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 with visual and written content. It 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 slides
HL 10-15 slides + 3-5 slides 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)

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, which can be either either formal or conceptual, or both. See Choosing Art Works to Compare 

Note: Comparisons do not neccessarily need to be as visually similar as the Matisse/ Diebenkorn selection here, which i chose for the very evident formal similarities for easy visual analysis. 


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

The page Skills for CS has suggestions for teachers on how to build up to the CS gradually through a series of guided comparisons, and Timetabling the CS 

Helpful pages on The Formal Elements include introducing Visual Analysis to students, Visual Analysis teacher notes, understanding the difference between Analysis vs. Description, Visual Analysis 3D forms 

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. A Museum visit can be an excellent starting point for a 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 Compare and Contrast  ......... 6 points
E Presentation and Format and subject specific language..6 Points
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 simplified 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.

Related site pages

CS Guiding Template

In response to teacher requests I have created a basic power point template for the digital presentation of the Comparative Study. The slideshow has instructions for content on each screen addressing...

The Formal Elements

The formal elements are an fundamental part of visual analysis Use this page when your students are analyzing an artwork, for example in the CS, and they need to refer specifically to the formal elements.

Presentation and Format CS

Your presentation should be visually engaging, interesting to look at, and easy to read. The Comparative Study is not an essay. It is a visual presentation that balances written and visual content; it...

CS, HL Connections

Higher Level students have an extra requirement for The Comparative Study ... criterion F, which gives context to their own work in relation to the artwork studied, by making meaningful connections.

LESSON: Choosing Art Works to Compare

A great Comparative Study starts with a great selection of pieces. Ideally you want to find 3 artworks that you can easily compare and contrast. They should be work that really interests you, makes you...

LESSON: Visual Analysis

This page is part of a new initiative to provide a wide selection of lessons directly for your students. Each lesson page is linked to the teacher page. Use student access tasks to select the page and...

Function and Purpose (B)

one of the assessed criteria, Criterion B. Interpreting Function and Purpose may be new or confusing for some students. This page interprets function and purpose and offers some practical teaching activities.

Some helpful resources for finding artworks using reliable thematic search engines

for a more comprehensive list go to Secondary Sources

also Web Resources Art History and have a look at Phil Simmond's pinterest page on the CS

 For information on assessment, go to these pages

E submission Comparative Study

The externally assessed components, The Comparative Study and the Process Portfolio are digitally uploaded and sent to IBIS where they are assessed by an external examiner.The CS is submitted as a PDF...

CS Assessment Criteria

There are 5 assessed criteria, with the addition of one more for HL (F). These criteria address the areas of learning within this component (part 1 CS) that are expected of the student: critical thinking...

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