The COMPARATIVE STUDY is an independent critical and contextual investigation that explores artworks, objects and artifacts from differing cultural contexts.  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 must examine and compare at least 3 artworks.  At least 2 of the artworks need to be by different artists from different cultures.  The work for comparison should come from contrasting contexts (local, national, international and/or intercultural).

In my class, we begin our CS during year one. We choose our artists and develop our investigation screens (formal analysis, function and purpose, culture and conceptual, similarities and differences.) We choose artists/artworks that inspire us, so during our second year, when we focus more strongly on making art, we are able to use our artworks to reflect on the artist’s inspirations in all facets of our artmaking (creating our HL reflective screens)

Get Access to all Examples of 7

For a one time fee, I will send you the password to access all of my examples of 7. Email me for more information.


Click here for our examples of 7


You are able to organize the CS however you would like, but in my class, we have found the logical (easiest) way to be the most successful

So, consider the main components of your CS should be:

The Comparative Study should not take 2 years to complete – it is only 20% of your IB mark.  However, it should inform many of your artworks, particularly if you are in HL, and it helps in your PP development.  So if you can, do it earlier than later.  And if you are organized you could complete it within 2 months.  To do so, prepare yourself well.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Take a look at the rubric for the CS and become familiar with what IB is looking for.

NOTE: For the 7, the IB is looking for a consistent, insightful and informed identification and analysis and thorough evaluation that shows a thorough understanding. Of course, each component has more specific details, but generally, there is no specific checklist. So you can present your information however you want. But make sure you are analysing and evaluating your observations and that all of your screens are consistently strong.


First, choose 2 (or 3) artists that you are interested in from different cultural backgrounds.  It would be good if you have already studied them and/or are planning on using them for inspiration. 

Then choose 3 artworks (You can choose 3 artists/3 artworks or 2 artists/3 artworks) These artworks have to be able to be compared –  choose a theme or a visual idea that you can compare.  (If you choose 3 artworks, there will be one artwork per artist)


**NOTE: Choose artworks/artists that you can find enough information on – as this is a research activity. This is an activity, not your final say in art, so don’t be stubborn and make your life hard by choosing that one artist you found that one time on insta but you think it will be perfect. IB isn’t assessing you on how obscure your art choices are, you are assessed on your skills in art analysis and comparative observations. Many people also get intense about not choosing ‘old dead white guys’. And yes, some artworks can get very cliche. And your knowledge and/or maturity is very obvious from what artworks you choose. So, please don’t use Van Gogh’s Sunflowers or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. But I do encourage my students to choose ‘one dead, one new, one foreign’. And then I also encourage my students to choose artworks that visually can be related – to give them more meat to compare. So either choose your artworks based on a theme, or a visual image… something that connects…

For help….


Research each artist and the possible conceptual and cultural inspirations of their life/artworks. Use McFee’s Conceptual Framework as a guide.  You can literally copy the table below to your own pages and use it.  Or create notes in your own style.

REMEMBER TO SOURCE!!!  If you are taking information from the internet, a good rule of thumb is to immediately copy the URL and insert it directly under the information.  You can use the URL at a later date to gather further information to create your list of sources.

To go above and beyond – find articles written by art critics and author’s about the artist and their work – that support your research – that you can quote.  This will add maturity and further relevance to your claims.



In my class, we found using  Feldman’s Approach as a guide was the best starting block.  You can literally copy the questions below to your own pages to guide you.

For our Formal Analysis screens, we added more visual descriptions of our analysis and broke down the analysis part to make it easier for the examiner to read key points.



In my classes, students can choose between PPT or Keynote to make your CS.   (Keynote is my favourite as it gives an editing capability (and we are a MAC school)). I created this keynote to help guide my students to organize their work. Hopefully, the following breakdown will give you a good start at setting up your CS. 


The most successful strategy is to choose the EOA/POD that are most prevalent in the artwork and use them as subheadings – discuss specifically how they are being used by the artist in the artwork.

Use a digital editor  (such as Photoshop) to visualize your observations – break up parts of the image to show focus, draw the lines you are discussing over the image, create a color scheme, etc.

If you already used Feldman’s Analysis in the beginning to organize your thoughts – this is where you would use that information.  If you haven’t already… get ready to do it now….

For further emphasis, bold your Art words.


Function and Purpose can get a bit confusing.  But how I explain it to my students, is the function is what the artwork is meant for.  The original function can be – like is it a painting made to stand  behind an altar in a church?  Or is it a sculpture in the middle of a lake?  The purpose is more about why did the artist make it?  Was it a commission (so  there is the buyer’s purpose and perhaps the artist added his/her own purpose?) What was the story s/he was trying to tell? What issue/idea was the artist commenting on?

This gets slightly more confusing/indepth if you choose older artworks- as they would have their original function and purpose – but this may have changed over the years.  And that can get interesting if you trace various functions throughout the years.

You might also want to consider the function and purpose from the perspective of the audience – or purchaser of the work? Where was it intended to go?  Why?  And this also changes.

If you used McFee’s Framework chart in the beginning to organize your research, you can combine your Function andPurpose and Cultural/Conceptual onto one screen.   If the chart is done well  (with specific information) it should cover both.

However, it’s also fine to create separate screens – this makes the information much more obvious for the examiner – and gives you more room to explain your research/opinions.

Some questions to consider:

  • Why was the artwork made?   
  • What was the artist’s original intentions?   Did the intentions change/evolve?
  • What story was the artist trying to tell?
  • What events happened in the artist’s life to make him/her want to create this artwork?
  • Was the artist reacting to something?
  • Who is the artist influenced/inspired by?
  • Do cultural beliefs/religion/time/location affect the artist’s work? How?
  • Why did the artist choose the specific mediums?  
  • What does the artist think of his/her own work?  

NOTE: It will be helpful for you to research your specific artwork and see if you can find information of the artist him/herself discussing the specific artwork.

  • What was the artist’s own opinion of the work? 
  • Where did s/he struggle?  
  • What was the artist’s opinion of the reception that the work received after s/he was finished? 
  • function


To understand Cultural and Conceptual – it’s more about looking at influences on the artist that can be realised in the artwork. Cultural obviously is a bit easier to explore, starting with where the artist is from and/or where they are working/creating the work. What country/religion/culture morays may affect their work? What materials are available for them to use at the time the artwork is created? What is the artist’s feelings/thoughts/biases about the country/religion/culture that surrounds them…

For conceptual, try to understand the story of the artwork.  It might seem like a simple landscape, but if you consider that the artist chose to create that specific scene, choosing to create objects various sizes/colours/etc.. then it should become more clear that there is a story that the artist is trying to tell.  Objects can also be considered symbols representing other ideas (that the artist intended, or the audience interprets)

Some questions to consider:

  • What location is the artist when s/he created the artwork?  
  • What is happening there? 
  • What is the culture of that location? 
  • What culture is affecting the artwork?
  • Could it affect the artwork?  How? Why?
  • What year is the artwork created? 
  • What is happening in that year? In the location of the artist? In the world?  
  • Could it affect the artwork? How? Why? 
  • What is the artist’s background? 
  • Family life? 
  • Major trauma and/or happiness in life?  
  • Does it affect the artwork? How? Why?
  • What art styles and/or groups does the artist/artwork belong to?
  • Who/what influences the artist/artwork?
  • Is the artwork in response to an event/idea/another artwork?
  • Is the artwork a cause of an event/idea/another artwork?
  • Does the artist use any symbolism in the work?  
  • Is there a larger concept that is relevant in the work? 
  • Does the artwork tell a story that is not clearly obvious to the viewer?
  • What is the audience’s response to the artwork?
  • Are there different ways the artwork can be interpreted based on differences of race, religion, beliefs, values, etc?

NOTE: It will be helpful for you to research your specific artwork and see if you can find information of from art critics and/or analysts discussing the impact of the artwork.

For this section you may want to add further images of cultural events, people and/or places that you are discussing to give context. 


It’s usually easiest to start your comparison section by a Venn Diagram.  This shows an easy visual that you have considered the similarities and differences between artworks.

Next, with the following screens, choose something that is prominent in each artwork that you can discuss in terms of similarities and differences.

Some ideas are to:

  •  1. Compare the cultural contexts of the work, how are they shaped by their culture and time?
  • 2. Compare the formal qualities, how are they similar, how do they differ?
  • 3. Compare the content, motifs, signs, symbols…how is meaning communicated?
  • 4. Compare the material and conceptual significance, how is this related to cultural context?


The work analyses and reflects upon the outcomes of the investigation consistently and appropriately.  The student effectively considers their own development, making informed and meaningful connections to their own art-making practice.

The wording of the rubric for the Reflective Screens is rather vague – and can be presented anyway that you would like, but essentially, the examiners are looking for detailed ways throughout your investigation that you have analysed and reflected upon the work of your artist.  They do not want you to compare your work to the artists nor merely copy the final work.  It is expected that it is more entwined and embedded.

Think about your art process – how were you inspired by the ideas of the artists from your CS?

Included photos of the artist’s work and explain what they did and how you learnt from it or what parts you took from their process in your work.   Try to use ideas from the artists throughout the process.

  • How did the artist’s idea inspire your initial ideas?
  • Is there knowledge that the artist talks about that you relate to?
  • What was the artist’s process? Where did s/he get his/her ideas?  How are they similar to yours?
    What techniques did the artist use in the development stage that you used?
  • How does the artist view the world? Did you try to view your world in the same way?
    What techniques does the artist use in his/her works that you used?
  • What EOA and POD does the artist use that you used – did you use the same colour scheme? Texture? Contrast? Use of lines? Exaggeration? Juxtaposition?

Obviously the more similarities and connections you can make to all your artists, the stronger your reflection will be…