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Part 1: Comparative Study

Visual Arts in Context

What is the comparative study (CS)?

Compare and contrast the work of 3 artworks, by at least 2 artists, from different cultural contexts.

One thing to be very clear on from the beginning is that the Comparative Study is not an essay.  Although it can be the most text heavy of the three components, in some sense it should be treated like an artwork.  At the very least, it is an investigation with balance between textual and visual information.  There is no mandatory set format for this task other than the required completion of 10-15 slides investigating the work of 3 artworks from at least 2 different cultural contexts. This could be by 2 artists, or by 3 artists. Students will need to acknowledge all sources through citations.  It is imperative to be aware that the final work will be analyzed and addressed via on screen format.

To begin, students can compare any 3 pieces of work, but you will need to make thorough connections between form and meaning.  It will be necessary to consider how the artists have looked at something which is similar (or the same) in different ways and evaluate their reasoning for why

It's a good idea to discuss your choice of work with your teacher, but ultimately you need to decide what work you will choose. You will get oral or written feedback on your initial draft, but the next version you submit must be the final version. 

Be sure to study assessment criteria.  It is important that you understand how each of its elements fit together to comprise a complete study.  

A resolved piece of artwork is when the Concept, Composition and Technique make sense together. This is the FORMAL QUALITIES - they are what we can see. They are what is "on the canvas"(when we refer to "the canvas", keep in mind that we could be referring to a painting, drawing, video or sculpture - this is just a term to refer to what is on/visible in the artwork).

Outside of that "canvas" is the artist world, and outside of that is the wider world. The way that the artist's work is influenced by their world is the CULTURAL CONTEXT. How the artist negotiates the world, and their world in their piece is the FUNCTION AND PURPOSE. This could be the concept, but will be seen in the Technique and Composition, so back to the FORMAL QUALITIES.

Be sure to use this time to your benefit. What is it that you want to find out, discover, uncover..?  Try to connect your CS to your own art making practice in order to make it a more useful process for yourself.

If it is something that is entirely separate from your process and production then this is a lot of time and energy that you may not value in the long run. 

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When you think you have found something that interests you, begin filling in this sheet to make sure that you have enough information to complete the task.

CS Proposal Form

Remember.. the Comparative Study is NOT an essay.

Below are some student examples of the Comparative Study.  Remember the only difference between the HL (higher level) and the SL (standard level) is the additional requirement of 3-5 slides which analyze your own artwork against the artist works which you have selected.

The idea of the female form in the context of beauty has changed and will continue to change over time. This is historically evident in the way that women have been depicted in various forms of art.
Considering this, the subject matter is a fine example of the many similarities and differences that can be available for comparison:


  • Reclining Female

  • Female Nude

  • Ideas of the 'Venus'

  • Ideas of the 'Madonna'

  • Naked or Nude

  • Sacred female figures. 


For further examples review this Pinterest page for examples of comparisons or this.

This is a good starting ground to improve your understanding, but be sure that the examined artworks are from different cultural contexts.

You may not want to analyze a broader topic e.g. the concept of beauty in art, and that's ok. If you want to keep your analysis more narrow begin by focusing on the subject matter, theme/concept and style and then try to make connections from there. Brainstorming can open up a lot more options for exploration

However you choose to conduct and format your analysis, just keep in mind the following formal requirements of the task:

  • SL/HL students submit 10-15 screens which examine and compare at least three artworks, objects or artifacts, at least two of which need to be by different artists. The works selected for comparison and analysis should come from differing cultural contexts.

  • HL students submit 3-5 screens which analyse the extent to which their work and practices have been influenced by the art and artists examined.

  • SL/HL students submit a list of sources used.




A few things to keep in mind..


Be sure your CS includes the following:

  • Articulate your understanding through both visual and written forms.

  • While the comparative study may include text-based analysis, it may also include

  • Diagrammatic and graphic elements such as annotated sketches and diagrams, annotations on copies of artworks as well as other visual organizing techniques (such as flowcharts, relative importance graphs, concept webs and mind-maps).

  • An introduction to the study should summarize the scope of the investigation from which the focus artworks, objects and artifacts have been selected.

  • Students should aim for a balance of visual and written content, and use an appropriate means of acknowledging sources. Students must ensure that their work makes effective use of subject-specific language where appropriate.

For each of the selected artworks, objects or artifacts, keep your analysis and interpretation of the works centered around the following:​

  • What role does the artist play

  • The role of the artwork

  • Who is/was the audience for the work

  • The cultural context

What IB looks for in the Comparative Study:

   •  Identification and analysis of the formal qualities of artworks, objects and artifacts
   •  Interpretation of the purpose of the selected artworks, objects and artifacts within the cultural                     context in which they were created?
   •  An understanding of the cultural significance of the selected artworks or objects
   •  Identification and critical analysis of the connections/similarities/differences between the                             selected artworks, objects and artifacts
   •  Information is clearly and coherent in a visually appropriate and legible manner
   •  Consistent use of appropriate subject-specific language

Choosing Artists:

Who can you choose? Artwork shown in museums or galleries or they have had articles written about them by reputable sources (example: Street Artists).  See your teacher if you are unsure if your selection is suitable. You can choose artists from social media, like Instagram. There are tons to choose from however, only choose one 1from that source. Otherwise, it might be challenging to build up the cultural significance.

The work selected for comparison should come from contrasting contexts (local, national, international and/or intercultural). Ideally students should see one of the works firsthand.

If you are unsure of what artists to look at, or don't feel like you have enough information on them, then try searching for the key word into a website from a gallery, this will bring up all art and articles related to this idea. Have a look at the Research page or Theme Development page for examples.

Always remember you MUST use MLA Citations for ALL Sources!   

                                                 Citing Sources: PDF File Download    See Research for further details..  

Ok so, how exactly should you put this all together into a working format for your CS? 

Although there is no prescribed format for the CS, consider the following as you develop your own:

Summarize the scope of the investigation from which the focus artworks, objects and artifacts have been selected, and any thematic or conceptual framework used to draw the investigation together.

Summarize research from a range of different sources and present an inquiry into the identification and interpretation of selected artworks, objects and artifacts. Be able to explain how you have applied a range and combination of critical theories and methodologies to the works. Areas of investigation might include:


  • analysis of the cultural contexts of the selected pieces

  • identification of the formal qualities of the selected pieces (elements such as shape/form, space, tone, colour, line, texture and principles such as balance, rhythm, proportion, emphasis, pattern, variety)

  • interpretation of the function and purpose of the selected pieces (such as the meanings of motifs, signs and symbols used in the work)

  • evaluation of the material, conceptual and cultural significance of the pieces and the cultural contexts in which they were created.


Students present their comparisons of the different pieces, clearly identifying links between them.

These comparisons might include:

  • comparing the cultural contexts of the selected pieces

  • comparing the formal qualities of the selected pieces

  • comparing the function and purpose of the selected pieces

  • comparing the material, conceptual and cultural significance of the pieces.

Students reflect on their research outcomes and the extent to which their own art-making practices and pieces have subsequently been influenced by artworks, objects, artifacts and their creators examined in the comparative study. These influences and personal connections, which should be evidenced in both visual and written forms, might include:


  • cultural context

  • formal qualities

  • function and purpose

  • materials, conceptual and cultural significance.

When referring to their own artwork and practices, HL students must be sure to identify and acknowledge their own artworks with the same rigorous attention to detail as with images from other sources.

Students include a list of sources used during the study which will be categorized in a bibliography at the end of the document.


Academic honesty
Every image used within the comparative study must be appropriately referenced to acknowledge the title, artist, date (where this information is known) and the source, following the protocol of the referencing style chosen by the school. When HL students include any images of their own original work, these must also be identified and acknowledged in the same way.

See following pages for detailed description of each criterion for the CS along with various resources for your research.

Citing Sources

PDF File Download

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