World Art & Cultures

Course Description

World Cultures is an IB Diploma “School based syllabus”, standard level subject which requires a three-stage engagement by the student with a work of art or cultural phenomenon:

  1. the student's direct encounter with the object or performance (the work of art)
  2. the student's research into the literature and body of knowledge about this particular cultural phenomenon
  3. the student's continuous informed personal interaction with the cultural phenomenon, linking it to a range of concrete examples of other works of art and cultural phenomena.

This teaching methodology is called Case Study. It was originally used at Harvard Business School but has since been applied to many academic disciplines.

As a tool to explore cultural objects and phenomena, world cultures draws on the methodologies of historical investigation, art history, ethno-musicology, anthropology and sociology. In this way, it is genuinely a trans-disciplinary subject.

In examining cultural objects and phenomena from an aesthetic point of view and by placing them in their social and economic context world cultures meets the requirements of group 3, individuals and society.


Encourage students to:

  1. encounter a range of works of art and related cultural phenomena
  2. ask questions about cultural objects and experiences
  3. understand there are different ways of seeing and experiencing cultural phenomena
  4. foster an awareness of the human cultural heritage
  5. examine cultural, social and economic contexts
  6. develop critical and transcultural insights into the nature of the creative impulse
  7. reflect on their own and other cultures.

Syllabus Outline

Part 1: Prescribed Topics

Four case studies will be studied in the first semester

Topic 1: The Kingdom of Benin c1500–1900: Royal Sculpture
Topic 2: Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest: Poles and Masks
Topic 3: Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868): Woodblock prints Ukiyo-e
Topic 4: The European avant-garde 1880–1939: Constructivist, Dada and Surrealist art and cinema

Part 2: Interactions between Cultures and Civilizations

Three examples of cultural fusion will be studied

1 Mexican Muralism
2 Greco- Buddhist sculpture in Gandhara
3 The 7 Samurai/ The Magnificent 7

Part 3: Regional Study

The study of cultural phenomena of the region in which the school is located.

1 Balkan Cinema: Kusturica and Angelopoulos
2 Ottoman Architecture: Sinan
3 Byzantium: Architecture in the Age of Justinian

The study of the prescribed topics in part 1 prepares students for the study of interactions between cultures and civilizations of part 2 in the second half of the first year. Part 3, the regional study, will normally be undertaken in the second year of the course. However, by the very nature of the subject, world cultures is fluid and dynamic and there will be constant crossreferencing and cross-fertilization, looking both forwards and backwards.

Field Study

Field studies form an important part of the course and, where possible, students should visit relevant sites both inside and outside the region of the school during the course of study.

Course Assessment

In the first year students will write four short assignments for Part 1 and three slightly longer ones for part 2. They will have a ninety minute test in each of parts 1 and 2 which will be a practice for the ninety minute mid term and final year exam.

In the second year students will write three 1,000-2000 word assignments. They will have 2 ninety minute papers for their mid-term exams on the work done in the first year.

The final grade will be based on the following:

30% A ninety minute exam, with (a choice of 3 out of 4 topics) short answers based on images of artworks studied in class, based on Part 1
45% A ninety minute exam, with 2 comparative essay questions from a choice of 5, based on Part 2
25% A 2,000 word essay, with a theme chosen by the student and approved by the teacher on any topic of the student’s choice.

Download the subject guide