I have received some questions about the Comparative Study from visual arts students.

I can obviously answer them individually, but it might be more useful to others if I share the questions – and my answers – more publicly, in this blog…

1 What does function and purpose mean? Is it the purpose of the artist or the artwork?

The focus of the Comparative Study is the ARTWORK. However, having said that, since the artist makes the artwork there will be overlaps, so really, it’s both – for example, what impact does the artist intend the artwork to make?

For some popular artwork choices (e.g. Picasso’s Guernica or one of Kahlo’s self-portraits) the purpose of the artwork is reasonably easy to research and discover (socio-political contexts, personal psychological and emotional contexts etc).

However, these two artworks are both obvious and well-known and it might be better to find less obvious artworks or objects.

Examiners are only human, and after the 25th Comparative Study analysing ‘Guernica’ they might be forgiven for getting a little bored and impatient.


2 I can’t stand Conceptual Art – what’s the point and where’s the skill? Can I just choose something and criticize it?

Be careful with personal opinion. You may like or dislike different art movements, styles and/or individual artworks, of course; but the Comparative Study is not simply a personal response to artworks.

If you do wish to state your opinion, it can be much more meaningful if you have supporting evidence.

For example, have any art writers, critics or artists voiced similar thoughts?

Where possible, aim for research and evidence-based objectivity.


3 I’m a student at school in New York. There are loads of art galleries, art museums, art exhibition, art events, etc. Would it be useful to find Comp Study artworks in a gallery or can I just look online?

Yes, it would be VERY useful to find artworks in gallery. There is no substitute for seeing the real thing. Looking at art on a computer monitor is nothing like standing right in front of the object under discussion (unless its digital and lens-based, of course.)

Frequently the most successful studies are well-focused and involve first hand studies from visited art galleries or museums.


4 I understand that the Comp Study has to be colourful. Will this get me marks?

Not necessarily. It’s not so much a matter of being “colourful” as clearly and coherently conveying information, but in a visually creative and legible manner.

The idea is that the presentation enhances the impact of the work and the reader’s understanding.

If the background is blue and the font is purple you’ll certainly have a colourful page – but it’s unlikely to make the reader (or the examiner) happy.


5 I’m Standard Level but I want to talk about how the artworks I looked at in my Comparative Study have influenced my art making. Is this OK?

Not really. SL students need only respond to criteria A–E.

The “art-making influenced by artworks examined in the study” criterion (F) only applies to HL students, so there is not much point in SL students going in that direction.


6 I don’t get what’s needed in Criterion A: Identification and analysis of formal qualities. Isn’t that just describing the artwork?

“Describing” is often just telling the examiner what she/he can see already, which – to be honest – is not very helpful (assuming that you have included a photo of the artwork). Description is not analysis.

I suggest to my students that they try to go beyond simple description, and (for example) provide a diagrammatic overlay to show that composition and structure has been examined or use formal qualities as evidence to support a developing argument or an interpretation of the art works.

Start by finding out what ‘formal qualities’ actually are.

The language will probably be subject-specific – which is good!