My year 2 students are in the process of finalizing their Comparative Study and my year 1 students are undertaking a ‘mini’ Comparative Study to introduce them to some of the important concepts and ideas.

Here are six things I’m emphasizing to both groups.

1 Know what the examiner wants!

Do you know what the assessment criteria are? It will really help the structure and content of your comparative study if you become familiar with the things the examiner is looking for.

If you are unsure of the criteria and descriptors, ask your teacher!


2 Introduce it!

It’s helpful if you give both the Process Portfolio and the Comparative Study examiners a heads-up at the start of the document about what’s to come – i.e. an introduction. So at the start of the comparative study say what artworks you will be discussing and why you chose them.

Remember, you are comparing artworks not artists.


starry3 The Selection Process (“Liking” is not enough)

One of my students says she ‘likes’ five completely different artworks.

(I suspect she spent a few minutes on Google before coming up with these names)

She likes artworks by Banksy, Van Gogh, Jeff Koons, Bob Ross and Michelangelo.


banksyI’m a little worried by this.


OK, the artists and the artworks certainly come from different times and cultures.


But they are so different and have such different functions/purposes that it’s hard to see much that connects them or that is useful to the study in this context.

Also, five is too many, which can affect the depth of the analysis.

Also, Van Gogh (yes it was “Starry Night”) and Banksy are both very popular choices. I bet hundreds of students will write about work from these two, with something by Andy Warhol (probably “Marilyn”) being another predictable and familiar choice.


So I’m going to strongly “encourage” her to make a new selection, avoiding the stereotypical and the obvious and also not just making seemingly random choices, and limiting it to three.


Please discuss your choice of artworks with your teacher!

*The images have been included because they are by well-known artists. Comparative Study examiners will see student studies of many artworks created by these artists. Of course, the work may be excellent, but its good to at least consider avoiding predictable artworks when making your choice!



4 Description is easy, effective analysis is not

You are going to have to talk about each piece, but just telling me (or the examiner) what I can already see is not really going to impress either of us.

A simple description of the artworks is unlikely to contribute to the marks, whereas “effective analysis” of the art works will.

In fact weaker students tend to describe – rather than analyse – throughout the essay.

Examiners who find themselves reading biographical details of artists’ lives, and/or background (and irrelevant) information about Impressionism, World War 1, etc. are likely to question your understanding of the objectives of the Comparative Study.

Sometimes these extra details etc do relate to the artworks and the comparative study, providing, for instance, important contextual information. But if they do not really relate to any of the criteria, forget it. Focus on the artworks!


5 HL connections with what you make

The clue here is the word “connections”. OK, you may have been generally inspired by some elements of the art researched and the resulting artwork could be great, but don’t forget or minimize this link. It’s important: analyse and evaluate the extent to which your own art-making and pieces have been influenced by the things you examined in the comparative study.


6 Show me

Visual Arts examiners like to see pictures. When they get together, they spend a lot of time talking about art and showing images of art to each other. Some of the time, of course, this is due to the nature of the job – being an examiner.

But they are visual people and they go on doing it, at meal times, in the evenings, in the pub etc.

So make them happy. Don’t just write about your art-making, SHOW THEM – include illustrations that clearly demonstrate the way in which at least one of the artworks you selected has informed your art-making.



  • S.Zaza
    February 18, 2017

    Hi Andrew,

    My students and I are wondering about the citing of their own images… If the CS (and PP) are to be uploaded without the students’ names on it for the sake of anonymity, how should they caption and cite their own artwork and any photos of artwork seen in person that they have taken?


    • Andrew Vaughan
      February 19, 2017

      Hi S. Zaza,
      Something like “artwork made (or photograph taken) by candidate.”

  • Nia Hills
    October 5, 2017

    Dear Sir,
    I have an idea for my comparative study but I am in a dilemma. I want to include:
    1. A painting of Mary the Virgin and Jesus by Donatello
    2. A painting from Bhagavad Geeta(the religious book of the Hindus)
    3. A fantasy painting

    -I feel like this could be an interesting comparison, but the two look very different(Madonna of the Clouds is a relief sculpture with no colours and the Hindu painting is very colourful).
    -I am worried that the examiner may be displeased by a comparison of religious artworks
    I would be really glad if you gave me some opinions.
    Thank you!

    • Andrew Vaughan
      October 5, 2017

      Dear Nia,
      If you are a visual arts student I encourage you to discuss this question with your art teacher.
      However, in the meantime, yes, your choices would make for an interesting comparison, and please don’t worry about the examiner being displeased by a comparison of religious artworks.
      Religion has been a source of inspiration for artists/art-making for centuries, and the examiner will be interested in the points you make.
      The examiner will also be interested in why you have chosen these artworks, so don’t forget to explain the reasons for your artwork selection in the introduction.
      I hope this helps.

  • Lan
    December 26, 2017

    New IB art teacher worried about one student’s selection:

    Her artwork is on lucid dreaming and its affects on the mind and body. I have been searching for advice on whether or not the selections work together. So far, people have been about it working. I can see the connection between skin tones, but that’s about it.

    What’s your opinion?

    • Andrew Vaughan
      December 27, 2017

      Hi Lan,
      The artworks can work together, assuming they are all “researchable”?
      I recognize the Jenny Saville painting but not the other two. For each artwork students should consider the role of the artist, the artwork, the audience and the cultural context. Are the other two artworks by artists whose intentions, audience reaction, cultural context etc can be found? Are the artworks from differing cultural contexts with at least two by different artists?
      Also has the student seen any of these in ‘real life’? For example, in a gallery? That can be very instructive.

      If all of this information can be found then there is a reasonable basis for a successful Comparative Study.


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