IB The Comparative Essay

What The Comparative Essay Is

  • A written comparison of artworks (a PowerPoint Presentation)
  • Compares at least 3 different artworks
  • These artworks must come from at least 2 different artists or cultural contexts
  • HL adds on a component where the student talks about how the selected works influenced their own art


  • the essay should be created as a PowerPoint or Word document (or its equivalent).  Once all editing is done, we will convert the file over to a PDF for submission.
  • Should be a combination of text and images.
  • Can include diagrams, charts, or any other form of visual aid.


  • the essay is to discuss at least 3 artworks by at least 2 different artists from different cultural contexts.
  • Different cultural contexts can mean different cultures (European vs. Asian), different art periods (Rococo vs. Pop Art), or different living or economic backgrounds (urban vs. rural).  You are looking to select art from diverse settings.
  • Largely structured as a compare-and-contrast discussion
  • You are trying to make connections between the works
  • HL must also make connections between the chosen artworks and their own Exhibition artwork
  • You are encouraged to select at least one work where you have encountered it in person, but this is not required (think field trip)

Parts of the Essay

Your comparative essay (presentation) is largely structured like a critique.  Below are the different parts/criteria that IB will be looking for, when they evaluate and grade your essay.  As you create your essay, check to see that you are addressing each one of these components.

Part  A:  Formal Analysis

  • Elements, Principles, composition, & materials
  • Must be discussed both with text and visual elements (think diagrams and arrows)

Part B:  Interpretation of Function and Purpose

  • How is it used? Why does it exist?
  • Must be discussed both with text and visual elements (thick text boxes or side notes)

Part C:  Evaluation of Cultural Significance

  • How does it reflect the culture which produced it?  How is it important to culture?  Was it influenced by other art?  Did it influence other art?
  • Must be discussed both with text and visual elements (think charts)
  • It is important that you do not pick an obscure work for this… it needs to be a work that matters

Part D:  Making Comparisons and Connections

  • Making comparisons between the works
  • It is sufficient to compare each work with another, you do not have to compare all 3 together at the same time
  • Must be discussed both with text and visual elements (think diagrams, side by side images with text boxes or side notes)

Part E:  Presentation and Specific Language

This is not a part of the essay, but instead an evaluation of the essay as a whole. 

  • good balance of text and images
  • page layout is considered
  • art-appropriate vocabulary
  • legible handwriting (a non-issue for us)
  • works cited

Part F:  Connections to Your Own Art-Making Practices


  • makes meaningful connections between the selected works and the student’s own exhibition pieces
  • must have photographs of your work, may include diagrams, text boxes, etc.

Suggested Structure for Your Essay

The essay is to be10-15 slides long, +3-5 slides for HL.  By slides, they mean pages in a PowerPoint or PDF.  I recommend the following layout:

  • Background and critique of artwork 1 (2-3 pages in length)
  • Background and critique of artwork 2 (2-3 pages in length)
  • Background and critique of artwork 3 (2-3 pages in length)
  • Comparison of artworks (2-3 pages in length)
  • HL ONLY comparison and connection to exhibition artworks (3-5 pages in length)
  • Works Cited (1 page)

Example Pages

Below are examples of pages from other Comparative Essays which scored high.  Click on the image to see a larger, clearer version.

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