters, often produce several pieces of art that are very similar, so much so that experts can guess the artist without looking at the signature. In publishing, this might be called the artist’s brand, but if we look closely, what we see are subject and theme. A painter’s theme, for example, might be common flowers. One painting might be of a rose, another of a tulip, another of a daffodil, but they all follow the theme of flowers you might see in your own yard. The subject is the specific flower the painter chose. If he paints a red rose one day and a tulip the next, then his subject is different, even though he has stayed with the theme.

In writing, we see a similar phenomenon. One of the most common themes is romance. There are hundreds of authors writing nothing but romance novels. You might think that readers would grow tired of the same theme, but the subject is different. The characters are cowboys and farmers and business owners. Some are young. Some are old. Some are rich. Some are poor. Some are widowed. Some divorced. Some are dying of a broken heart.

If theme is the statement we wish to prove, subject is the tool we use to prove it. We shouldn’t think of subject as just the characters, though they are a major part of it. The circumstances and time period are also be a part of the subject. We can talk about love (theme) in an office environment as easily as we can in a war zone (subject), but the end result looks very different, just as a painting of a tulip looks different from that of a rose.

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