Visual arts link with Monash

  • Education
  • Sunday, 09 Mar 2003


BUILDING on a solid relationship with Malaysia, Monash University is offering a new graduate option for local artists and art educators. From July, Malaysians can take Monash's Masters of Visual Arts (MVA) programme, via an assisted distance-learning route.  

The 18-month programme is targeted at artists and art educators (with a Bachelor's degree in art) who want to add another dimension to their work. 

“The MVA programme is centred around studio work, plus a little bit of theory. We want the programme to help contribute to the work of individual artists. Through the MVA, we hope to enable and assist individual artists break into an international exhibition ? How can Malaysian/Australian artists make more of a splash?” says Assoc Prof Dr Robert Nelson, Dean of the Research and Graduate Studies Department of Monash University, Melbourne. 

He adds: “The primary focus of the programme is the students' studio work. To make their work more investigative – we kinda eyeball them – ask them hard, tough questions. For example, is it (their work) relevant? etc.”  

DR NELSON: 'Malaysia is the first foreign country Monash has chosen to offer its Masters of Visual Arts programme via distance-learning.

Although the MVA is open to anyone with a basic Art degree, the university is looking for “ambitious artists” 

Says Dr Nelson: “We want artists who can see a role for an integrative approach, a curiosity and the ability to spend a bit of time on questioning how they can become, not a philosopher, but a better artist. We do set some pretty tough questions and the programme is very challenging.” 

“We do get some students who think they are very good, and they may well be very good, but their attitude makes them a little complacent, stubborn and hostile. Nevertheless, we don't shun them but somehow they emerge from the programme with a different perspective – they confess that the programme has been useful and enlightening; it has helped them, if nothing else, to share a mindset,” says Dr Nelson who is also the art critic for The Age newspaper in Melbourne. 

Although the MVA is a distance-learning programme, Malaysian students will be enrolled at Monash, Melbourne. Unlike most distance-learning programmes, however, students of the MVA will have considerable face-to-face contact with their lecturers from Melbourne. 

Dr Nelson adds: “With most distance-learning programmes, there is only a minimal residency requirement which requires the student to at least step into or be at the university awarding the degree for a very short period. This is primarily a measure of good faith. 

“However, ours is an assisted distance-learning programme. Although students do the programme entirely in Malaysia, lecturers from Monash, Melbourne, make six visits here during the duration of the programme where they will deliver lectures, seminars and interactive forums. Therefore, the same lecturers who teach the MVA students in Monash, Melbourne, will be teaching the Malaysian students. 

“Personally, I don’t fancy distance degrees as I feel distance-learning offends the spirit of discovery that all teachers love. I don't like degrees in the post ... I feel students need interactive experience. 

“With the MVA, however, we want to be actually there presenting the programme. We want to deliver substantial blocks of the programme personally, hence the visits. Something happens when you have eye-to-eye contact with a student and we want to establish that contact ... that communication,” says Dr Nelson. He was in Kuala Lumpur recently to talk to local educationists as well as the media about the programme. 

In the intervening periods (between the visits from Monash academics), students will be expected to concentrate on their studio work – which is the primary focus of the programme – and maintain regular contact with their lecturers via e-mail and telephone.  

Says Dr Nelson: “The distance-learning structure of the programme is not Monash's invention. Other universities, like RMIT, for example, have executed rather successfully distance-learning programmes with overseas markets.  

“However, the material for our MVA programme is original. We have managed to come up with a winner – the academic content of the programme relates to their (students') studio work. We don’t intend to 'speak from the mountain top’ and have therefore structured the theoretical units around the work the students are doing.  

“There are no set texts which may be irrelevant to individual students. In fact, we have compiled an entire book of notes for them which is not published and is meant only for students of this programme. We want our students to read material that is topical; their writing must be critical and well argued. We want them to use their writing to investigate how they can bring their art practice to a more strategic advantage.” 

Coming up with a programme that is at once universal as it is relevant to each individual artist was no doubt demanding. 

Says Dr Nelson: “It was quite a challenge for us, coming up with a senior degree in art. The challenge was not getting students to produce good art because if you have good students, you will naturally get 

good art.  

“The big challenge was to ensure that we offer students something that they could, would and cannot get otherwise.” 

Nevertheless, the university seems to have come up with its “magic formulae” as the programme, which was introduced in Melbourne in 2000, has successfully got off the ground.  

“It has been very successful. You can only imagine the synergy in a roomful of 40 artists talking about art and each other’s art. We have managed to create and bring together quite a community of scholar artists who are bristling with enthusiasm when talking about art and one another's art,” says Dr Nelson.  

Although the MVA has been in operation for two years, Malaysia is the first foreign country the university has chosen to offer the programme via distance-learning. 

Dr Nelson adds: “There are various reasons. For one thing, Malaysia has something in common with Australia, as both countries are multicultural. And, although not a central player in the international art scene, we see that Malaysia has vast potential to make a splash and are curious to see what Malaysian art has to offer.  

“Of course, a big factor is the time-honoured relationship Monash has with Malaysia. The establishment of Monash University Malaysia is testament to the good relationship we have. The trust between the two has already been established,” says Dr Nelson. 

“The MVA is open to any student with a basic art degree. Ideally, we want ambitious artists who can see a role for an integrative approach/a curiosity/the ability to spend a bit of time on questioning how they can become, not a philosopher, but a better artist.” 

The cost of doing the Monash MVA programme in Malaysia amounts approximately to A$21,000 (RM48,000).  

For more information on the programme, contact Dr Nelson at or log on to  

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