The Comparative Essay

It is finally upon us.  It is time to write the comparative essay.  This page is meant to be used as a touchstone to help you navigate the essay and keep track of its requirements.  The essay will be written outside of class, but we will have several opportunities to discuss and review the essay before it is submitted.


Bellow is a quick rundown of what is required of the comparative essay.

  • Format:  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.
  • Length:  10-15 slides, +3-5 slides for HL
    • By slides they mean pages.
  • Subject:  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:  the essay can be broken down into several parts.  Each of these parts are a component of your grade.  You may address these separately, or you may let the discussion flow and handle these concurrently.  I recommend breaking them down into clear elements (pages).
    • A.  Analysis of Formal Qualities
      • Elements, Principles, composition, & materials
      • Must be discussed both with text and visual elements (think diagrams and arrows)
    • 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)
    • 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)
    • 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)
    • E.  Presentation and Subject Specific Language
      • This is not a part of the essay, but instead an evaluation of the essay as a whole.  This part of the grade is on how you put together
        • good balance of text and images
        • page layout is considered
        • art-appropriate vocabulary
        • legible handwriting (a non-issue for us)
        • works cited
    • F.  Connections to Own Art-Making Process HL ONLY
      • 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.
  • Citation:  all works must be cited within the piece, any quotes must be cited in text, and you must have a works cited page at the end of the document.
    • You need to be sure that your are citing proper sources.  You want to use museum websites, textbooks, biographies, smart, etc. … not some random guy on Facebook.

Suggested Structure

I would suggest you structure your essay in the following manner:

  1. Background and critique of artwork 1 (A, B, C on the rubric, 2-3 pages)
  2. Background and critique of artwork 2 (A, B, C on the rubric, 2-3 pages)
  3. Background and critique of artwork 3 (A, B, C on the rubric, 2-3 pages)
  4. Comparison of artworks (D on the rubric, 2-3 pages)
  5. HL ONLY comparison and connection to artworks 1, 2, &3 (F on the rubric, 3-5 pages)
  6. Works Cited (a part of E, 1 page)


The below sample fulfills parts A, B, and C for one work.  Note the in text citation of the artwork.



These are examples of a comparisons between two works.





Below is a copy of the comparative essay rubric.  It mirrors what has been included above, but does so in a slightly different format.  This is also the rubric by which I will be evaluating your drafts.