Visual arts

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The visual arts are an integral part of everyday life, permeating all levels of human creativity, expression, communication and understanding.

They range from traditional forms embedded in local and wider communities, societies and cultures, to the varied and divergent practices associated with new, emerging and contemporary forms of visual language. They may have socio-political impact as well as ritual, spiritual, decorative and functional value; they can be persuasive and subversive in some instances, enlightening and uplifting in others. We celebrate the visual arts not only in the way we create images and objects, but also in the way we appreciate, enjoy, respect and respond to the practices of art-making by others from around the world. Theories and practices in visual arts are dynamic and ever-changing, and connect many areas of knowledge and human experience through individual and collaborative exploration, creative production and critical interpretation.

The IB Diploma Programme visual arts course encourages students to challenge their own creative and cultural expectations and boundaries. It is a thought-provoking course in which students develop analytical skills in problem-solving and divergent thinking, while working towards technical proficiency and confidence as art-makers. In addition to exploring and comparing visual arts from different perspectives and in different contexts, students are expected to engage in, experiment with and critically reflect upon a wide range of contemporary practices and media. The course is designed for students who want to go on to study visual arts in higher education as well as for those who are seeking lifelong enrichment through visual arts.

Supporting the International Baccalaureate mission statement and learner profile, the course encourages students to actively explore the visual arts within and across a variety of local, regional, national, international and intercultural contexts. Through inquiry, investigation, reflection and creative application, visual arts students develop an appreciation for the expressive and aesthetic diversity in the world around them, becoming critically informed makers and consumers of visual culture.

Key features of the curriculum model

To fully prepare students for the demands of the assessment tasks, teachers should ensure that their planning addresses each of the syllabus activities outlined below, the content and focus of which is not prescribed. Students are required to investigate  








Students examine and compare the work of artists from different cultural contexts. Students consider the contexts influencing their own work and the work of others.

Students look at different techniques for making art. Students investigate and compare how and why different techniques have evolved and the processes involved.

Students explore ways of communicating through visual and written means. Students make artistic choices about how to most effectively communicate knowledge and understanding.


Students make art through a process of investigation, thinking critically and experimenting with techniques. Students apply identified techniques to their own developing work.

Students experiment with diverse media and explore techniques for making art. Students develop concepts through processes that are informed by skills, techniques and media.

Students produce a body of artwork through a process of reflection and evaluation, showing a synthesis of skill, media and concept.

Students develop an informed response to work and exhibitions they have seen and experienced. Students begin to formulate personal intentions for creating and displaying their own artworks.

Students evaluate how their ongoing work communicates meaning and purpose. Students consider the nature of “exhibition” and think about the process of selection and the potential impact of their work on different audiences.

Students select and present resolved works for exhibition. Students explain the ways in which the works are connected. Students discuss how artistic judgments impact the overall presentation.

Key features of the assessment model

  • Available at standard (SL) and higher levels (HL)
  • The minimum prescribed number of hours is 150 for SL and 240 for HL
  • Students are assessed both externally and internally
External assessment tasks SL HL

Task 1: Comparative study

  • Students analyse and compare different artworks by different artists. This independent critical and contextual investigation explores artworks, objects and artifacts from differing cultural contexts.
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At SL: Compare at least 3 different artworks, by at least 2 different artists, with commentary over 10–15 pages.  At HL: As SL plus a reflection on the extent to which their work and practices have been influenced by any of the art/artists examined (3–5 pages).

Task 2: Process portfolio

  • Students submit carefully selected materials which evidence their experimentation, exploration, manipulation and refinement of a variety of visual arts activities during the two-year course.
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At SL: 9–18 pages. The submitted work should be in at least two different art-making forms. At HL: 13–25 pages. The submitted work should be in at least three different art-making forms. 


Internal assessment task SL HL

Task 3: Exhibition

  • Students submit for assessment a selection of resolved artworks from their exhibition. The selected pieces should show evidence of their technical accomplishment during the visual arts course and an understanding of the use of materials, ideas and practices appropriate to visual communication.
40% 40%
At SL: 4–7 pieces with exhibition text for each. A curatorial rationale (400 words maximum).   At HL: 8–11 pieces with exhibition text for each. A curatorial rationale (700 words maximum)


Learn more about visual arts in a DP workshop for teachers

Visual arts subject brief

Subject briefs are short two-page documents providing an outline of the course. Read the standard level (SL) and/or higher level (HL) subject brief below. 

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Visual arts SL (PDF, 41 KB) pdf

Visual arts HL (PDF, 41 KB) pdf