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

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