Art Themes to Explore in GCSE & iGCSE

By The Arty Teacher - November 23, 2019

If you are looking for art themes to explore in GCSE or iGCSE lessons, the huge list below is a great starting point.  Thank you to art teacher Annie Chapman who started this list and to other teachers for making suggestions which I’ve added.  I also have an ‘Artists Listed by Theme‘ page, which lists lots of artists under a huge range of themes. Some words link to art teaching resources on this website.

Aboriginal and native art

Abandoned places

Advertising/Consumption and consumerism, Rich world vs Poor world

Ageing, old and new, decay and change


Art & Words

Beauty.The beauty myth, Self-image

Beautiful vs Ugly


Book illustration and text

Casting Shadows

Colour and mood



Carnival and Celebration


Culture Patterns, objects, traditions:  eg: Africa, Asia. Japan







Design eg. clothes/shoes/campaign poster




Fear and Nightmares Environment

Faces and features

From natural to abstraction


Fragile things


Flowers and plants

Game Design

Graffiti/murals/Protest messages



Inside out

Insects/butterflies in nature

In The News

Impressionism /light in painting

Illustrate a story


Landscapes of the mind, loneliness, loss



Magnification and macro




Money /inequality



Myths and Legends/Magic

Natural Forms



Out of Place

Ordinary vs extraordinary


Pattern eg. patterns in nature/repeat patterns/rotational patterns

Planets/Save the planet/Space

Pop Art and Comics



Rich world-vs-poor world




Sea /coast


Stories and storytelling


Seven Deadly Sins




Secrets/a secret place

Still life


Time and Space

Time-lapse/freeze frame/movement


Tropical vegetation/Jungles

Trash and/or treasure

Through a Window


Under water

Vegetables and Fruit

Washed-up, things found on a beach

World within a world

Women in Art



This website is for art teachers.  I’m pleased that art students also enjoy it, but I am not able to respond to individual students who want help with ideas for their GCSE projects.

Please comment below if you have more art themes to explore in GCSE & iGCSE lessons and I will add them.

There is also a fantastic list of artists listed by theme on The Arty Teacher.  Click the link below to find out more.

artists listed by theme

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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74 responses to “Art Themes to Explore in GCSE & iGCSE”

  1. yiolanda says:

    Hi im doing my first sketchbook for my igcse course.Im really struggling on finding a subject.At first i thought of teenages. And thought to talk about depression , social media and etc.But i have noticed that many people choose this subject so i dont really want to do it now.I have in my mind now social media impacts.Or even artificial intelligence.I believe its something unsual and not really talked about in art topics.Although im struggling on what photoshoot and some artists references.Could you please give me some ideas

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Yolanda, It’s good to choose a topic that no one else is doing. This shouldn’t be too hard: just look at the list above! It sounds like you like issues rather than something that is purely asethetic. At the following link are artists who have created artwork about interesting topics like the environment, social issues, isolation, death, emotions, identity and more. It might inspire you:
      What ever you choose, make your life easier by connecting it to something that is easy to photograph in an interesting way. e.g. If it is about death you could photograph churches and graveyards, if it is about social media photograph someone all alone and people in a group having a great time.

  2. Blue says:

    Hello, Is childhoon a good topic for igcse art and what subtopics can we explore for this theme and the reference artists?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Yes, childhood is an excellent theme. As for a subtopic, perhaps you could look at your own childhood to help you. What was significant? Toys? Place? People? Make it personal and think of something really good to photograph to make your life easier. The section on nostalgia on this page may help:https://theartyteacher.com/artists-themes/

  3. Moon says:

    Hi, I am grade 10 student and i am struggling to find a suitable topic. I have tried 3 to 4 topics and created many art works for them but I end up not liking them or feel like the topic is boring.What should I do also the topics i find interesting are hard to take pictures for.I mostly stay at home so can’t get pictures easily.Is there any topic i can explore which is interesting and easy to take pictures for?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi, If you have already tried 3 or 4 topics and created many artworks, you really need to pick a theme and stick to it. Choose a topic where it is easy to take inspiring photographs. Why pick something hard? Fantastic photos can be an inspiring starting point. There are so many good starting points in the blog post above. You need to think about what you are interested in and what you enjoy. Sometimes finding an inspiring artist can be a good starting point if you can’t find a topic that excites you. Only you know what you find interesting!

  4. Rosa niels says:

    I want to do islamic architecture as a topic but I don’t know if it can be used as a topic, can you tell me if it can be used and what type of different panels I could make with this theme? , I have a feeling that it might be too broad and not very precise?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      I think Islamic architecture is an excellent starting point. Start by researching it broadly and create work based on your findings. Then really think about what it is that you find appealing about it and narrow it down to that. Is it the colours, the patterns, the gold leaf, the domes? It is the religious aspect? A particular geographic area? Explore it further.

  5. Asa says:

    hi the arty teacher,
    i am a year 11 student taking igsce art and our theme is identity, however we need to choose a “sub-theme” sort of to explore along with that in regards to identity. would it be alright to explore something like ghosts or media (as in film, devices, internet, etc) ?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Yes, but it would be good if you could say why Ghosts is identity or what aspect of media you see as identity. Also, find some artists who explore identity through these sub-themes.

      • Asa says:

        i understand what you mean, thank you! would something like the theme of confusion/belonging (not sure what’ll work better) in identity using ghost symbolism be better then?

        • The Arty Teacher says:

          I think you are exploring some interesting ideas. Why and how would a ghost symbolise confusion or belonging?

  6. Lili says:

    Hello Arty Teacher,
    I am an A-level student and I’m doing Art & Design.
    The theme given to us is “Observe, Seek and Challenge” but I am struggling to find any ideas, and I also don’t know many artists who have done paintings related to this theme. Would you please suggest any ideas that I can use and talk about so I can create an individual response to this theme?
    Thank you very much!

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Lili, I have a useful page on this website of artists listed by theme which is great for researching:
      “Observe, Seek and Challenge” is nice and broad. All artists observe.
      Seek, is interesting. What is the artist seeking? ie trying to find, desiring? I think artists seek ways to communicate, seek inspiration, seek to explore their own identity and that of others, seek to explore natural and manmade environments.
      Artists challenge us with their ideas all the time. They raise our awareness about climate change, social issues, race, gender, fears, prejudices, and stereotypes, ethical dilemmas and mental health challenges.

      I think I’d pick a challenge first, find some artists, see what they are seeking to say and how.

  7. Vicki Sarratt says:

    Hi, the theme I’m exploring for my final GCSE piece is the power of love but I’m struggling to find inspiration and an artist. Any suggestions? Thanks

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      If you are struggling to find inspiration, it may not be a good theme for you. Try choosing a question from the paper that gives you lots of ideas. The word ‘ideas’ appears in 3 out of the 4 assessment objectives and you should be the one who is having the ideas.
      Lots of artists have been inspired by love.
      Jim Dine painted hearts. You could use them as a symbol of love. Make sure to include in your annotation why Dine used them. He was responding to a close friends mental breakdown. You can read more here: https://cranbrookartmuseum.org/artwork/jim-dine-the-heart-at-sea-in-a-non-secular-way/#:~:text=Dine%20felt%20the%20paintings%20were,Dine's%20is%20a%20compassionate%20one.
      The Pre-Raphalites painted about nature and religion but also literature and poetry, particularly text that dealt with love and death. Many of their painting depict beaufiul women.
      Rob Ryan creates paper cut outs. Many of them are romantic.
      If you google ‘paintings about love’ or ‘artists who depict love’ lots of things come up. I hope these suggestions help.

  8. Ayesha says:

    The aqa exam paper released and I want to do portraiture theme would faces and features be a good theme?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Ayesha, I don’t think faces and features are a theme, they are simply part of portraiture. Themes could be: family, loniless and isoltion, cultural and ethnic identity, Intamcy and connection, time and aging, spirituality and faith.

  9. gabby says:

    I was wondering which to do between war and the Japanese imperialism and how it still seems to affect future generations or the role of beauty in horror. I have many many points for both but the first is much more personal but it seems to be quite controversial. What would you recommend i do?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      These all sound like good themes. I would go with the most personal one. Controversial can be exciting when you explore it through art.

  10. Z says:

    The edexcel exam paper has been released early for 2024 and the theme is power. I’m thinking of doing the power in oppression /war/genocide but I’m unsure of how to take a photoshoot/portray these ideas. I do have other ideas like discrimination (islamophobia, racism) , medicine, drug addiction , etc. I’m just not sure what to do that will be easy and fun?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      What pops into your head when you think of oppression, war and genocide? I think of old rusty chains, blood stained cloth, dirty old hands, tattered flags, gas masks. These are all things that would make a powerful photoshoot. Could your drama department help? Do they have any war-appropriate costumes? Do you have a museum near by with artifacts? (War museum in London or Salford) Start with a broad photoshoot showing lots of ideas and then after you have worked from these photos, do a second more specific photoshoot to ‘develop your ideas’.

  11. Khushi jain says:

    Hi there, this site is really helpful well I wanted to ask that can I go with the topic Indian gods

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      I think Indian Gods would be an excellent topic. You could look at how lots of different artists have drawn/painted them and then perhaps focus on an artist that you particularly like.

  12. Liz says:

    Thanks so much for your assistance Sarah. Please can Game design be considered as a theme?

  13. Billie says:

    my son is doing GCSE coursework but wanted to do it on African culture but he has to choose famous artists to tie in with that theme any help please

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Billie, You can look at a culture instead of an artist. GCSE specification states that you need to look at ‘contextual sources’. These could be artists, cultures, films, animation, or anything that inspires creativity. If I had a student who wanted to look at African culture, i would want them to narrow it down to a tribe or country within Africa. He could do a page in his sketchbook on ‘African Art’ to start with, but then look at Maasai Clothing or Senufo Masks. If his art teacher insists upon an artist, and hey, they are running the course, there are some great choices here: https://blog.artsper.com/en/a-closer-look/10-african-artists-you-absolutely-must-know/

  14. Fantastic resources, I appreciate you making them available to us. The extensive list below is a wonderful place to start if you’re seeking for art-related topics to cover in GCSE or iGCSE classes. This incredible collection was compiled by Annie Chapman, a teacher of art. A few of these words are clickable links to useful pages for art teachers. Keep writing, I really enjoy reading your posts. Come across Joshuacreekarts.com and hope you can visit this too to get more information.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi! Thanks for your positive comment. I’m delighted you like the list. I’m happy to keep adding to it, so if you have any ideas, do let me know. I do mention Annie at the top of the post! I’ll check out your website.

  15. Klavier says:

    Greetings, may you please advise what aspects are considered irrelevant and ‘out of topic’ when choosing a starting point?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Klavier, I think you can pick any theme as long as you can see how you can fulfil the assessment objectives for your course. Choose a starting point that really excites you as you will be working on that theme for a long time. Pick something where you are inspired to record in a variety of ways. (Photography, drawing etc) Most of all, be creative and make a personal response!

  16. Elizabeth Kai says:

    I am an IGCSE teacher from Ghana. I have 5 learners and I am currently preparing them for the exams. However, I am a bit lost with the kind of themes to make available to them to choose or help them choose. Kindly, share some possible themes with me. It will really be helpful.

  17. xxxxxx. says:

    hello art teacher, is it true that we can choose to draw whatever we want in igcse art? or is there a subject for igcse art every year?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi, Different art teachers run their GCSE courses in different ways. They may give you a theme to start with at the start of the first year. If you are a self-motivated, confident learner they may well let you plot your own course but it is up to your teacher to guide you and do what is best for the whole class. When you get the exam paper in the second year, there is a broad range of starting points and often you can fit in what you would like to do into one of the questions (but not always!). I hope this helps.

  18. Narendran says:

    Hi, this blog post is really helpful to me. But is art a good subject to take for pursuing engineering or design?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      If you are thinking of persuing engineering or design, I would think that art would be the perfect subject to study. Think of polymath Leonardo da vinci, he found that recording his observations and ideas through drawing was essential. Many of his drawings were engineering designs! Many design courses would expect your to have studied art.

  19. Huzaifa Ahmed says:

    is art a good career choice?
    im 15 and haven’t actually decided a career choice, I used to just draw any image that I liked, but recently I have started learning art, practicing anatomy for example
    I have got a sketchbook that I actively use and, I also have another one which I am working on a comic in.
    i love drawing, but is it a good career choice? and if so, what opportunities are there abroad that I can look into *for the future*.

  20. Jordan says:

    Hiii, is it ok to do a fictional character as a theme?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Jordan, Yes, that would be an interesting theme. I would strongly advise you to find an artist who has created artwork about the fictional character you choose. Or an animator or has created artwork, or a theatrical set designer who has made sets or costumes about the character. This would make your life easier!

  21. purplyyy says:

    Hi! i’m a gcse art student and i was just wondering if something about old fashioned clothes or something like armour would be a theme. i currently don’t have an art teacher :/ do we have to do the same theme as everyone in our class

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi, Thanks for your message. Yes, both ‘old fashioned clothes’ and ‘armour’ would be excellent themes. Choose a theme where it is easy to photograph something. You don’t have to do the same as everyone in your class, you can all do your own theme. I would start by photographing either old fashioned clothes or armour, and then draw from your photos in a range of different media. Think about working on different surfaces and different sizes. You then need to find an artist that links with your theme in some way. Create a beautiful artist research page. Good luck!

  22. Vishva says:

    Would surrealism be a theme ?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Vishva, Surrealism is a movement rather than a theme. I’m trying to think if movements have ever come up on the exam papers and I can’t think that they have. I don’t see why you couldn’t research into Surrealism if that was something of interest. There are themes within Surrealism such as ‘Dream Like Scenes’, ‘Illogical juxtapositions’, or ‘Distorted figures and biomorphic shapes’.

  23. Mari Walsh says:

    Hi, my son his in his 1st year of art gcse. He is a good little drawer but that’s it really, not particularly good at painting or using different textiles. we are a little confused as to the structure of the course….
    I do need to speak to his teacher but so hard getting to do this!
    portfolio/theme idea he has thiught of is western/ cowboy….came from his love of an xbox game. We’ve had a little look at the ladscape artists for that era and he has favourite characters from the game that he can sketch etc just not sure how to make it into a portfolio….any help would be grateful.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Mari,
      Hopefully his art teacher has shared the GCSE assessment objectives with him. You can see them on the following page:
      If you scroll down to ‘Assessment criteria grid’, in bold you will see the 4 assessment objectives. The first reads ‘Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources.’
      ‘Sources’ can be artists, designers, film-makers, books, anything creative really, including the designers and artists who made the xbox game. I would suggest he created a research page all about the game, the publisher of the game, the artists. You can find all sorts of stuff online about the art in games. For example here I found some fan art on the Rockstar Games website:
      After this research page, he could photograph someone dressed up as a cowboy. Make sure he considers background, lighting, focus. Present these photos in the portfolio.
      Draw from these photos. Draw in different media e.g. pencil, ballpoint pen, fine liners, markers, chalks, charcoal (what ever he feels comfortable with). Draw on different surfaces: white paper, brown packing paper? Cowboys drink coffee: coffee stain some paper and draw on that.
      Hopefully once he’s done this his art teacher will be able to tell him what to do next!

  24. Charlotte Burns says:

    Hi, I am a teacher at a school in England. We have had our new brief for our y11 exam and the theme is ‘MAKE MUSIC DAY’. We are stuck for ideas on what the students could research into as well as artist who relate. Any help would be appreciated.


    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Chloe,
      I hope you’ve discovered my ‘Artists Listed by Theme’ page. There are some artists listed under the theme ‘Music’ that might be useful to your students. You can see it here:
      I hope your school has a music department. I would be straight up there to borrow instruments as some students might want to start with photography as instruments are so photogenic.
      Other ways students might begin:
      Photographing a friend listening to music.
      Ask if anyone plays an instrument and use their own experience as a starting point.
      This article was interesting:
      They could pick their favourite band and promote them as if they were playing at ‘Make Music Day’.

  25. Peyton says:

    Hello Mrs! I’m a current IGCSE art and design student, our school doesn’t have a art teacher yet. I have no idea what to do, should I start with making a portfolio on my own first? thank you! A topic I want to do is “behind the eyes” it’s a topic surrounding mythical creatures and mythology. would this be appropriate? thank you so much!

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi, That sounds like a very difficult situation. I’m surprised your school is letting you do an art course without an art teacher. Are you in your first year of the course? What have you completed since September? I would first try and find a couple of artist that create artworks about mythical creatures and/or mythology. Produce some research pages on them in your sketchbook. Then try and think of something real that you could draw (a primary source) that relates to your artists. (This will depend on the artist you have chosen, but it might be something like animal skulls if your school has them) You could also work from secondary sources, perhaps images of lizards? Or could you get a real octopus from a fish mongers and draw and photograph it? (I’ve had students do this!) You could then use your drawings to create mythical creatures of your own. Make sure you work in a variety of media and on a variety of surfaces. Hopefully this would be a start. Let me know how you get on.

  26. Amadeu Sousa says:

    Hi The Arty Teacher, I am teaching iGCSE Art and Design for the first time. Just wondering as to what you would consider as an ideal number of themes that can be introduced to a class over the course of two years. Is it several or is it a matter of concentrating on one theme only throughout the entire course? Much appreciated, thank you.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Different teachers structure the course in different ways. At my school, we do one theme in Year 10 with two main outcomes. In year 11 they do another theme (we run this a little bit like a mock). Then they do the externally set task from January.

  27. Great job! ” The Arty Teacher”
    The resources and responses you provided are very helpful and so inspiring.
    I teach Igcse Art and design in keystages 3,4&5 in Africa.

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      Hi Cletus, I’m so pleased to read that you find my resources useful and inspiring – thank you 🙂

  28. INA BHARAWAJ says:

    Interesting and informative. I am an igcse teacher.would like to see the blog

  29. Brenda wafula says:

    Have just come across this blog…. hope to gain more!!

  30. James says:

    Hi Arty Teacher,

    I am an art teacher in Africa Nairobi Kenya teaching IGCSE Art & Design.
    Just wondering if you still do this blog.
    Any materials would be appreciated including advice on Photography.

    Kind regards.

  31. Vongai Brenda Gogwe Sibanda says:

    Good day what ideas could I work on for Stories or story telling

  32. The Arty Teacher says:

    Hi Annabelle, That sounds like an excellent theme to me. Don’t worry about it – enjoy it. You could go in so many directions and make it personal. Within that theme, you can look at one aspect of it and then flow into other areas of it.
    Here is a list of artists you might like to look at:

  33. The Arty Teacher says:

    ‘Inside Out’ is a great topic. You could do a person without drawing a person e.g. A house on the outside where the objects in the house represent the person, or a jewellery box where what is in it represents the person. Both these could be 2D or 3D.
    Or make a book (or a box) where the outside is the personality you show to the world and the inside is what you keep hidden.
    You could take a more literal approach: You could do fish and fish skeletons. If you didn’t want to do a portrait, you could still do feet or hands and draw them and also the bone structure or x-rays.

  34. Mutsawashè says:

    This is really helpful thank you so much for sharing these I’ve already gotten an idea of what I want ❤️

  35. Julie Anne Unsworth says:

    Thankyou, I am very interested in receiving any newsletters

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