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 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 specific guidelines and useful tips.

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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Comments 47

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?

Nanda Das 1 August 2017 - 15:27

Thank you Heather, If you please clear a bit more about - " help her to find a relevant comparison with the two designers ". Did you mean that any influence, link or connection of fine art on the two Fashion Designers.

Heather McReynolds 1 August 2017 - 19:08

Hi Nanda, yes, this could be a a similar period or a stylistic influence, on both or one of the two designers. I think this will give it some gravitas.

Joanna Blake 23 August 2017 - 06:33

Hi. Can a student use a film as an 'artist' and use stills from the film as the image?

Heather McReynolds 24 August 2017 - 14:30

Hi Joanna, its artworks not artists that are compared, and this supposedly includes broader visual culture... I would give the same advice as I did to Nanda ( see previous comments) and compare the film stills to more traditional examples from art history

Stalina Arnold 4 September 2017 - 21:42

Hi Heather,
My student is working on her piece for comparative study. As far as I understood, later this piece of artwork can be a part of her exhibition. Is this correct?

Heather McReynolds 5 September 2017 - 15:17

Hi Stalina, it can be, yes. The idea is not necc to make work "for" the CS, but to make connections with students currently developing work. However you can do it the the other way around too, making work in relation to the CS pieces. I find it helpful to choose artworks that relate to /inform the students own artistic interests, then the comparison is easy.

Phil Simmonds 11 September 2017 - 09:31

Nice to see my Pinterest board gets a mention. I think an acknowledgement would have been welcome. Not sure about the ethical issues here. My school is paying for access to a board I created!

Heather McReynolds 13 September 2017 - 12:28

Hi Phil, so sorry I thought it was clear that it was yours as soon as you click on it, Ive added your name now to the link, my sincere apologies, and thank you for this nice resource, but if you prefer i will remove it altogether.

Phil Simmonds 13 September 2017 - 16:41

Apology accepted. Leave it there.

Stalina Arnold 12 September 2017 - 19:26

Hi Heather,
I have a question regarding referencing the works in the CS. I see on some examples presented in your guide 'Visual Arts for the IB Diploma' that images are referenced directly on the screens and some are not. I am not sure why. For instance, on the page 169 the images do not have any referencing apart from the name of the artist, whereas the image on the page 171 is presented with full reference.
I understand that one needs to present a full bibliography with a list of sources and used materials as a separate document.
Can the images in the body of the CS have just a number next to them and the complete reference being done later in the bibliography.
I hope I could explain my question in a clear way.
Thank you.

Heather McReynolds 13 September 2017 - 12:31

Hi Stalina, there are different ways of approaching referencing in the CS, in text citations or numbered footnotes that are fully referenced on the sources page. I always suggest including image labels with each image that tell the reader ( examiner) the name of the piece, the artist and date at least, with full reference in sources page.

Kathleen Hall 14 September 2017 - 10:23

Hi Heather I have a student who has studied, and is greatly influenced by Rene Magritte and Georgio di Chirico. They are both surrealist artists but from different countries. Are they too closely related to fit the criteria of "different cultural backgrounds" for the CS? Thanks kindly, Kathleen

Heather McReynolds 14 September 2017 - 20:18

Kathleen, not in my opinion, they are even from different countries...he should clearly highlight the differences in their cultural backgrounds

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

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