RECTOR’S CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY SPEECH
ART IS THE SOUL OF WORK – those meaningful words were crocheted on the flag of the State Industrial Art School, the predecessor of the Estonian Academy of Arts in 1914 – and this beautiful thought is still very meaningul today. Especially meaningful.
We all know that when you do work and toil, then love will come. But work, WORK without the soul, and the soul without ART, without love is empty.
Dear listeners – I would like to reminisce a bit on the history.
The opening ceremony of our predecessor, the Industrial Art School took place on October 17th, 1914 according to the old calendar in Tallinn, at Pikk street, in the Kanuti Guild house – let me say that the same building houses the EAA department of architecture today. The opening speech at the ceremony was given by the Governor of Estonia, Major-General Izmail Korostovets. He wished success upon the school on behalf of the Tsarist power and warned: „Keep yourselves from meddling in politics, otherwise I shall twist you crooked like a ram horn!“
Let us be honest, this warning has never been taken too seriously at our school throughout history – the spirit of freedom has hailed here even in the darkest times…and politics – both real and cultural – has been taken up by both the students and professors repeatedly. Politics has penetrated art and art is very political.
The highest governing body of the Art School was initially the board of trustees/guardians – (in today’s university legal terms, the Council); then the Estonian Art Society – (parallel perhaps to today’s Union of Estonian Artists), Tallinn City Council – (who was represented today by its Chairman) and Ministry of Industry and Commerce. In that regard, the subordination has changed and the art academy, as also University of Tartu, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn University, and Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre are under the care of Minstry of Education and Research.
However, not much time passed since the founding of the school when in 1920 the Ministry of Education took the school under its wings and since then the talks about (tight space or) lack of space began…all this sounds sooooo familiar…
On the other hand, the memoirs of the first students provide an understanding attitude toward this issue, that regardless of the school’s dreams and plans for a newer and more spatious university building, the State was to construct the Estonian Art Museum first.
It took no more or less than ninety years and the Estonian Republic built KUMU – that the artists supported with one loud voice. Do you remember?
Here, in the art museum specifically, we wished to celebrate the centennial ceremony with all of you – our students, teachers, professors and staff, our guests and supporters.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS.
The world has changed and yet it hasn’t in much. Something is not the same, the world needs new stories, new ideas.
But still we start wars and don’t know how to end them. Governments fall and elections happen. New universities are founded. Some of them – even in Estonia, are luckily still larger than shopping malls.
Has the Estonian Academy of Arts changed as the Republic of Estonia and the expectations of the society have changed? I dare to claim that we have been the doers and pioneers in the process where today the Republic of Estonia finds acclamation and attention/noting.
Are we ready to initiate and and lead the thankless role of the „cultural police“ alongside our main purpose of providing an internationally competitive higher education – to convene and rise to the barricades when the lame and tasteless money-machine steamrolls over professionalism and public interests?
I believe that students do not enter the academy for the sake of a diploma or acquisition of certain skills, facts or techniques – but for the social environment, new contacts, critical thinking and unexpected opportunities. The university is not only an institution and buildings, the university is an open platform and opportunity – a chance to ask questions and search for answers, to doubt and to collaborate. There is synergy, there is dialogue. The university is ÜLI KOOL (super/ultra school).
The purpose of the university is definitely not to produce employees for the labour market but to teach critical thinking so that the highly educated young people would be able to create a new, another and a better world.
ART HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE THE WORLD. But if the message does not reach the public, does not touch the audience, is unfamiliar/foreign – then we all have something to think about. To bbe an artist means FREEDOM, but not an EXCUSE to be freed of responsibility.
…luckily…hopefully…perhaps in Estonia, the prolonged time of undervaluing the fields of humanities and arts compared to „the real“ and serious sciences is ending. The soft power or its strength is spoken of more often, it is spoken of as a cultural unifier as an emotionally uniting environment that acts as a protective shield for our common values – our FAITH, our PRIDE, our SACRED.
Coming back to the founding times of the school, the later longterm headmaster Voldemar Päts emphasised – considering the world war, that „the power of the state is noti n the amount of bayonets but also in the cultural development of the peole and the art school wants to assist in that in every possible way“.
I think that we have helped and we will continue to help. The strength of the EAA as an institution is unavoidably connected to the cultural space of Estonia, especially with the visual culture and the position of THE ARTS in the society.
I wish that the wailing would stop – there are too many artists… The art schools have for long not taught blue-eyed/naive idealists, bohemians, or the unemployed. The broad art education is beneficial in every field. Those peole and our aluni are the designers of the futuure Estonian living environment.
I think that the Estonian Academy of Arts should not strive to become a small copy of the neighbouring Aalto University. Our strength is our professional competence in a wide scale of specialties and in the fact that the professor is close to the students. Our strength also lies in the readiness to collaborate and to offer education in the fields of our competence. Our strength is in the synergy of traditional and new specialties – but we should trust more the side perspective – which can perhaps in a more accurate way pinpoint our uniqueness.
But today, entering the new century of my university – what is the content of the art academy today and tomorrow?
I asked a young EAA alumnus to write down her thoughts – now that the university years have passed. Here they are: „ESTONIAN ACADEMY OF ARTS – a school where the eager strive.
ART – ART IS NOBLE, we are needes to be risen from the ground! Rational thinking and emotional sensitivity have to develop simultaneously for the whole to emerge. The HEART must be in the reason and the REASON must be in the HEART. ART MUST MATTER.
PROBLEM – Art implies that a question/probleem has MORE THAN ONE answer/solution.
ALTERNATIVE – art helpis alternatiive ideas to emerge.
BALANCE/HARMONY – art opposes extremes and rules, balancing black-and-white situations.
I liked Athose thoughts, thank you, Liisa.
In conclusion, I would like to reminisce on a story from the 1980s. W ehad graduated from ERKI a couple years earlier but still attached to the school. And again at a famous ERKI carnivals with our schoolmates, as usual.
In elevated spirits, we decided to go greet the rektor, Jaan Vares. There he was, in his Office with other professors and lecturers. Cognac and „kringel“ on the desk – it was a party afterall. I don’t know why – perhaps startled from my barging in – I removed my long glove and thourgh it with a long hand to the rector. With an elegant gesture Vares caught it and shoved it in his pocket, nodding.
Unbelievable, but many years later, at an academy anniversary celebration, he returned the same glove to me. It was a good sign.
If not the glove, but something I would like to pass on to the next rektor of the Estonian Academy of Arts. That our university and we would have LUCK.
LOTS OF LUCK AND HAPPINESS, ESTONIAN ACADEMY OF ARTS!