CLICHÉS in Visual Art

cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work, which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful.

Avoiding clichés requires one of two things: An original approach or an unexplored subject matter and ideally, both. In other words, figuring out a new way to make art using a tried and true subject is one way. This usually means telling a specific, dynamic story. The other is to discover or conceive of a subject that hasn’t been trampled to stereotype. Do both and you’re a genius.

Click here for a great article on How to Avoid Clichés in Art.

Some Cliché Subject Matter to Avoid:

Section 1 –LANDSCAPE

1A. (Natural)

  • Sunsets, (especially with M-birds)
  • Fluffy Clouds
  • the Moon (often with a mysterious reflection in the dark water)
  • the sun in the corner of the paper
  • Palm trees
  • Rainbows,
  • Lightning bolts
  • waterfalls
  • Rain
  • Beaches (with or without silhouetted couples walking along the shore)

1B. (Man-made)

  • Castles
  • Cabins nestled in the woods (usually with a warm glow emitting from the window and a puff of smoke coming from the chimney)
  • Cities depicted as gray, polluted, hostile and cold (usually with a simultaneous reference to how colorful, warm, beautiful and/or threatened Nature is)
  • Railroad Tracks fading off in the distance
  • Snapshots of cottage and vacation
  • Villages (usually in poor countries) with brightly colored huts

Section 2-ANIMATE

2A. Humans

  • Family (esp. grand-parents)
  • Boyfriends/Girlfriends
  • Clowns
  • Poverty stricken children
  • Rock Stars (Alive or Dead).
  • TV and movie stars
  • People slouched in corners depressed,
  • Sport Stars
  • Native people with feather headdresses
  • Inuit with igloos
  • Hunky, shirtless guys
  • Hot chicks in scantily clad outfits
  • Pin-Up girls

2B.  Human Anatomy

  • Eyeballs- staring, crying, floating, bleeding, sad eyes
  • Fetuses/umbilical cords
  • Hands making a peace sign,  flipping the bird,  hang ten
  • Hearts- full, broken, stylized (“heart-shaped”) anatomically correct
  • Skulls
  • teardrops
  • Blood dripping or in puddles

2C. Human-like Beings

  • Aliens (also see UFOs)
  • Angels
  • Comic Book Characters
  • Manga/Anime style characters
  • Devils
  • Elves
  • Fairies (with or without fairy dust)
  • Fantasy Characters
  • Hobbits
  • Mermaids
  • Vampires
  • Videogame Characters
  • Werewolves
  • Wizards

2D. Animals (real)

  • All sleeping animals (esp. kittens)
  • Any two different species of animals cavorting together
  • Bats
  • Family Pets
  • Eagles
  • Horses
  • Lizards
  • Ponies
  • Seals
  • Starfish
  • Wolf howling at the moon
  • Butterflies

2E. Animals (imagined)

  • Dragons
  • Stuffed Animals (also see Dolls)
  • Unicorns


3A. Objects

  • Beer Bottles,
  • Bongs, Joints, Pipes and Syringes
  • Flaming guitars
  • Roses, fresh, dead, red (for love), white (for death, or purity)
  • Album Covers,
  • Wine Bottles,
  • Pills and prescription bottles
  • Razor blades
  • Love letters
  • Dear John letters
  • Candles burning quietly in the darkness
  • Song lyrics
  • Watches, clocks, and hourglasses to symbolize the irrevocable passage of time
  • IPODS and Cell phones
  • UFOs (also see Aliens)
  • Feathers
  • Soap bubbles
  • Dolls
  • Guns/Bullets
  • Cars- especially “fast” looking cars

Obvious Symbols

  • Peace and Anarchy Signs
  • Pentagons and crosses
  • Ohm symbols
  • Initials, numbers, letters or words
  • Music notes (to represent the sound of music)
  • Starry Night, Van Gogh and other Calendar Artwork copies
  • Anything to do with lost innocence, or impending death