NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

The importance of Research Culture in A Creative Arts Degree

“I think going to university was definitely the right choice for me,” said visual artist and Deakin University final-year student Alice Radford.  “If I wasn’t at university I wouldn’t have bothered to do the research, or have the resources to do the research, to create the works that I have,” Alice said. “I think I would be just creating art on a Sunday just for fun.”

By Sam Dimitrieska

Quantity by artist Alice Radford: Photographer Alice Radford

Quantity by artist Alice Radford: Photographer Alice Radford

“I think going to university was definitely the right choice for me,” said visual artist and Deakin University final-year student Alice Radford.  “If I wasn’t at university I wouldn’t have bothered to do the research, or have the resources to do the research, to create the works that I have,” Alice said. “I think I would be just creating art on a Sunday just for fun.”

Alice enrolled in a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Art) at Deakin University six months after leaving her social work degree in favour of the chance to pursue her passion. She said the hands-on side of the course was what attracted her.

“Deakin is one of the only places that still has Creative Arts, whereas most other universities only offer Fine Arts,” she said. “There’s no requirement to have a degree to become an artist, but you can learn from the study and you can build bridges.  It’s things that you normally wouldn’t do if you were just creating art at home, like building connections and networking with others in the industry.”

Alice also completed literature units in her three-year degree, which she said inspired several themes for her art. Her most recent series of collections explores the symbolism of flowers in Western culture, literature and art. “It was a genre of painting in which I looked at language used around flowers and femininity,” said Alice.

“I would paint the images to represent how the Victorian era Western culture often described women and flowers and painted women as flowers.”

Deakin University Associate Professor of Art and Performance, Jondi Keane, supervised Alice’s Honours thesis. “A University art course provides the benefit of being in a research culture,” Dr Keane said. “Alice has taken full advantage of this structure and, because she is self-motivated, has been able to extrapolate and combine specific knowledge and skills to produce a constellation of assets best suited to her career ambitions,” he said.

Another example of Alice’s work is a series of 200 miniature wooden tiles covered in white paint, with an intricate abstract pattern in the centre of each tile. The title of this collection is “Quantity”. “The idea behind it was that a collection gains its value in a large quantity. Separately they don’t mean much but together they create this big piece of work,”

Dr Keane said Alice’s work “critiques and exploits cultural affinities for facial recognition and the cultural mythologies that link feminine beauty to the ephemeral nature of flowers”.

Another example of Alice’s work is a series of 200 miniature wooden tiles covered in white paint, with an intricate abstract pattern in the centre of each tile. The title of this collection is “Quantity”.  “The idea behind it was that a collection gains its value in a large quantity. Separately they don’t mean much but together they create this big piece of work,” said Alice.

Alice said the university gave her the drive to feel good about her passion in visual art. “To get feedback from that world is sometimes harsh, but if you get it in a safe environment like at uni where your lecturers, teachers and peers are all giving you feedback, it’s a healthy way to get you started.”

“When you are starting you have to get out into the art world and it’s hard to do that if you have no avenue,” said Alice.

Alice will graduate from her Honours degree in Creative Arts at Deakin University this year.


Samantha Dimitrieska is a second year Deakin University student, studying a Bachelor of Communications (Journalism). In 2015, Samantha graduated from Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School and has completed Certificate 1, 2 and 3 in Mandarin from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Samantha’s areas of interest for writing are business and environment. Aside from her studies, Samantha enjoys traveling, photography, and studying languages and culture. Samantha will have completed her 3-year course at Deakin in 2018.

More from this issue

More from this issue

I teach into the field of studio-based craft and design (SBCD). When it comes to teaching SBCD there are some particular challenges.

By Jennifer Martin — When Deakin University’s Associate Professor of Communication, Lisa Waller, asked me if I’d be interested in helping a group of journalism students write feature stories about graduates from the Bachelor of Creative Arts to be published in a special edition of NiTRO, I paused. For about a second.

In 2018, the theatre department at the Victorian College of the Arts will launch a new BFA Theatre - a course designed for ‘actor-creators’ – those theatre artists who want to devise and perform in their own work. As we developed the course this year, I found myself thinking often of a quote from Saint-Exupery’s Wisdom of the Sands:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

As a visual artist, my practice led-research is into frontier scientific technologies and computational aesthetics has resulted in transdisciplinary outcomes in the field of 4D Microcomputed X-ray tomography. Yet when I took my first permanent academic position as a part time lecturer in Foundation Studies, in 2015, I became responsible for convening and teaching a first year life drawing Figure & Life, a 12 week observational drawing course using a life model in a studio environment.

Creative artist Louise Richardson, 23, said it was her father’s death from cancer that made her realise she wanted to follow her passion.

To work strategically can connote corporate, neoliberal ideology, selective professional networking, and economically motivated notions of efficiency that tend to exist in conflict with the ethos of the creative arts. But being strategic can also describe how we work creatively within our circumstances to enable a project to come to fruition.

“We are very visual people, could you imagine a world without colour or without any pictures, without any lettering, without any drawing, literally a blank world?’’

For Deakin University graduate, visionary artist Marta Oktaba “When you strip it back to a blank world of just grey blocks all around us there is still form, there are still lines and it is still something.”

Suf St James creates artworks completely within the social media app, “Snapchat” to challenge how women are subjected to abuse online. “This is the work people seem most interested in,” Suf said.

Victorian College of the Arts  at the University of Melbourne is moving into a new generation of Actor’s Training. We have taken the current Theatre Practice degree and divided it into a BFA in Acting and a BFA in Theatre. With the competitive nature of the entertainment industry, we feel it is our obligation to equip our students with the mastery of skills applicable to contemporary theatre and film.

In our current climate of Higher Education funding cuts, academics are dealing with many tasks and additional administration as part of their job. As the pressures on academics mount, part-time and casual positions in academia have become the rule rather than the exception

Jessica Schwientek is known by her fellow artists as a “dirty photographer”. “I was always getting told off by how dirty and filthy my negatives were,” Jessica said. “I didn’t realize at the time that my lecturer did a similar thing . . .”

After completing and thoroughly enjoying my Honours research project I was inspired to pursue a career as an academic. Having now been awarded a Master of Arts in music performance (100% research) and after picking up small amounts of casual academic employment, I’d like to share my experiences so far to hopefully shed some light on the process for those considering post-graduate research.

Catherine Holder, past student, author and performer, is sitting at the share table at Corner Café, a popular lunch spot at the Burwood campus of Deakin University.

She graduated with Honours from her Bachelor of Creative Arts, Drama, in April this year and is here to catch up with members of the Arts Faculty and to borrow some props for her show at The Owl and Cat Theatre, Richmond

As arts educators in a university context we are being asked to be curators and to effectively encourage the practice of curation within our students. Students today have access to unlimited amounts of online information and tutorials. But what they do not normally have access to is a strong curatorial filter – one that allows them to sift through information – beyond what is currently trending.

Transdisciplinary thinking, creating and collaborating provides a future of endless potential. Only with a foundation of education for all, ethical reflexivity and collective consciousness is there hope for the ‘humanity’ of the Homo sapiens.

Tertiary creative arts, and artists, have experienced significant changes over time in their working life. For many, perhaps the greatest change was the move of creative arts into the university sector nearly 30 years ago. Since then we have seen the numbers of students and staff grow, creative art schools form, restructure and even close. We have seen arts curriculum evolve to reflect new developments in technology, cultural expression, audience and student expectations,  and shift to meet funding opportunities and university priorities. And the academic staff that inhabit our schools are changing. Graeme Hugo signalled academia’s demographic changes in 2005 and we are experiencing this

As Tim Low suggests ‘Nature and people might be thought of as separate entities, but they don’t reside in separate places.’ Through their exhibition Thresholds and Thoughtscapes three artists; post-graduates Annette Nykiel, Sarah Robinson and Jane Whelan, ask the viewer to consider the familiarity of a place.

When Deakin University graduate Maddison Newman decided to create a performance to show audiences what it was like to live with the chronic pain she knew the process would not be easy.  But the winner of the Vice-Chancellor's Medal for Recognising Excellence, which honours students who experience hardship while studying, was up for the challenge.