One theme of Girl With a Pearl Earring is the move from innocence to experience. Griet matures as a person as she interacts with Vermeer, helping to grind his paints and serving as his model for painting. She learns, for instance, from Vermeer that what a painting, and by extension, the world "means" is freely open to each individual's own interpretation, which helps her learn to think for herself. She also experiences a sexual awakening emerge from her love for Vermeer, the sexual act symbolized by the piercing of her ear with the pearl earring. The pearl of the earring represents both the purity and great value of her interaction with the artist. We grow, the novel argues, as we get in touch with our creative side, but the growth is not without pain. Griet's ear piercing hurts and draws blood. Nevertheless, she has gained gifts from Vermeer.
Another theme is that of artistic vision. Griet is a poor servant girl, yet she sees with an artist's eyes. She loves to arrange the food she prepares artistically, possessing a strong appreciation of the color of the food items she works with. She also loves the colors of the paints she grinds. One does not need to have academic artistic training, the novel says, to be able to view the world with an artist's eyes.