In recent blogs I have focused on the Exhibition with particular reference to the things I’d seen (i.e. files submitted) as an examiner.

  • If interested please check out these recent blogs:

1 (June) Visual Arts Exhibition Issues

2 (July) Exhibition issues (part 2)

3 (August) Exhibition issues (part 3)


But today I am posting about the Comparative Study.

I was fortunate to be able attend the June Grade Award meeting at the IB assessment centre, and while there was able to engage in conversation with senior examiners in all three visual arts components.

Much of the conversation revolved around the kind of work being uploaded. Of course these issues will form and contribute to important parts of the Subject Report, but in the meantime here are some thoughts relating to four areas as described to me in informal conversations in Cardiff –

Statue_of_Liberty_-_USA_crop1 DESCRIPTION VS ANALYSIS

One thing that comparative study examiners brought up related to the balance between description, research and analysis: a number of studies were primarily descriptive, with little analysis.

It is relatively easy to simply describe what you see, and a number of students spent a little too much time in their comparative studies doing exactly that.

Informed analysis by its nature takes more time, thought and research. The stronger examples of Comparative Studies showed that the authors of these files could successfully use subject-specific language to demonstrate strong analytical skills.


Similarly, it’s relatively easy to give an opinion, and again, a number of students felt that their opinion was important. In some cases this opinion seemed superficial and casual.

  • Students are not asked to give their opinion.
  • Students are asked to analyse formal qualities, interpret function and purpose, evaluate cultural significance and make comparisons and connections. At HL they are also asked to make connections to their own art-making.
  • If students do give their opinion, they need to show that it has been informed by the results of you research!


One examiner felt that some choices of artworks appeared random: the selected artworks seemed almost accidental.



For example, one student compared a couple of 19th century statues by Bartholdi (Lion and the Statue of Liberty), Stella’s “Brooklyn Bridge” (1919-1920, Yale University Art Gallery) and a 15th century Chinese handscrolll painting (from the New York Metropolitan Museum).

On one level, this choice has some elements in its favour, because (apart possibly from the Statue of Liberty) these artworks are not obvious or stereotypical.

Too often students simply select well-known artworks from the most well-known (Western, male, dead) artists: this implies a rather lazy response to this component. In some cases the choice of artworks was predictable and narrow, with many works from the ‘obvious’ artists being frequently discussed (e.g. Warhol, Picasso, Dali and van Gogh). The example of 4 disparate artworks is at one extreme of the ‘choice issue’ – they represent an unusual selection.



On the other hand these four artworks have almost nothing in common. There are some 19th – 20th century French-American links, and the student who chose them obviously (? presumably) decided that there would be a lot to write about, but let’s be clear – the choice of art works is important in achieving a meaningful comparison.

Diversity is not necessarily a good thing, although if the student can identify implicit and creative links that somehow weave the selection together – and also meet the assessment criteria – it could still lead to a successful CS.

Students should choose their artworks with care: a thoughtful, considered and creative selection of artworks/artefact can make the difference between a great and an average comparative study

See Comparative Study thoughts – will you have a theme? (May 2015)



Some studies relied too much on charts, tables, grids and Venn diagrams.

A more effective approach would be to provide a thoughtful juxtaposition of ideas, techniques and styles through image and word.

Also many students simply listed ‘similarities and differences’ (often repeating earlier information) when comparing.

A more thoughtful approach would be to synthesize the research into meaningful connections and present the results in a more considered form.




  • Nathalie Jimenez
    September 16, 2016


    I’m an IB 2 student and just finished my comparative study this week. However, an issue that has crossed my mind is that the 3 artworks I have chosen may be too similar to each other in regards to the culture that influenced their pieces and the mediums they used to create them. Thus, my question would be “To what extend do the 3 artworks have to contrast each other within the CS and in your mind when would these choices pass the limit of “too similar?”.

    Thank you!

    • Andrew Vaughan
      September 17, 2016

      Hi Nathalie,
      You ask “To what extend do the 3 artworks have to contrast each other within the CS and in your mind when would these choices pass the limit of “too similar?”

      There is a phrase that is repeated in criteria A, B and C – “candidates who do not examine and compare at least 3 artworks by at least 2 different artists will not be awarded a mark higher than 3 in this criterion”.
      So I would be very careful about looking at works that might be considered “too similar”. My advice would be to analyse and compare works that do not make the examiner even consider this option.

      However, it’s possible to include works from within a similar time frame or cultural tradition provided that there is depth to the consideration of how each work is seen within the different cultural contexts in which they were created.

      So if the quality and depth of your explanation of the differences justifies the selection in the eyes of the examiner (and of course the assessment criteria) then the works can be from within a similar time frame or cultural tradition.

      Please discuss this issue with your teacher who will be familiar with your choices and the development and content of your comparative study.


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