The Comparative Study

Introducing the Comparative Study

The Comparative Study is an independent, critical and contextual investigation that explores artworks from differing cultural contexts. The CS is one of the 3 assessed components required by the Visual Arts Curriculum and it constitutes 20% of the final mark. It is basically a comparative, analytic investigation that strikes a balance between visual and written. 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 ( landscape format recommended)

The CS is not an extended 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 ( and 3 is sufficient) at least two of these artworks are 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 and provide an additional sources page ( word doc)

The page on Structuring the CS gives an overview of the content with a breakdown of the key points to address in the CS.

Number of Art Works?

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, or 3 by three different artists- no need to exceed the minimum requirement unless you have other works that are relevant that you really want to compare. Try not to include too many artworks or the CS will lose its focus and become unwieldy...

The role of the Visual Journal in the CS

The Visual Journal can be used to collect 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

HL students

HL students are required to include 3-5 extra screens that discuss the relationship of the chosen artworks in the study with thier own devleoping work. In other words, how the comparative study has influenced their own artistic development. This can be in terms of materials and processes as well as concepts and ideas.

The CS is an opportunity to enhance your understanding of art and help to give context to your own work (HL)

Making meaningful connections, formal and conceptual

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.


Choose artworks that are related to your own interests (HL),

Choose artworks that have readily available background information ( for sources)

Compare artworks not artists!

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

This CS Guiding Template is useful for students who need a powerpoint outline to help them get organized.


What are the assessed criteria for the CS?

A Identification and analysis of formal qualities... ....................... 6 points
B Analysis and understanding of function and purpose... ...... 6 points
C Analysis and 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 an overview of the key points and to CS Guiding Template if you need a slide by slide outline.

Some helpful resources for finding artworks using reliable thematic search engines

try Phil Simmond's pinterest page on the CS

for submission procedures go to E submission Comparative Study

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.

Comments 63

Bora Shin 15 October 2017 - 04:49

Hi Heather,

Does a student have to use the same artists/artworks investigated in the CS for his/her art-making processes? I started working at a new school and have a student completed the CS in her junior year with the previous art teacher and she does not want to use any artists/contents developed in her CS, but find a new theme for the upcoming art projects and the PP.

Heather McReynolds 15 October 2017 - 10:35

Bora, that is OK, if she is HL make sure she has made connections in her CS between the work she investigated and her own developing work, even process work is fine.

Heba Yosri 22 November 2017 - 06:18

Hi Heather,
My student did an interview with one of the artists and she had chosen one of his pieces for the CS, could she add a photo for her interview as an evidence to be attached to the function and purpose screens for example?
Thank you

Steve Lewis 24 November 2017 - 13:54

Hi Heather,
Just checking... the HL student artwork influenced by the artists included in the CS is allowed to be in the PP and the Exhibition, or?

Heather McReynolds 24 November 2017 - 19:23

thats fine Steve, its not the students artwork assessed in the CS but the connections made, so naturally that work can be included in the Pp and the exhibition

Heba Yosri 28 November 2017 - 06:29

Heba Yosri 22 November 2017 - 06:18
Hi Heather,
My student did an interview with one of the artists and she had chosen one of his pieces for the CS, could she add a photo for her interview as an evidence to be attached to the function and purpose screens for example?
Thank you

Heather McReynolds 28 November 2017 - 19:56

I dont see why not Heba, ;)

Heba Yosri 3 December 2017 - 08:51

Hi Heather,
How to cite an interview or exhibition visit as a primary resource?
Thank you

Heather McReynolds 3 December 2017 - 17:07

same citation format as for other sources but additionally labelled " Exhibition visit: primary source" or " artist interview"

Margaret O'Farrell 21 December 2017 - 12:40

Hi Heather, my students have completed A,B,C, D and E for the CS.
They have completed many screens documenting progress and development ; they are working on visual journals to document the Exhibition work at present.
They are now developing their body of work and completing F for the CS.

What is the best way for them to show connections from the CS with the body of work in the exhibition in the PP? I want to avoid extra work( screen preparation) for them.
Thank you.

Heather McReynolds 2 January 2018 - 01:18

Hi Margaret, sorry i missed this. It isnt neccessary to show connections between all 3 components, but if i understand your question correctly, you are asking if students should show the body of work/CS relationship in the PP? Can you confirm?

Margaret O'Farrell 11 February 2018 - 06:00


Margaret O'Farrell 29 December 2017 - 18:07

Hi just wondered if you can see above comment?

Irene Winkel 15 January 2018 - 18:48

Hi Heather, hope you are well. I have a quick question regarding the double dipping. I believe I read somewhere in VA Inthinking that students are now allowed to show final imagery in Process Portfolio. Now on the screens for the CS when they show an image of a final piece should I simply advise to make it different? When the new syllabus was examined a few years ago, students couldn't present in their PP screens an image of the final piece when in the past they could. Is it now back to the olden days? Thanks, Heather, ciao

Heather McReynolds 19 January 2018 - 20:49

Irene,yes double dipping PP ?exhib is allowed and I wouldnt worry about the same image being included in the CS-as long as the supporting content is different. Ciao :)

andrew watson 26 January 2018 - 07:46

Hi, Heather
Just a question about references. I see a lot of CSs with a bibliography attached to the slides in addition to the sources sheet. I assume that it is fine to include a bibliography and a list of sources for images/quotations etc in the separate document.

Heather McReynolds 26 January 2018 - 11:42

correct Andrew, the sources page is meant to be a separate document!

andrew watson 29 January 2018 - 07:24

Does the introduction in the CS count as a slide? I've been re-reading the syllabus but couldn't find an answer.

Heather McReynolds 29 January 2018 - 09:28

its not entirely clear, but since the guide asks for an introduction my advice is to use this screen to introduce the nature of the CS as well as the artworks, make it a useful slide! Ive noticed that many students dont count this slide as one of the numbered required slides and this seems acceptable.

andrew watson 30 January 2018 - 13:08

I have a student who wants to compare two photographers - Elliot Erwitt and Cartier Bresson. I feel that, although they overlap in terms of time frame, their cultural backgrounds are sufficiently different to fulfil IB requirements. What are your thoughts?

Heather McReynolds 30 January 2018 - 19:20

my thoughts are I would agree with you, but i would recommend a third photographer from a different period or culture altogether, maybe contemporary?

Christine Pritchard 18 February 2018 - 07:34

Dear Heather,
Just to confirm, does the CS title page count within the slide count?

Thank you,

Renante Sison 19 February 2018 - 07:58

Hi Heather, just to clarify the issue on double dipping. Could students include their final piece on CS, PP and Exhibition? Thanks!

Heather McReynolds 20 February 2018 - 09:39

Renante, an exhibtion piece may be included in all three components because it serves a different function in each case- be sure to label it as "own work in exhibition" (title, medium, size)

Vandita Varjangbhay 22 February 2018 - 17:41

Dear Heather
I had shared what one of my students was planning to work with for her CS sometime back asking if were possible for a student to work on a comparative study on animation movies.
She has worked with specific stills from three different animation movies to compare and contrast. While analyzing the three specific stills, she has referred to how the artists have used various cultural references during the planning and making of the animation. Hope this is fine for her CS?

Heather McReynolds 23 February 2018 - 17:27

Its hard to say without seeing it... are they from different contexts? Are they relevant to her own art making practice if she is HL?

Vandita Varjangbhay 6 March 2018 - 09:02

Dear Heather
Yes it is relevant to her own art making practice and she has selected them from different contexts.

Patricia Adcock 26 February 2018 - 09:47

A quick question:
Can the CS be either landscape or portrait format?
Many thanks.

Heather McReynolds 26 February 2018 - 09:51

Either Patricia, but a landscape format allows for more screen space when viewing on a computer

Patricia Adcock 26 February 2018 - 09:56

Thank you very much indeed.

RATI SINGH 12 April 2018 - 06:47

Hi Heather, The selected art work images have clear specifications given once in the beginning. The same images are being repeated again and again in further screens, do they have to be cited each time?

Heather McReynolds 12 April 2018 - 16:58

Hi Rati, I see your point. Cite first time and include full reference on sources page with number you can reference throughout...

Zari Etemadi 16 April 2018 - 08:39

Hi Heather,
One of my students is interested in using animation works to compare for his CS. I want to know how he should analyse different frames and movements. Thank yo so much for your help.

Heather McReynolds 17 April 2018 - 20:15

Consider animation as an art form and try to direct him towards visual analysis just as you would in another art form...composition, color, line, shape, movement, pattern... looking both at individual frames and the overall animation

Chrissa Dres 16 April 2018 - 17:15

Hi Heather,
How many years apart (min) should selected artworks need to be....., or it doesn't matter? I have a student who is interested in artworks that have 10-20 years apart, all from differing cultures though. Many thanks.

Heather McReynolds 17 April 2018 - 20:16

no specification but we can presume that different eras or different cultures make stronger contrasts. If the works are from different cultures same time frame is fine.

Stephen Kos 17 April 2018 - 01:50

Hi Heather
I have a couple of 'those anime kids' in my grade eleven class now, and I'm trying to explain that they need to be looking at art instead of just illustrations of cartoon characters. Am I correct in this? One wanted to do a landscape done by a computer artist who works in recent animated films, and I am leaning towards discouraging her. please advise. Thanks

Heather McReynolds 17 April 2018 - 20:17

I always say to students, " is there published material on this artist for your bibiography?" that helps discourage the use of lesser known or perhaps dubious sources.... use your professional judgement ;)

Chrissa Dres 18 April 2018 - 08:22

Many thanks Heather!

Tim Danby 26 April 2018 - 16:02

We have a highly able student with a possible 7 in Ex and 6 in PP,who has handed in a disastrous Comp Study which we reckon would be a high 2 or low 3. If she scores so low in the CS does she fail the course, or does it simply lower her grade to a high 5 .

Heather McReynolds 26 April 2018 - 16:08

the 3 marks are combined to produce an overall visual arts mark so she wont fail ;)

Tim Danby 26 April 2018 - 16:26

Thats very reassuring, much appreciated! thanks Heather

Karen Teal 4 May 2018 - 09:31

Hi Heather
I have a student who wants to compare the work of an instagram photographer to the neon work of Bruce Nauman (we went to his very big exhibition here in Basel) who also has exhibitions and exhibited at Art Basel not just using instagram............should I discourage her because of the instagram connections or should we be looking at the new technology and wider field of work not just in galleries? Thanks for your help. Karen

Heather McReynolds 4 May 2018 - 10:11

Personally i think this could be interesting, and relevant, as long as it is solidly grounded in the work of a "known" artist such as Nauman, with sources to back it up.

Karen Teal 4 May 2018 - 10:40

Thank you you can imagine I do not want to discourage her as she is a very good student...........she saw the Nauman exhibition so I will encourage her to use 2 of his works and one of the instagram artist therefore having a very solid base of Nauman.......much appreciated thank you for your time Heather.

Zac Holte 15 May 2018 - 20:43

Hi Heather, I have some students that keep finding artists based in New York and these artists have been there for a big part of their lives but are from elsewhere around the world. How big does the cultural context gap between artists have to be?

Heather McReynolds 16 May 2018 - 20:23

Zac, very relevant and important question...This is the global art world we live in today! I would tell students to explain the cultural context/background of the artist and this should be sufficient to justify a comparison. the point is not to compare artworks from the same contextual background. Other option is to introduce another art work form a different geographical cultural area or time period.

Zac Holte 21 May 2018 - 17:28

Thank you Heather, I appreciate it!

Zac Holte 21 May 2018 - 17:30

Hi Heather, another question.. Can a student use an anonymous Greek hero sculpture to compare to artwork of graphic novel heros? Or do all artworks need to be attributed to an artist? Thanks

Heather McReynolds 21 May 2018 - 19:02

Zac, since the Cs essentially compares ARTWORKS not artists, anonymous works are perfectly acceptable, it is the context and cultural background and formal analysis that matters.

Zac Holte 24 May 2018 - 20:39

Thanks Heather, my student was so happy because he keeps finding similarities between the artworks

Karen Teal 18 May 2018 - 06:52

Hi Heather - thank you for your wonderful advice and support to us all...........I have a student who is interested in looking at language and words in art and is interested in using pieces of work from Ben Vautier a Swiss artist and Robert Montgomery a British artist the pieces are 2016 and 2010 - is this enough of a cultural gap, an year gap?

Heather McReynolds 18 May 2018 - 13:08

Thank you Karen, very kind of you. I think those artworks ( remember its the work not the artist) can be considered form different cultures, the important thing is to place each work within a specific cultural context with its own influences and show how this impacts the artwork under discussion.

Amanda Mackenzie 22 May 2018 - 08:50

Hi Heather - I wonder if you could clarify for myself and my students a couple of points re the cultural significance criteria in the comparative study

1. If minimal information can be found through research on an artwork can students incorporate and base their analysis of the cultural context /influences of an artwork on their own understanding/opinion? E.g. I assume that since Nobuhiro Nakanishi is from Japan, his works are influenced by the Japanese values of nature.

2. Can cultural influences be a factor which influenced the artist in general (i.e. all his/her works), or must the influence be for the certain piece of artwork being analysed?

Also, can cultural influences be a factor influenced by the artist, or must the influence be from the artwork being analysed? E.g. Serra had influenced the emergence of the Process art movement, however, Snake may not be the main factor which influenced this movement as Snake was constructed a few decades after this movement.
I hope this makes sense
Thank you!

Heather McReynolds 22 May 2018 - 14:09

Hi Amanda,
1. yes, as long as there is some research to support opinion, not pure invention.
2.the cultural influence should refer to the specific artwork
3. if student needs to refer to an additional piece by the same artist as an extra reference this is fine, there is no maximum number of artworks, in the case of Serra student could include an earlier piece as well.
Hope this clarifies your questions!

Ann Forget 30 May 2018 - 19:12

Hi Heather,
Looking at the students samples I do not see each image labeled with aritist, title and date is this optional?
Thank you,

Heather McReynolds 30 May 2018 - 20:30

Hi Ann, each image should be cited and all sources listed on sources page. Some of the samples are from the first year of new assessment and may not be fully cited. See

Anna Philipp 4 June 2018 - 10:20

Hi Heather,
one of my SL students would like to compare three different architectural projects, focusing on the different amount of participation by the inhabitants in the planning process. Is this a suitable theme for the CS, or is (formal) analysis of architecture off limits?

Heather McReynolds 9 June 2018 - 17:34

Anna, not sure what you mean by "focusing on the participation"- the theme is suitable, architecture is fine, just be sure they come from contrasting cultural contexts and the criteria are met.

Lee Hedges 6 June 2018 - 12:09

Can anyone tell me if you can look a film as a selected work for the comparative study?

Thanks in advance

Heather McReynolds 9 June 2018 - 17:35

Dear Lee, same as in previous comments. Make sure each criteria can be addressed for the chosen artworks/ films in this case.

Amanda Mackenzie 14 June 2018 - 03:34

hi heather
is there any requirement for the page sizes for the comparative study slides?

Heather McReynolds 15 June 2018 - 14:16

Hi Amanda, no, just font size should not be less than 12 pt, for easy legibility on screen, if using scanned pages try not to crowd too much onto one screen that it becomes difficult for the examiner to read.

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