Art Dissertation Topics

Religious Influences

Art has been shaped by religion for a very long time, with religious figures and scenes being depicted in art for thousands of years. If you are interested in the representation of religion in art then maybe this would be a great subject for you to complete a dissertation on. Take a look at the following examples:

Example religious influences dissertation topic 1:

The transition from symbols to images of Buddha in early Indian art

This dissertation explores the symbols originally used to represent Buddha in Indian society, prior to the 1st Century CE, and the evolution of those symbols into anthropomorphic images. It examines the nature of those first early images of Buddha, and compares how changed the early images of Buddha are to that which is recognised as Buddha today. In so doing, it speculates what spurred this evolutionary change, and why substantial change did not persist throughout the subsequent centuries. This paper makes use of an extensive range of secondary sources, and re-examines older resources to determine how valid they remain.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Coomaraswamy, A.K. (1927). ‘The origin of the Buddha image’, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 9(4), pp. 287-329.
  • Lancaster, L.R. (1970). ‘An early Mahayana sermon about the body of Buddha and the making of images’, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 36(4), pp. 287-291.
  • Thompson, A. (2011). ‘In the absence of the Buddha: ‘Aniconism’ and the contentions of Buddhist art history’. In, Brown, R.M. and Hutton, D.S. (eds), A companion to Asian art and architecture. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 398-420.

Example religious influences dissertation topic 2:

Sienese artists: Representations of the Virgin Mary in the paintings of Taddeo di Bartolo.

Di Bartolo’s striking depictions of the Virgin Mary hark back to the traditions of the preceding generation of Sienese artists, and are noted for their sensitive depiction of a subject well represented in art at the time. This thesis examines in detail the triptych Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Andrew (c.1395), Madonna with Child, Four Angels and Saint John the Baptist and Saint Andrew (1400), Annunciation, Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin (1401), Coronation of the Virgin (c.1405), and The Annunciation with St Cosmas and St Damian (1409). The representations of the Virgin Mary in these works are compared with the depictions of women in other paintings by di Bartolo, and note is made of the stylistic differences between such figures.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Rubinstein, N. (1958). ‘Political ideas in Sienese art: The frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Taddeo di Bartolo in the Palazzo Pubblico’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 21(3/4), pp. 179-207.
  • Solberg, G.E. (1991). Taddeo di Bartolo: His life and work. PhD thesis, New York University.
  • Solberg, G.E. (1992). ‘A reconstruction of Taddeo de Batolo’s altar-piece for S.Francesco a Prato, Perugia’, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 134(1075), pp. 645-656.

Pop Art

An interesting area of art to explore is ‘Pop Art’ a movement that developed in the UK and the US in the mid- to late-1950s. Usually depicting imagery from popular and mass culture. If this is more your style, maybe completing a dissertation on this topic could help get your creative juices flowing!

Example pop art dissertation topic 1:

Perceptions of Pop Art: The view and American septuagenarians.

This dissertation undertakes primary research in the form of in-depth interviews with twenty American septuagenarians, seeking their view whether Pop Art constitutes art. The age group is of particular interest, as they were in their twenties when Andy Warhol exhibited solo for the first time at the Stable Gallery in 1962. The thesis reflects on how the respondents identify with Pop Art, not only as they interpreted it in the 1960s and 1970s, but their understanding and value for Pop Art today. Additionally, the paper explores whether septuagenarians invested in Pop Art, and whether they would consider investment in pieces today.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Colbert, F., d’Astous, A. and Parmentier, M-A. (2005). ‘Consumer perceptions of sponsorship in the arts’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 11(2), pp. 215-228.
  • Furnham, A. and Walker, J. (2001). ‘Personality and judgements of abstract, pop art, and representational paintings’, European Journal of Personality, Vol. 15, pp. 57-72.
  • Mason, D.D.M. and McCarthy, C. (2007). ”The feeling of exclusion’: Young peoples’ perceptions of art galleries’, Museum Management and Curatorship, Vol. 21(1), pp. 20-31.

Example pop art dissertation topic 2:

‘Everything is beautiful’: The similarities between Pop Art and the Aesthetic Movement.

The early Victorian period’s interest in imbuing beauty in everyday images could be said to be a precursor of the Pop Art movement, in which beauty could be seen in everyday images. Andy Warhol sought to express this during the Pop Art revolution, as can be noted from his quote above. This dissertation analyses whether the two attitudes – that ordinary objects may be made beautiful, and that ordinary objects are of themselves beautiful – are distinctly different. It examines the motivations behind both the movements, and of their leaders, and considers the legacy that the Aesthetic Movement and Pop Art have given, not only to the history of art as a whole, but to contemporary art.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Leder, H., Belke, B., Oeberst, A. and Augustin, D. (2004). ‘A model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments’, British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 95, pp. 489-508.
  • Osterwold, T. (2003). Pop Art. Köln: Taschen.
  • Stankiewicz, M.A. (1992). ‘From the Aesthetic Movement to the Arts and Crafts Movement’, Studies in Art Education, Vol. 33(3), pp. 165-173.


If you are intrigued by the work of a specific artist, it may be best for you to complete a case study on their body of work. Take a look at some suggestions on how to narrow down the topic for a dissertation:

Example artist dissertation topic 1:

The life and work of the artist, Eric Staller.

The pioneering light graffiti artist, American Eric Staller, has recently made public his personal archive, allowing an unprecedented view into his creative process. An artist who describes his work as having ‘a thread of optimism’ through it, Staller has created light installations that have amused and uplifted. Using various materials and backdrops, the artist was an early pioneer of light drawings and light sculptures, without which events such as the Luminance and iLight festivals in Singapore would not have taken place. Yet Staller has not remained bound by his early innovations; this thesis focuses primarily on his earlier work, and analyses the changes in his technique over the years.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Cutting, J.E. (2002). ‘Representing motion in a static image: Constraints and parallels in art, science, and popular culture’, Perception, Vol. 31, pp. 1165-1193.
  • North, M. (2005). Camera works: Photography and the twentieth-century word. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Page, J.D. (2012). Interview with Eric Staller. Light Painting Photography. Available at:

Example artist dissertation topic 2:

The legacy of art philanthropy: A case study of John Davan Sainsbury, Baron of Preston Candover.

Art philanthropy may be motivated by many factors, including a true philanthropic desire, tax advantages, or self-glorification. This thesis examines the art philanthropy of Lord Sainsbury, taking into consideration his joint philanthropic efforts with his brothers, Simon and Timothy, and with his wife, Anya Linden. The paper examines the donations for the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, the work of the Linbury Trust, and his donation to the British Museum. Other areas addressed include the management of Lord Sainsbury’s estate at Preston Candover, with respect to the observance of conservation and restoration of art therein. This thesis would particularly suit a candidate with an interest in the commercial and tax-related aspects of art.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Herrmann, F. (2009). ‘Collecting then and now: The English and some other collectors’, The Journal of the History of Collections, Vol. 21(2), pp. 263-269.
  • Rovers, E. (2009). ‘The art collector: Between philanthropy and self-glorification’, The Journal of the History of Collections, Vol. 21(2), pp. 157-161.
  • Schervish, P. G. (2000). ‘The spiritual horizons of philanthropy: New directions for money and motives’, Philanthropic Fundraising, Vol. 29, pp. 17-32.

Example artist dissertation topic 3:

Balletic influence in the posing of Jean Antoine Watteau’s figures.

The influence of the ballet and opera can be seen in the staging and costume of Watteau’s paintings; this dissertation explores the degree to which individual figures demonstrate balletic poses. Although much of Watteau’s work is associated with Comedia dell’Arte, it is suggested by this thesis that his relationship with the opéra ballet informed much of the posing of figures throughout his works, fusing the different disciplines of arts not only through staging but posing. In addition to exploring human poses, the thesis also analyses the poses of inanimate objects, such as trees, for example, in Réunion en plein air (1719).

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Borenius, T. (1937). ‘Le Rêve de l’Artiste by Antoine Watteau’, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 71(413), pp. 60-62.
  • Cowart, G. (2001). ‘Watteau’s Pilgrimage to Cythera and the subversive utopia of the opera-ballet’, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 83(3), pp. 461-478.
  • Stonely, P. (2007). A queer history of the ballet. Abingdon: Routledge.

Example artist dissertation topic 4:

A study of the group portraits by Jan de Braij, 1663-1675.

Paintings such as Leading Members of the Haarlem Guild of St Luke (1675) and The Regents of the Children’s Orphanage in Haarlem (1663) are renowned for their sense of realism, bringing a liveliness to topics that may be considered dry, and record the minutiae of everyday life in focus. Such portraits tend to represent not only the gravitas of the subjects but the work that gave them such gravitas. De Braij’s work is compared with that of Frans Hals, and the differentiation in technique is explored at length. Finally, the thesis analyses the similarities of de Braij’s group portraits of burghers with those of families and mythological and religious subjects.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Berger, H. (2007). Manhood, marriage and mischief: Rembrandt’s Night Watch and other Dutch group portraits. Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press.
  • Brown, C. (1999). Scenes of everyday life: Dutch genre paintings from the Mauritshuis. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.
  • Prak, M. (2003). ‘Guilds and the development of the art market during the Dutch Golden Age’, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, Vol. 30(3/4), pp. 236-251.

Representation in Art

Art can help represent many different people, religions, cultures and events. If you are interested in the way art represents a certain subject, these examples may help you:

Example representation in art dissertation topic 1:

Australian Aboriginal art: The exploitation of an indigenous people, or exploitation by an indigenous people?

In June 2007, the Australian Senate published a report into unethical practices in the Australian Aboriginal art industry. It uncovered extensive fraudulent activities in the sector, including that much art sold in tourist shops was not executed by indigenous people, but by backpackers and casual labourers. This thesis considers the juxtaposition of commercial exploitation of Aboriginal artists, and the exploitation by Aboriginal artists ‘selling out’ by mass-producing representations of an ancestral heritage. A controversial topic, the paper reports on interviews with Aboriginal art brokers as well as Aboriginal cultural historians, and debates at what point exploitation is a learned progression of a saleable commodity.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Altman, J. (2005). Brokering Aboriginal art: A critical perspective on marketing, institutions, and the state. Geelong, Vic.: Deakin University.
  • Bunten, A.C. (2008). ‘Sharing culture or selling out? Developing the commodified persona in the heritage industry’, American Ethnologist, Vol. 35, pp. 380-395.
  • Simons, M.S. (2000). ‘Aboriginal heritage art and moral rights’, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 27(2), pp. 412-431.

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