Answer: Aaargh! NO!
This is one of the most common questions that visual arts students ask and is also one that many DP art teachers get wrong.
The simple answer is NO – there is absolutely no need for students to have a theme and when they do have a theme students sometimes fail because their approach to their theme is too restricted and blinkered. In effect the theme prevents them from doing very well.
The more complicated answer is still no, but sometimes a theme makes for a more coherent exhibition, and ‘coherent’ IS mentioned in one of the higher markband assessment descriptors (“The coherent body of work has been reviewed, modified and refined as it has progressed, resulting in an accomplished resolution of ideas and medium“)
(Coherent: Sticking together; cohering; marked by an orderly, logical, and aesthetically consistent relation of parts).
If you still want to have a theme, remember that assessment is based on the assessment descriptors.
I have attached the HLA Studio assessment descriptors – no mention of theme.
Finally, I’m not saying that you can’t have a theme – just that
a) You definitely do not HAVE to have a theme , and
b) As an examiner I frequently find myself giving low marks to students who have a theme: low marks because the quality of the studio work is between mediocre and satisfactory, and has not been helped by the ‘theme’.