Part 1,The Comparative Study

Introducing the Comparative Study

The newest addition to the VA curriculum is the CS, an independent critical and contextual investigation that explores artworks, objects and artifacts from differing cultural contexts. The CS is one of the 3 components required by the new curriculum and it constitutes 20% of the final mark. It is basically a comparative, analytic investigation that strikes a balance between visual and written, with no prescribed format.

The CS is not an extended essay, it doesn’t even have to be an essay!

It is an independent critical and contextual investigation of 3 or more artworks from differing cultural contexts

What exactly IS required for the CS?

SL 10-15 screens
HL 10-15  screens + 3-5 screens which analyze the extent to which their work has been influenced by the art and artists examined.
The screens submitted examine and compare at least three artworks at least two of which need to be by different artists.
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.
Acknowledge sources!

We refer to "screens" because this will be presented as a PDF and viewed by examiners on computer screens; bear this in mind and present accordingly


Make sure to compare at least 3 artworks by at least 2 artists! It is fine to use only these 3 artworks by 2 artists, no need to exceed the minimum requirement unless you have other works that are relevant that you really want to compare.

The role of the Visual Journal in the CS

The Visual Journal collects and contains a large part of the students visual and written experimentation and investigations.

  • Use the Journal to specifically document the CS research and responses to each piece.
  • Include detailed interpretations, evaluations, and comparisons.
  • Select and adapt from these pages for the CS

The CS can be used to enhance your understanding of art and help to give context to your own work (HL)

Making meaningful connections

Making connections through both FORM and MEANING.

You can compare anything, but it will only have convincing strength if there is solid ground for comparison, both formally and conceptually.

Comparisons do not need to be as directly referential as the Jeff Wall/Hokusai comparison on the left, but it is helpful to have some commonalities.

The page Comparing Images has examples of art works that lend themselves easily to comparisons.

The page Skills for CS has suggestions for how to build up to the CS gradually through a series of guided comparisons.

Start with a piece of art that excites you

Use Primary Sources whenever possible

It’s great if students can see at least one of the works themselves! An exhibition can be an excellent starting point for a CS, then each student can take it in different directions. As a matter of fact, why not use an exhibition visit as the starting point for the CS? If it is a big collection there will be plenty of room for individual choices of artworks.

How much help?

Teachers should provide guidance during the selection process BUT bear in mind:

“The teacher should discuss the choice of selected artworks, objects and artifacts with each student. It is important that the selected pieces are the student’s own choice.
Teachers should help students get started, read and give advice on first draft of the comparative study.
The teacher should provide oral or written advice on how the comparative study could be improved, but should not edit the draft.
The next version handed to the teacher must be the final version for submission.” from the VA guide


What are the assessed criteria for the CS?

A Analysis of formal qualities... ....................... 6 points
B Interpretation of function and purpose... ...... 6 points
C Evaluation of cultural significance................ 6 points
D Making comparisons and connections......... 6 points
E Presentation and subject specific language..6 Points
F (HL ONLY) Making connections to own art practice..12 points

For the most part all you will need to refer to is the basic breakdown into the 6 criteria in the blue box above, but for a complete breakdown of each criteria (what examiners will refer to) go to CS Assessment Criteria 

For students try this straightforward CS Assessment info for Students

The CS is only 20% of final mark so you do not want to give it too much of your precious studio hours! It can be done in an efficient and not too time consuming manner.

Getting Started

Need help structuring the CS? Go to the page on Structuring the CS for specific guidelines and useful tips.

Some helpful resources for finding artworks using reliable thematic search engines

for submission procedures go to E submission Comparative Study

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Comments 52

tony nicolas 8 November 2016 - 08:40

Hello Heather - me again! (sorry),
for the HL students, regarding the 3-5 extra pages of the comparative study, do they have to show influence of all the artworks they analyzed or only one?
i'm pretty sure that it is only 1 piece and how that piece has influenced the student's works. but one of my students is adamant that it's not.

Heather McReynolds 8 November 2016 - 13:44

Hi Tony, theres no specification other than making connections, showing how some aspect of the work studied ( one piece or more) has influenced or helped shape their own approach.

VisualArts Department 24 November 2016 - 11:46

Dear Heather , please advice, my student would like to make a comparative about two artists that are European who lived around the same time, one is Jan Mankes from Holland and the other is Monet from France. Do you think she should go ahead.

Heather McReynolds 27 November 2016 - 09:21

I think as long as the different cultural influences are discussed it is fine. She could also include a third artwork from a different time period if she finds that there is not enough to contrast.

Paul Gerberding 25 November 2016 - 11:36

Hi, Everyone! My first year teaching IB Art. I'm wondering the best way for students to cite their sources in the Comparative Studies. Thank You!

Heather McReynolds 27 November 2016 - 09:25

Hi Paul, because there is a separate sources page for the CS, images can be cited in text with only author and title and numbered for further reference on the sources page. you might look at the page on citing images
and see the examples in the student gallery - it would also be good to hear what other teachers find useful, anyone?

Patricia Adcock 28 November 2016 - 10:17

Hi there Heather,
May a student use the artist investigated for her Ex Essay as part of her CS also? Many thanks for all your help.

Heather McReynolds 29 November 2016 - 16:40

the guide specifies that the same work may not be submitted for EE, however there may be some overlapping research

Amy Teran 28 November 2016 - 18:12

Hi Heather,
Should the Higher Level connection piece in the Comparative Study be representative of the students themed exhibition work? As a whole, or should it just have one student piece that is related in form and concept to the artists?

Heather McReynolds 29 November 2016 - 16:23

Hi Amy, it doesnt need to have a connection with the students exhibition, they are separately assessed

Chrissa Dres 3 December 2016 - 19:32

Hi Heather,
In regards to the list of sources for the CS- are we only allowed one screen? Some students are having difficulty listing all the references and visuals on one screen.

Heather McReynolds 5 December 2016 - 10:06

Hi Chrissa, since the source list is submitted as a separate document, not a slide, it can be as long as she needs

Chrissa Dres 5 December 2016 - 18:21

Great! Thank you!!!

Samruddha Purekar 7 December 2016 - 05:15

Hello Heather,
One of my student who is working on c.s insists on three different images from three different artists, two from same cultural background and third from a different cultural background. Is it okay? or two images from same artist and one from other must only be allowed.

Heather McReynolds 7 December 2016 - 09:09

what she wants to do is fine as long as she explores the contrasting cultural context with the third artwork

Karen Teal 19 January 2017 - 07:28

Hi Heather.............when creating the slides and the presentation would you recommend that the font size and style is the same on each slide to be consistent? I have taken over a class and all the students slides are in different size fonts and in some cases different styles too.
Thank you for your help

Heather McReynolds 3 February 2017 - 09:57

Karen, i recommend not more than 2 diffferent fonts, and to keep it consistent as possible for max visual ease of reading ;)

Tamara Rusnak 20 January 2017 - 15:30

Hi Heather, I have a student who is interested in comparing three different graphic novels. Does this fit within the realm of visual art -or does the graphic novel belong to literature?

Heather McReynolds 3 February 2017 - 09:58

tricky one Tamara, you will need to use your professional judgement as to whether these graphic novels qualify as artworks, and if the analysis is applicable!

Dian Ritter 22 January 2017 - 09:04

Is there a max. word count PER SCREEN for Formal Analysis and the Contextual screen? Any total word count limit or range for the completed Comp. Study?

Heather McReynolds 3 February 2017 - 09:59

No word count Dian, but best to stick to a balance of written and visual content on each screen. Font size minumum 12 pt, ok?

Sarah Morshead 12 February 2017 - 10:11

Hi Heather, I have a quick question. If students are using Journal pages or refering to sections of them and reproducing them in their CS Study to show the influence of the art pieces/artist's on their own practice and investigations ... is it OK to use the same Journal pages as actual PP screens? Thanks for your help on this

Heather McReynolds 12 February 2017 - 11:40

Hi Sarah, I would think not, best to avoid using the exact same pages. Although there may be content overlap better if its in a different form

Jason Coe 28 February 2017 - 07:58

Hi Heather. I'm hearing mixed information regarding the need for students IB candidate number to be included on their final CS document, versus it being submitted elsewhere for the IB. Can you clarify what is best for identifying the students work?

Heather McReynolds 1 March 2017 - 19:43

candidate number is fine Jason, preferable to name as they are trying to remain anonymous

Jason Coe 3 March 2017 - 04:22

Another question Heather. Students are organising a small exhibition on campus and some of my DP1 students want to exhibit their work, but they think they may use it in their final exhibition next year. What exactly is ok/not ok regarding the display of potential IB exhibition work?

Heather McReynolds 3 March 2017 - 11:31

Hi Jason, first of all, they may decide not to use it in another years time, but if so, use your professional judgement here and try to keep low exposure ( ie dont post on FB etc) thats my advice since its still terra incognita...;)

Jeanie Merila 20 March 2017 - 05:03

Hi Heather,
When do we start using the new CS criteria? This year or next year? Please advise.

Heather McReynolds 20 March 2017 - 09:06

Hi Jeanie, the criteria are the same, only the wording is slightly different in some cases (i.e. identify and analyze) so assessment will be the same as last year

Magda Morozan 20 March 2017 - 07:49

Hi, can you please tell me if my sudent can compare un image with a movie poster, or with a movie shot? thank you!

Heather McReynolds 20 March 2017 - 09:08

this s where you the teacher needs to use your best professional judgement, whether there are sufficient grounds for visual comparative analysis with source material...I would say that it also depends largely on the context and the other artworks chosen

Victoria Wreden-Sadeq 24 March 2017 - 09:08

Can IB students take images from instragram/or and Tumbler for their comparative studies. The artists is . I get so confused as students are so up to date on so many things and they show me artists of now I am not always able to find the information on museum or contemporary galleries but from alternative sources. How can I support students for comparative studies through this journey? This is my year one group. Thanks again and I hope my questions are clear.

Heather McReynolds 25 March 2017 - 13:28

Students must be able to fully cite the artist, title, date and source of ALL images used, if they cant provide that info they should not use the image

Vandita Varjangbhay 30 March 2017 - 09:14

Dear Heather
I have a student working on her CS with movie stills. She is studying the creative process of the Animation-Kung Fu Panda 2 and Moana. Her third artist is our own local Mauritian illustrator Jasbeer Kootbally. Instead of working on contextual and formal analysis of both movies, she plans to work with specific stills from both. Would that be fine or should she consider the complete movie?

Heather McReynolds 31 March 2017 - 17:07

I think she must apply the criteria to the chosen artoworks, be they film stills or other...

Helene Zawila 17 April 2017 - 11:46

Dear Heather
I have a student here who wants to compare 2x 3D pieces and 1x 2D piece. Can she do that? Being an HL student, she also wants to know wether she could replicate the 2D piece in a 3D medium inspired by the other 3D pieces.

Heather McReynolds 17 April 2017 - 14:53

Hi Helene, the artworks can be in any media, 2D or 3D, the comparison with her own work needn't be an exact response ( i.e. replica) but making connections between her own work ( resolved or unresolved) and the work under consideration. Hope this helps.

Helene Zawila 19 April 2017 - 11:39

Heather, Thank you Helene

Melanie Cobham 5 May 2017 - 16:29

Hi Heather, thanks for the information.
I have a student who's passionate about architecture and proposed comparing three buildings from a "visual arts" approach, going through the elements and principles of art, specially analyzing the concept of space.
Do you think she'd be allowed by the IB to do that? I know students can compare objects and artifacts as well but I've never seen a CS comparing buildings.


Heather McReynolds 5 May 2017 - 19:02

Hi Melanie, that's absolutely fine, architecture is included in the visual arts category.

Melanie Cobham 9 May 2017 - 12:39

That's amazing news, thank you very much!!!

Ann Forget 6 June 2017 - 15:47

Hi Heather,
This is a question from a fellow art teacher I am pretty sure the size of the font should not be smaller that 12pt but I wanted to check.
"Is there a minimum font size for the comparative study? Some of my students are using #10 font so they won't go over the page count. Is that okay?"

Heather McReynolds 8 June 2017 - 09:54

I would recommend 12 point, for ease of legibility. Encourage them to edit it down a bit!

Vandita Varjangbhay 23 June 2017 - 09:58

Dear Heather
I have a student working on performance piece for her CS final, how would she include that in her screens. Should she include various stills or embed the video into her PDF
screens. Vandita

Heather McReynolds 23 June 2017 - 15:15

Vandita, no embedded videos unfortunately, use stills, or a screenshot of a sequence of stills even...

Vandita Varjangbhay 25 June 2017 - 08:47

Thank you.

Varsha Adulla 7 July 2017 - 06:52

Dear Heather,
The VA HL students when do the reflection screens for Comparative Study have to create one own work from their study and that same artwork can be used for the final exhibition too? Actually last batch students did used their reflection piece in their final show, but I am in doubt can we use it that way or not? can you please correct me.

Varsha Adulla 7 July 2017 - 06:57

Actually heather long ago I read the above information some where that we cant use cs reflection piece to the final show. But I don't remember where did I read this? Please clear my doubt.

Heather McReynolds 8 July 2017 - 12:16

Varsha, I will clear your doubt: when HL students include their own work in the CS they are marked on the ability to make connections, not the work itself, so yes they can use this work for their exhibition if they wish.

Varsha Adulla 11 July 2017 - 17:17

Thank you

Nanda Das 25 July 2017 - 09:44

Hi Heather, One of my HL student want to do her CS on two fashion designers of different origin. May I know if that is allowed or she needs to stick to some Artists like painters or sculptors. Nanda Das

Heather McReynolds 27 July 2017 - 15:59

Hi Nanda, I always try to recommend students to include a fine art example as well... can you help her to find a relevant comparison with the two designers?

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