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Steps to making a good comparative study

Steps to making a good comparative study

Before we delve into how to write a good comparative study, let us get a brief of what it is exactly. A comparative study is an individual, critical and contextual investigation that students explore from different contexts, time periods and of different artists’ work.

The CS is one of the three components of the Visual Arts Curriculum that accounts to 20% of your final grade. This is a PDF document where you are expected to explore the works of various artists in terms of visual and textual content. You are required to compare three artworks done by at least 2 different artists. 

What are the components covered in a comparative study:

  1. Any study or piece of writing requires an introduction. The reader needs to understand what they will be reading in the study beforehand. Here, you can include:
    1. What this comparative study is for: the purpose
    2. Which artists you have chosen to compare and explore
    3. The name of the paintings/artworks that you are comparing
    4. A brief reason as to why you may have chosen those artists
    5. The time periods they are from and possibly why that has influenced you to pick the specific artist.
  2. Start exploring one artwork at a time. Pick your first artwork and start off by talking about the artist before you do about the art piece. In this section you can incorporate:
    1. Briefly about the artist and what kind of style they were known for at their time
    2. The cultural context of how the artwork has the specific style
      1. An example that I had in my comparative study would be: 
        • Artist: Eugene Boudin
        • Artwork: Camaret, Le Toulinguet
        • Style: Outdoor (Plein air) paintings
        • Cultural Context: Growing up in Honfleur, he was well exposed to the sea, ports and shores. It is located on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine across from le Havre. Living alongside ports and beaches, moreover, the coast and working in le Havre, Eugène Boudin’s primal area of interest for paintings were the seas and shores located in this area, hence specializing in plein air paintings.
    3. If they were influenced by something or someone to make that kind of artwork. In these cases, artists are usually influenced by other fellow artists from a similar art period.
    4. A brief introduction about the painting itself. Keep in mind that you have not yet explored the details and intricacies of the painting therefore limit this introduction to your visual observation. Try to bridge a connection between these observations and the cultural context or influences you had researched prior to this section.
  3. You can now proceed to understanding the formal elements of the artwork. This section is more about understanding how the artwork was made and curated by the artist. You can choose to include a replicated version of the formal elements to understand the style.
      1. You will need to comprehend all the elements that make an artwork, an artwork. This section usually requires a deep explanation of why everything is made in a particular way based on your observation and what you can see in the artwork. It only includes your personal opinions and what you think the reason could be behind it. Some of the formal elements in this analysis may include:
        1. Composition
        2. Lines
        3. Patterns
        4. Textures
        5. Shape
        6. Color
      2. A pro-tip here would be to mark or highlight the elements on the artwork and then explain it therefore showing that your work is more organized. 
      3. Also keep in mind that when you explore the different formal elements, you will need to expand your art vocabulary as much as you can because it would show the examiner that you are an artist aware of what you are observing. Every minute detail you point out will show that you have a greater eye for detail.
  4. Upon analyzing the formal elements, you can move on to understanding the function & purpose, and how the specific artists’ style is reflected on the artwork. You need to relate the style of the artist to the artwork and try to elucidate what brought them to make the artwork. You can include the cultural context from where they originated or were brought up and how that affected their art style.
      1. An example that I had in my comparative study would be: 
        • Artist: Eugene Boudin
        • Artwork: Camaret, Le Toulinguet
        • How the art style is shown in the painting: An excerpt: Every painting he made, especially the sky, described the weather of the landscape, time and even the day at which it was painted. He was named the ‘King of Skies’, given his talent of how well he delineated the clouds and the sky as a whole. Despite the intensity of the intricacy in the details of the landscapes, the skies never fail to be the highlight that immediately grabs the attention of the viewers. The blending of the different shades of the bright white he had used, made viewers perceive the entire painting in a different way. With luminous skies moving across the canvas, he offers a peaceful and soft impression of an untroubled nature.
  5. Components 2 – 4 are repeated for the remaining two artworks that you have chosen to study in this comparative study.
  6. The last step is to talk about the similarities and differences between all three artworks as this is in fact a comparative study. Before writing a load of text, you can show the examiner a brief of what you will be talking about in detail. This can be presented using a simple three-way venn diagram.
    1. This venn diagram should have the similarities and differences based on their function/purpose, the style of the artist, the kind of colors they use, the strokes they incorporate and what they’re trying to convey through the artwork like an emotion for instance.
    2. After briefly explaining it, you could talk about them in much more depth: Artwork 1 vs/& Artwork 2Artwork 1 vs/& Artwork 3, Artwork 1 vs/& Artwork 3 and Artwork 1 vs/& Artwork 2 vs/& Artwork 3

Criteria that is covered:

A: Formal analysis

  • How is the work covered and organized in the canvas in terms of composition?
  • What kind of medium and technique has been used?
  • Is it a conventional or an imaginary (thought) process?
  • How are the art elements used and how effective is it?
  • How is the artwork as a whole constructed?

B: Function and Purpose

  • What is the mood, symbolism and interpretation of the artwork?
  • What kind of choices did the artist make to effectively communicate the purpose? Any symbols, style or motifs that they have used
  • How does the artwork reflect their cultural context?
  • Is the artwork meant to be expressive, political or decorative? 

C: Significance

  • Material significance: 
    • What kind of medium was used and possibly why?
    • Were the materials easily accessible?
  • Conceptual significance: 
    • What is the message and mood conveyed through the artwork?
    • Does it belong to a specific art movement and is that style reflected?
  • Cultural significance: 
    • When was the artwork made? Did the environment and the world at that specific time affect the style of the artwork?
    • Any religious or political circumstances that influenced the piece?
    • Was it controversial, perhaps?

D: Critical Analysis

  • Comparing cultural contexts, function and purposes, formal qualities and materials between the 3 artworks
  • Comparing the time period and timeline. Here, it is preferable if you pick artworks from the same or similar time period that way it wouldn’t be too hard to compare the significance of the cultural context.

E: Presentation and Visual Art Vocabulary

  • Use a consistent design scheme throughout your presentation
  • Fonts that are no smaller than 10 pt because it would make it harder for the examiner to read.
  • Try using a lot of visuals and dont keep the presentation completely textual
  • Use subject appropriate vocabulary

TIP: Do not forget to cite the sources of your information. Try to list out all the sources as you use information from on there. Additionally, if any of your artwork is included, make sure to label it that it was made by you.

Possible advice:

  • Try to analyze your artworks rather than just describe them. You need to put yourself in the artist’s shoes to comprehend and explain to the examiner why everything is done the way it is.
  • Don’t limit yourself to comparing only the artist’s life. Compare the artworks to display a meaningful connection between them. 
  • Link the artist’s biography and art history to improve your analysis. Nevertheless, do not take too much irrelevant information as it may get too lengthy and you might lose the examiner’s attention.
  • Do not repeat your ideas and intentions just to fill up the page. When the examiner tends to read the same idea more than once, they tend to assume that there is nothing more to it and it was included to eliminate empty space.

All the best writing your comparative study!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What is an IBDP Visual Arts Comparative study?

A: An IBDP Visual Arts Comparative study is a component of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) Visual Arts course that requires students to compare and contrast two or more artworks from different cultural contexts, time periods, or styles.

Q2: How can I choose artworks for my Visual Arts Comparative study?

A: When choosing artworks for your Comparative study, you should consider their cultural significance, artistic merit, and relevance to your research question. You should also choose artworks that have a clear connection or contrast, and that provide opportunities for analysis and interpretation.

Q3: How can I structure my Visual Arts Comparative study?

A: To structure your Visual Arts Comparative study, you should begin with an introduction that provides background information and context for your research question. You should then analyze each artwork in detail, highlighting their similarities and differences and discussing their artistic techniques, style, and themes. You should also provide a conclusion that summarizes your findings and discusses their significance.

Q4: How can I analyze artworks in my Visual Arts Comparative study?

A: To analyze artworks in your Comparative study, you should consider their formal elements, such as color, line, shape, and texture, as well as their composition, perspective, and scale. You should also analyze the artwork’s cultural, historical, and social context, and consider the artist’s intent and message.

Q5: How can I improve my Visual Arts Comparative study?

A: To improve your Visual Arts Comparative study, you should focus on developing a clear theme, and providing detailed and insightful analysis of each artwork. You should also incorporate relevant art historical and cultural context, and use appropriate terminology and language. Additionally, you should seek feedback from your teacher or peers, and revise your study as necessary.

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