Choose Wisely.

First of all – you decide your TOPIC.  Your topic can be relatively broad – ‘Nature in Art’, ‘Feminism in Post Modern Art’  ‘Trauma as Inspiration’  ‘Modern Chair Design’  ‘The Little Black Dress’  

Under the Art umbrella – you can look at fine arts, graphic design, architecture, furniture design, antiquities….etc…..etc…… 

The EE topic may relate to an area of the Diploma Programme visual arts course, but students can also choose to explore other areas of the subject. Crucially, the topic must reflect their particular interest and enthusiasm within the visual arts. 

Sources of ideas may include: 

  • the student’s own art-making processes and resolved pieces 
  • the student’s visual arts journal. 

Topics to avoid 

  • A topic that a student can answer by summarizing general secondary sources, such as universal art history textbooks and encyclopedias. 
  • A topic that is likely to lead to an EE that is essentially narrative or descriptive in nature, such as one that covers many aspects of art history or particularly long periods of time. 
  • Biographical studies of artists—unless they address a specific research question so that the student can arrive at a particular, and preferably personal, conclusion. 
Visual arts and other subjects 

The topic must relate directly to the visual arts. Students may find that they need to submit their essay under another subject. For example: 

  • Essays on “green” architecture that focus on technology rather than esthetic considerations would be better submitted under environmental systems and societies. 
  • Essays about film that do not focus on the visual aspects probably belong under film studies. 


Be careful and smart with your choice – make sure you choose artists/artwork that you can find enough resources on.  You will need a large amount of research – articles, books, websites, magazines.   


It is (*strongly*) encouraged that you are able to visit artworks that you have chosen and interview the artists.  If you can’t interview/visit  all of them – make sure you choose at least one that you will be able to have some contact with. This is important both in your writing of the EE – but also more so in your RPPF.    


Keep in mind, you will need images – both an image of the artwork you chose and other artworks that have an impact/inspire the works – so make sure you choose a topic/question that you can find good images for.


Once you have chosen your topic, you must frame a focused research question. Try to be as specific as possible.

For an Art RESEARCH QUESTION (RQ) – it has to be very specific.  Ideally, you want to compare three artworks under a very specific lens.    

TOPIC: I.M Pei’s Design of the Suzhou Museum 

RQ: How is I.M. Pei combining elements of ancient and modern design and creating harmony with the environment in his design of the Suzhou Museum to create a new understanding of architecture? 

TOPIC: Analysis of the Dinner Party 

RQ: How does the material, method and technique used by Judy Chicago in ‘The Dinner Party’ work to celebrate women? 

TOPIC: Surrealism and the Spanish War 

RQ: How did cultural and political context of Spanish Civil War influence the Surrealist artworks of Guernica(1937) and The Face of War(1940) by Salvador Dali and Still Life with Old Shoe (1937) and The Escape Ladder (1940) by Joan Miro? 

TOPIC: Natural Influences in Architecture 

RQ: To what extent have nature and organic forms influenced architectural designs of the Bird’s Nest (Beijing, China), TWA Terminal (Jamaica, NY, USA) and World Trade Centre Transportation Hub (New York, NY, USA) 

The connection between the research question and the visual arts should be more than just incidental. Otherwise, students risk introducing material that is of marginal relevance, will confuse their inquiry and weaken their argument. 

It is the task of the supervisor to ensure that the question: 

  • can be answered using artistic sources available to the student 
  • will encourage and enable the student to apply relevant art theory or concepts 
  • allows a systematic investigation that demonstrates critical artistic analysis and detailed understanding. 

Students should be encouraged to formulate a research question of personal interest and to draw on a variety of sources to support their arguments. They should also be helped to identify and choose appropriate sources, both primary and secondary, and appropriate methods of research. 

In some instances, it may become clear at an early stage in the research that too few sources are available to permit such an investigation. In such cases, students should change their focus. 

Once they have their research question, students should make a research plan. The plan should be flexible enough to allow the students to explore the topic in a creative manner. They should not be afraid to take risks throughout the research process: originality is encouraged, as is the use of a number of different research models. 

It is vital that the methodology of the EE is tailored to the research question and allows for an in-depth exploration. 

Many different approaches to the research question can be appropriate, for instance: 

  • use of primary sources (artworks and artists) and secondary sources (material about the visual arts) in order to establish and appraise varying interpretations 
  • analysing secondary sources in order to explore and explain particular aspects of the visual arts 
  • using primary source material for analysis, with emphasis on a particular aspect of visual arts 
  • collecting and analysing reproductions of artworks, possibly leading to a comparison of similar or different images. 

Students should also demonstrate awareness of other issues surrounding the artworks studied. 

  • Do I show an awareness of the value and limitations of the art I am studying through analysing its origin and purpose? 
  • Do I show a consistently good artistic understanding in setting the research question into context and addressing it fully and effectively? 

Relevant outcomes of this analysis should be integrated into a well-substantiated argument. 

  • With what evidence do I support my comments and conclusions? 
  • Is this evidence relevant and well founded, and not based simply on my preconceptions? 

The emphasis of the EE should always be on written analysis, interpretation, evaluation and the construction and development of a sound argument. 

Visual reference material 

The inclusion and discussion of appropriate visual reference material is mandatory. Such material must, however, be directly supportive of, and relevant to, the analysis or argument. Images should be appropriately presented and acknowledged and should appear in the body of the essay, as close as possible to the first reference. 

In order to promote personal involvement in the EE, the use of local and primary sources should be encouraged wherever possible. Where students do not have access to primary sources they may rely on high-quality reproductions or images of sources. 

Students are expected to evaluate critically the resources consulted during the process of writing the EE by asking themselves the following questions. 

  • Which sources are vital to the support of my ideas, opinions and assertions? 
  • Which sources do not contribute to the analysis? 

Finally, an EE in visual arts is a formal essay, so students must pay careful attention to the requirements of the assessment criteria. Frequent reference to the assessment criteria by both the supervisor and the student will help keep a sharper focus on the project.