This is a common question, often asked about halfway through the first year, but if you have students coming back to start their final year the issue of the theme may well be on their minds.
The theme is certainly not a visual arts requirement, although there are references to it at various places in the visual arts subject guide.
For example, the guide refers to the theme when making connections (“students might initially begin their investigation by working through an idea, theme or issue, then making comparisons, cross-referencing, and thinking laterally. This can give the work a sense of unity and continuity. One idea, theme or issue may be the connecting thread throughout the course or may naturally promote the investigation of another or others”).
There is also reference to the theme in relation to the Investigation Workbook (“ Students should be encouraged to investigate “around” ideas, themes and issues, make links and connections, speculate, hypothesize and draw conclusions that may support or challenge artistic conventions…Pages must be numbered for cross-referencing ideas, themes or issues that run through the investigation workbooks”.
And the Investigation markbands are “concerned with the student’s investigation into visual qualities, ideas, themes and issues, both in written and visual forms”.
The theme should (obviously) not become something that hinders the production of artwork: a successful approach to the theme can be a source of constant inspiration, but the student who tries to ‘fit’ artwork or ideas into his/her theme is missing the point and purpose of the theme.
A strong student can put on a successful exhibition that reflects a very ‘loose’ theme – for example, the human figure. This rather traditional theme can be creatively explored, and be the starting point for a wide number of great artworks. On the other hand it could also lead to dull and derivative art that does not achieve highly with any of the Markband descriptors. Just having a theme does not mean that the student will have a good or even satisfactory exhibition, but depending on how well its explored it may be the catalyst for a successful exhibition.
A theme may provide the exhibition with some element of cohesion and potential individuality. In general, and in my experience, students who creatively build their exhibition around a concept or idea (or concepts/ideas) that are meaningful to them are likely to be more successful than those who simply generate and assemble random and disparate artworks.