Academic EE

How to Choose an EE Topic (Visual Arts)

Choosing the EE Subject

It’s important to:

  1. Choose a subject you are willing to dedicate many hours to, and
  2. Understand what an EE in that subject is like. For example, science EEs look like longer science IAs and involve a lot of lab work, whereas English EEs are similar to long Written Task 2s and involve a lot of reading and analysis.

I knew I wanted to write a Visual Arts EE because I loved learning about art history. I’d previously enjoyed analysing artworks for an academic competition, so I wanted to take that interest further through my IB work.

Brainstorming Ideas

For a Visual Arts EE, you can write about virtually any topic using any approach. This intimidated me because I had NO clue what to write about. So, I looked at what sort of questions have been addressed in past essays. I’ve compiled a few popular approaches here for you: 

Source: own image

I began by researching various movements in art history, followed by looking into art from different countries and cultures. Then I dove into specific aspects of artwork such as lighting and lines. Finally, I researched artists I liked. This last step was the most important to me because it was what I found most interesting.

Narrowing Down your List

I circled my favourite topics and looked for connections between them. For example, I liked Edward Hopper’s artwork, which relies heavily on lighting and coincides with my fascination for American history and art. One of the questions I came up with was: “How does the use of lighting in Edward Hopper’s work evoke emotion in his audience?” Through making further connections, I shortlisted three other subjects I was eager to study—colour in Munch and Hopper’s paintings, sensuality and controversy of the Vienna Secession, and emotions in post-Chinese Cultural Revolution art. 

Selecting the Final Question

My supervisor urged me to choose a question that was both challenging and personally fulfilling. Though I found the Hopper question interesting, I was familiar with Hopper’s work and could answer it before even writing the EE. Upon reflection, I realized I wanted to use an artistic lens to explore an aspect of my Chinese background I’ve never learned about before. Thus, my final question was: “How have contemporary Chinese artists’ responses to the Cultural Revolution evolved from 1976 to the present day?”

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the Extended Essay process from start to finish, especially the synthesis of academic research and first-hand data collection (I surveyed 300 people and interviewed a gallery owner!). My findings also helped inform my IB Visual Arts pieces.

The brainstorming process might seem overwhelming because there are just so many topics to choose from! Create mind maps, discuss your ideas with others, and only shortlist topics that you really like—you’ll soon find that you have a direction. And remember, it’s okay to change your question later on!

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