Robert Nelson




Monash University, Australia


Associate Professor Robert Nelson writes about art and design as a critic and historian. His big interest is how the aesthetic interacts with the moral.

Many of his publications are available freely online, like his weekly art criticism in The Age or his ideas about how our personal image relates to global environmental priorities in his book Moral Sustainability and Cycling: an Ecology of Ambition for a Hyperactive Planet (

Robert loves questions of how we go about art and design, which he handles in The Jealousy of Ideas: Research Methods in the Creative Arts (

Robert is interested in how art and design fit within belief systems, which he talks about in his book The Spirit of Secular Art: a History of the Sacramental Roots of Contemporary Artistic Values (
Robert is also a painter and has written The Visual Language of Painting (

Underlying these investigations is Robert’s philological study of the history of ideas, which he pursues through primary texts from antiquity to the present. Interpreting philosophical and poetic writings and comparing their rhetoric with inventions in art, design and music, Robert is developing a history of feeling and the linguistic institutions that define vision for better or worse.

Robert is Associate Director Student Experience, Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Learning and Teaching, Monash University.


Toward a History of Impact: The violence of the creative vocabulary


Printmaking and publishing involve a strong and direct physical motif'imprint, impression, stamp, type, impact'which are equally powerful and widespread throughout western culture as metaphors.  They are not simply colourful or poetic metaphors but the organizing terms for record, conjecture, identification, classification and effect or influence respectively.  Among these common and accessible images, the metaphor of impact is the most uncanny, as the image of violence or crashing translates as the effect'usually positively'upon our senses or intellect or culture.  Impact is highly desired.  Artists and scholars lay claim to impact, making statements that attest to their influence, either upon the public or other artists.  Impact is synonymous with producing work of consequence and having lasting echoes on the scene and is even invoked in academic evaluation instruments.  This paper analyses the dense meanings surrounding impact by comparing the history of the concept with other terms in aesthetic language, as when work is 'striking' or 'stunning', a knock-out, when it packs a punch or hits you, as in a 'blockbuster'.  The paper reveals a transfer of ideas in which the understanding of print processes illuminates this bizarre construction of cultural and aesthetic importance by violent language.


Tuesday 27 September


3:30pm - 5.00pm





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