Comparative Study

What is due when? Seniors only

Comparative Study Breakdown - What is Due and When?

In the Comparative Study, you are required to analyze and compare artworks, objects, or artifacts by different artists.  The works must be from differing cultural contexts and/or times. Both SL and HL must examine and compare at least three pieces, at least two of which should be by different artist

You will use research and inquiry skills to investigate and interpret the selected pieces. You must support your interpretation with reliable references and resourcesYou MUST include multiple resources (a.k.a books).

Your final Comparative Study will be submitted as a digital slide show of 15 screens at SL and 20 screens at HL.  Complete your screens in PowerPoint and save as a PDF when you are finished. 

Share your Introduction draft to me by 11/16/18 with Google Drive and set up a time to meet with me during none classroom time.  

Break it down into the most simple terms 

Artwork Analysis - Description, elements and principles, and viewer interpretation

Function and Purpose - What was influencing the artist at the time and why did the artist make it? (art movement, political, socioeconomic, etc)

Cultural Significance - Why do we care over time?

Find some sort of common theme between all the artworks

But make sure that the artists and works are from 2 different cultures (and times)

This makes it easy for students to compare and contrast the artists and works 

Could be something simple  - use of the color red, how artists use figures, textiles, etc

Tips From IB

*Your teacher is able to provide suggestions to improve your comparative study on your first draft only. Make sure you submit it on time.

Formatting Your Slides (This is a suggested layout.  Please make changes as needed)

Slide 1: Title Slide

Include images of the artworks, title, 2-3 sentences intro/overview, DO NOT INCLUDE YOUR NAME

Slide 2-3: Analysis of formal qualities of work one What are Formal Qualities?  <<  Here  >>

For this section you must describe the work in detail. What literally is present in the work of art.  

What is the subject matter? Give a detailed explanation of their use of the elements and principles of design in the composition. What makes this work of art unique or different?

What feelings, ideas, or moods does this work communicate to you?  All artwork will convey something.  Support your opinion with examples from the description of the work of art. 

Slide 3-4: Analysis of formal qualities of work two   

Slide 5-6: Analysis of formal qualities of work three

Slide 7-8: Interpretation of Function and Purpose

For this section, you will need to complete some further research into each of the artists and consider their art making in the time and place that it was created.  What function/purpose did it serve?  How did the artist’s time and place affect the artist’s works? 

Slide 9-10: Evaluation of cultural significance 

For this section, you must evaluate the meaning each of the art works within the contexts that they were created. Consider how do the pieces reflect the time and place in which they were created. What was its cultural significance?  

Slide 11-13: Making comparisons and connections

For this section you must draw comparisons and connections between the two artists and their works of art. Be sure to address similarities and differences both aesthetically as well as culturally.  Connections must be logical, coherent, and show a thorough understanding of how the pieces compare. 

Slide 14-18: Making connections to your own art making practice

For this section you must reflect on the investigation and to what extent the artwork(s) have influenced your development as an artist.   Consider making informed and meaningful connections to your own art-making practice.  Include workbook pages, research, and completed works of art and how it was influenced by your course of study.

Slide 19: Bibliography with proper citation

Why assess a comparative study?

Both SL and HL students need to understand the intricate relationship between theory and practice. The course encourages students to critically investigate the work of other artists and allow the work to inform their own art-making practice. This task gives students the opportunity to elaborate, extrapolate and present a comparative study of three works by at least two artists from different cultural contexts that they have investigated as a part of their art-making practice. HL students are further required to articulate the connections between the work examined in the comparative study and their own art-making, giving them the chance to think about how theory is related to practice.

Core syllabus areas related to the task

The following core syllabus areas are addressed in the comparative study assessment task. The term “artworks” is used here generically and could refer to a range of visual and cultural artifacts.

Visual arts in context

Visual arts methods

Communicating visual arts





Damien Hirst (British, b 1965) For the Love of God (2007), platinum cast of human skull encrusted with 8601 flawless diamonds.

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca (Mexica/Mixtec, c. 15–16th century CE) human skull, deer hide, turquoise, black lignite, polished iron pyrite, white conch (Strombus) shell. The nasal cavity is lined with plates of bright red thorny oyster (Spondylus) shell.

Quimbaya Death mask (Colombia:Quimbaya c. CE 600-1100), gold. 

Memento Mori

This presentation focuses on Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007) work and arose from the student’s interest in the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) imagery from Mexico.

Comparisons are made between Hirst’s work and 15–16th century Mixtec Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca as well as the Quimbaya Death mask.

The student considers the prevalence of imagery of death across the cultures, considering the function and significance.

The student considers the juxtaposition of precious elements with morbidity. 


Jean-Michel Basquiat (Haitian-American 1960–1988) Irony of Negro Policeman (1981) acrylic and crayon on canvas, 183 × 122 cm.

Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990) Untitled (mural in the cafeteria of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium, 1987), mural.

Banksy (British, unknown) Untitled (Keith Haring tribute, The Grange, Bermondsey, London). Street graffiti, spray enamel via stenciling. 

Crime to Commodity

The student was interested in graffiti/street art and was posing questions through their own work about the definition of art versus vandalism.

To broaden the field of the student’s investigation, the teacher directed the student to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, both of whom were in the graffiti scene before transitioning to the status of respected visual artists.

The student explores the cultural context of the world in which each of the artists worked/work and the significance of the political commentary in the work.

The student was particularly pleased to find a Bansky image that paid homage to Keith Haring. 


Andres Serrano (American, born 1950) Piss Christ (1987) photograph of a small plastic crucifix submerged in what the artist has described as being his own urine in a glass.

David Černý (Czech, born 1967) Shark (2005), life-like replica of a bound Saddam Hussein in a parody of the glass tank of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

Bill Henson (Australian, born 1955), Untitled #38, 2005/06, type C photograph, 127 × 180 cm, edition of 5 + 2 A/Ps. 

The Genius of Offense

Following a TOK presentation on Robert Hughes’ Shock of The New: Art and the Century of Change, the student launched himself into an investigation of recent controversial art and the power of art to provoke strong reactions.

The comparative study considered the range of responses to symbols and imagery used in the works from the different perspectives of the audiences who would see and respond to the works in various contexts.

The investigation resulted in a short-lived, but enthusiastic series of works that challenged some of the assumptions and the culture of hisconservative faith-based private school. 


Sandro Botticelli (Italian, Early Renaissance: c. 1445–1510), Nascita di Venere(Birth of Venus, 1486), tempera on canvas, 172.5 × 278.9 cm

Alexandre Cabanel (French, 1823–1889), Naissance de Venus (Birth of Venus, 1963), oil on canvas, 130 × 225 cm

Édouard Manet (French, 1832–1883) Olympia (1863), oil on canvas, 130.5 × 190 cm

ORLAN (Mireille Suzanne Francette Porte, French, born 1947), The Reincarnation of Sainte Orlan (begun 1990), series of plastic surgeries on the artist’s body. 

Visions of Venus

This comparative study emerged from the student’s own art-making practice, which focused on representations of the human form and changing notions of beauty.

The comparative study provides a survey of key works representing the female form in Western art.

In analysing, interpreting, evaluating and comparing the works, the student adopted a feminist critical methodology, which identified how feminist theory informed the interpretation of imagery in the works and the evaluation of the significance of the works within the context in which they were created and to the broader canon of Western art. 


Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, 1907), oil on canvas, 243.9 × 233.7 cm.

Fang mask used for the ngil ceremony (Gabon, Central Africa, c19th century), wood, 66cm.

Iberian female head (Province of Albacete, Castile-La Mancha, Spain, c. 299–100 BCE), sandstone, 15 × 17 × 10 cm. 

Primitivism in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

The student’s interest in this subject arose from a TOK discussion on the ethics of appropriation in the arts, with a particular focus on the exploitation of indigenous motifs.

The student was directed to a copy of Hal Foster’s “The "Primitive" Unconscious of Modern Art”, October. Vol 34, (Autumn, 1985), pp. 45–70, which helped the student evaluate the claims, denied by Picasso, that the stylistically transitional elements in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon were influenced by his contact with African and Iberian sculpture. 


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665–1669), oil on canvas, 114.3 × 94 cm.

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890), Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print (1889), oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm.

Frida Kahlo de Rivera (Mexican, 1907–1954), Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), oil on canvas, 61.25 × 47 cm.

Brett Whiteley (Australian, 1939–1992), Art, Life and the Other Thing (1978) (Triptych), oil, glass eye, hair, pen and ink on cardboard, plaster, photography, oil, dried PVA, cigarette butts, hypodermic syringe on board, 90.4 × 77.2 cm, 230 × 122 cm, 31.1 × 31.1 cm. 


The artworks explored in this study were originally investigated when the student was working on a series of her own self-portraits.

As her own portraits were being completed rapidly, as a series over a specified period of time, she was particularly interested in artists whose bodies of work included numerous self-portraits.

Her comparative study considers the changing conventions of portraiture within the context of the time and place in which the works were created.

Her analysis and interpretation considered the ways in which meaning was conveyed through the use of formal and symbolic codes, and in the case of the Whiteley, written codes as well.

The number of works examined compelled the student to rely on the thoughtful and considered use of annotated images and other visual organizers to convey her understandings in a succinct manner. 

Further advice for students

What are Formal Qualities? <<  Here  >>