It has been almost two years now since the composer and performer Rezo Kiknadze was elected rector of the Vano Sarajishvili Tbilisi State Conservatoire. I learnt from him that the Georgian Ministry of Education has been drafting a law on art education which will define the future of higher educational art institutions. In his responses to our questions, Rezo Kiknadze highlighted the current situation in this area and outlined several painful unresolved problems.
When you were elected as the rector of the Conservatoire, many people voiced skepticism that you, as an artist, would find it difficult to manage organizational and bureaucratic activity. Were they correct in their skepticism?
Organizational work accompanies any field of art, just as it does any other sphere of life, but this work in the case of the Conservatoire is of an absolutely different type – be it related to organizing music, compositional variations or undertaking creative research of any phenomenon; in my capacity as the Conservatoire's rector, there is quite a lot of such "subjective" organizational work.
Frankly speaking, my current "role" is very difficult, even to the point of desperation. I am a character who can and likes to stay home without even stepping out for an entire week. However, given my profession and the slightly crazy tempo of my life, I cannot recall when I last managed to stay at home for even two consecutive days; perhaps that happened some 10 years ago... During the past two years, I have not even dreamt about that. However, that would not have worried me much had I not been doing something today which starkly differs from the job I was doing before.
Organizing, documenting things and other bureaucratic stuff like that has always been the job of others. My life has always been about doing creative work and, consequently, it was quite free and messy, which did not seem to disturb anyone. This chaotic nature can still be partially seen from the current state of my work desk. Thank god a team of professionals work with me and prevent me from running the Conservatoire in a chaotic manner. We have to put up with so many bothersome regulations imposed from the outside, which we have to attempt to circumvent or tailor to our needs, that I view the Conservatoire itself installing artificial restrictions as anachronistic; if anything, the experience of the previous decades proves that.
What do you want to improve?
I don't want us to be in the situation we were in, for example, 20 years ago – either during the Soviet times or immediately after its disintegration when Georgia was run by illegal paramilitary groups and one could not trust anyone. Today, I think, one can trust people more – both professors and students. Placing at least part of the academic responsibility on the students helps us to better understand what students want to learn from us.
Learning is a two-way process, implying exchange and sharing; not the transfer of information in one direction alone. Perhaps this sounds a bit naïve and utopian, but I am not going to change either my position on that or the method; moreover, the results of such an approach are apparent and it is in this that I see real prospects. Discipline and a clear line drawn between a teacher and student must not overshadow the joy that education can bring. The learning process must become more of the university type. The teaching of the arts in Europe has never viewed a teacher as a guru and a student as his/her slave and blind follower.
his fundamentalist, in some sense, Asian or Oriental-Asian, mentality became firmly established in the Soviet Union for some reason; perhaps, because that society was politically and socially managed, which spoilt many things. The essence of the society of that time was so hateful that we are left with no other option but to reject it.
What is unacceptable for you, as an artist, when it comes to the development of culture?
With all the problems in the current society we must try to pursue one main cultural line that is absolutely independent of the political situation; this must be the only line that, in the conditions of political turbulence, cataclysms and economic instability, must not change course according to political conjuncture.
iplomacy and concessions are of course necessary, because the state, especially such an unstable state as ours, can take any turn, but in such a situation I deem either toeing the line or opposing the political situation as harmful as, for example, throwing stones at people from a balcony... Even if I wished to do so, I think I must not do that.
Once we start talking sincerely, no matter with which entity, everything will be settled, at least partially, and the corresponding responsive steps will be taken without delay. That's why I am not very afraid of my own bureaucratic and organizational inability...
I consider imposing the responsibility on students to make a choice a necessary step....
Yes, but the shift towards that has proved painful. Guess what the key issue discussed at today's meeting of the Conservatoire's administration was? That our programs are still very rigid and we want to make them more flexible, but we still have to think about the correct way of doing that... On the one hand, we want to avoid harming educational process, whilst on the other, we want to enable students to plan their own education and to figure out what skills they will need to find jobs three or four years from now.
Students feel, or should feel, a great deal of responsibility when they study somewhere because an educational institution is nothing without students; even such institutions "oriented on creative practice" as educational art institution are. Therefore, each step and activity a student takes must be for the benefit of the Conservatoire and we must permanently assist them in that; and vice versa, each step – big or small – taken by the Conservatoire must serve the aim of creating comfort for the students, meeting their requirements, assisting their future development and shaping them into cultural, competitive and dignified citizens.
How adequate is the existing education system, the legislative basis, and the offers made by the state for the requirements of modern students? Especially, taking into account the specifics of higher educational art institutions.
I think placing emphasis on "specifics" may result in a backlash against art education – the Ministry of Education may consider that we are not an object of their responsibility and hand us over to the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection – instead of taking into account and acknowledging those "specifics" in close coordination with the Ministry of Culture.
I am happy about the Education Ministry's ongoing drafting of the law on art education; this is happening for the first time ever in the history of Georgia. Every developed country has such a law; one that is separately drafted and tied to the law on education, that provides possibilities for changes to meet the specific requirements of art education. If this happens, I will breathe with relief. We will see that the education system can be broken down into spheres and some spheres will require an absolutely different approach, provided that they remain fully-fledged members of the university system.
What type of a requirement is art?
Art is not an absolutely unconscious or instinctive requirement, but an emotional and intellectual requirement for people. Creative work starts with, perhaps, an observation of something and continues with the desire to convey that observation to others. Understanding the mechanisms involved in the process of "conveying an observation to others" implies reasoning; without such reasoning art is not art. Davit Kakabadze [a famous Georgian painter] said that art is a science and medieval artists, and those of any other epoch, were like those scientists who tried to pull down the barriers and stereotypes of science ...
How would you evaluate this year in terms of international relations?
It was very difficult and intensive, on the one hand, and, because of that, it was full of very interesting novelties, on the other hand. It is frustrating to see students who no longer know Russian and have yet not studied English... The catastrophic result of not knowing foreign languages is that many students cannot study abroad today... I think that this is still the time for them to leave and go abroad; the time for their return will come one day, hopefully, soon... For that to happen, however, we must become stronger and offer those who have left to go abroad something that will make them return.
Several very interesting projects are being implemented in this direction, and not only in the Conservatoire. I will single out one of those projects, the Reverse Brain Drain, as it has been dubbed by Irina Popiashvili, a former rector of the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. This is a common project for the three higher educational art institutions of Georgia. The "brain drain" is the mass exodus of a certain category of people, like, for example, those computer specialists from India that have left for Europe in search of better jobs.
Let's take Georgia, imagine what a drawback such a drain of job seekers, political and economic refugees, and students has been for the country since the 1990s and how small the percentage of those who return is ... Within this project, which was an initiative of the Goethe Institute, those Georgian artists who left Georgia to obtain education and became professionals abroad, are invited back to Georgia to conduct master classes, workshops and public lectures; the importance and benefit of this activity, in terms of resonance, interest and improved quality, will become more conspicuous and appreciated in future.
How does this initiative help students specifically?
It helps them strengthen their orientation towards the talents which, thank god, they have, but sometimes have failed to identify, or to find something which may be interesting for them. We should not reprimand students for not being interested in something, but instead start thinking about what to make them interested in and how to do this. Instead of idolizing our traditions we must attentively listen to changes in the interests of students.
As regards the international relations of the Conservatoire itself, the most significant is the partnership with the Norwegian Academy of Music. This started several years before my appointment as rector and has now entered its final intensive phase. The result of this partnership is a state-of-the-art musical studio in the Conservatoire, which will become fully operational for the intensive education process beginning in September. Over the years we have shared experience and exchanged, not only students, but also professors and administrative personnel with the Norwegian Academy of Music and training sessions have been conducted. Even though the current situation and the budget of the Tbilisi Conservatoire does not allow us to implement many desirable things – and we are forced to listen to their recommendations with a sad smile on our faces – we are still trying to move forward in the most reasonable manner.
You mentioned professors, and I cannot help asking you about the turnover of pedagogical personnel. How easy it is for young people to become teachers in the Conservatoire? I remember that the recruitment of new generations of teachers, especially in the field of theory, was a painful process.
The situation is drastic indeed. On the one hand, there are aged and respected professors who have worked for some 35-40 years and represent the elite of the musical sphere in Georgia; on the other hand, there is an army of young people with energy, know-how and, more importantly, inspiration, standing at the door of the Conservatoire, which is shut fast for them. In a normal country, aged professors would be happy to retire. In such a case, they would be able to continue to engage in research and creative work to the extent that they desire and prepare to live the final years of their lives peacefully with a full sense of dignity and knowledge of their merit. However, in our situation, forcing respected people to retire means embittering the last years of their lives; whereas not doing so – and I am not going to do that until a solution has been found! – means stopping the development of the Conservatoire at the very door that our professional, cultural and human future, the youth, cannot enter.
How should the state settle this, one of the most serious problems facing the Georgian education system?
The state must show readiness, if anything, to enact the charity law. In this regard, I think Georgia is a savage country. I cannot recall any developed country where charity does not imply even an insignificant increase in tax allowances. Once that savagery ends and the state consciously cedes part of its tax revenues, the situation will improve. Today, socially vulnerable people only pin their hopes on the state, whereas charity could redistribute this burden. The key question is what is the state ready for? What can it cede to encourage charity from profitable Georgian organizations? Once this issue is tackled, you will find it difficult to recognize the Conservatoire and many other things in Georgia – in the positive sense, of course.