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Face Value: Six People Talk About Individuals Who Inspired Them To Learn

In August of 2016 James Clegg had a vision for an event with Ragged University.  It was to take place inside the Talbot Rice art gallery in Edinburgh, and bring together various people to talk for five minutes about someone who inspired them.  This is a podcast of the evening which he brought together.  It was particularly interesting as it was using an art space…

Alice Neel (1970) Hartley and Ginny. Courtesy of the Estate of Alice Neel
Alice Neel (1970) Hartley and Ginny. Courtesy of the Estate of Alice Neel

The art space is of great importance as because it is hard to define and reduce, it is a great vehicle for knowledge.  When we go into galleries we expect to see a collection of individuals rather than a corporate agglomeration of people subsumed under a banner.  This opportunity has been fruitful in helping recast thinking around knowledge, learning, value, identity and people – ultimately very helpful.

James himself spoke about Alice Neel as someone who inspired him; this was apt as her works were on display in the gallery in which we were sat, in which we conversed, in which we ate and drank that night. You can read some notes about the people who were the inspirations below:


Professor Annie Altschul
Professor Annie Altschul

Dr Steve Tilley

I am interested in knowing more about what would be involved in talking about a person who influenced me. The person is Annie Altschul CBE, who came to the UK in 1938 as a refugee from Nazi Austria. She became the most influential mental nurse (psychiatric nurse) of her generation, Chief Tutor at the Maudsley Hospital, author of the standard texts for psychiatric nurses, lecturer then Professor of Nursing Studies at UofED, most significant influence on psychiatric nursing research, Mental Welfare Commissioner.

She was open about her own experience and treatment for severe depression. Probably unique in being in both the Memory Book of Jewish Students and Staff expelled from the University of Vienna in 1938, and the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women.

The Annie Altschul Room at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital was opened in 2013, the only room there named after a nurse and the only room named after a woman.


 

Richie Cumming
Richie Cumming

Richie Cumming

My son was born four months ago tomorrow, the first person he reminded me of was Bill. I think he’s got the Riach nose. I’d like to discuss my grandfather. Bill Riach. (1924- 2012) Here’s a photograph and the only recording we have of him talking about working in Glasgow’s Rolls Royce factories with tough women during the second world war.

He had a huge influence on my life in terms of my political education, general outlook and my physical appearance. I have the ‘Riach nose’, which is only going to get bigger as I get older. An artist and drinker, a favoured quote of his was ‘I hate the bourgeoisie but I love their habits’.

He had worked as an engineer, tool maker and union organiser and in his early 40s he went to Glasgow School of Art, while supporting a young family with odd engineering jobs in the factories and yards he hadn’t been barred from due to his union activities.

He left someone else to hang his degree show as he had a job to go to. He went into teaching and worked as deputy head of Lawmuir house residential school for ‘troubled’ kids. He retired to Portugal with my gran as she was dying and often managed to wangle his way onto Portuguese tv news being interviewed at demonstrations and rallies with a red carnation (symbol of the Portuguese revolution) in his hat.


 

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan

John Sumpter

I’d choose Bob Dylan. We’re close in age. I first heard his music when I went to university. Another student in my digs had his first four albums on a big reel to reel tape recorder. I’d never heard anything like it. I didn’t have a very high opinion of myself when I first left school. I hadn’t carved a place for myself in any social hierarchies. But gradually, over that first year at university, I developed the confidence to re-invent myself. I’d give Bob a lot of the credit for that.

We both had much the same look, mass of curly hair, weak chin, pouty lips, but there was a world of difference in the way we carried ourselves. I was so nervous, so shy. But Bob just exuded arrogance. You could hear it in his voice, you could see it in his face, the way he stared fearlessly out of his LP covers, never smiling, just giving you that look that says ‘I’m so much cooler than you in ways you can’t even begin to understand.’

Arrogance is not a widely admired human characteristic. It can lead to a lot of trouble in personal relationships. But it’s a useful trait in a competitive environment. You won’t succeed without self–belief. You need to be able to back up that mind set with performance. But performance without self-promotion often goes un-noticed, especially in work environments, where people judge rapidly based on appearance and attitude.

I’ve had a more successful life than I could possibly have imagined when I left school. Bob Dylan has been a constant presence that whole time. He’s 75 now, but he’s still working, still producing albums. I gave up my work as an engineer when I was sixty. But I was financially secure. I decided to spend the rest of my life indulging myself. For me that meant a leisurely life of writing, gardening, philosophy, and art.

In practical terms, my wife has been my constant companion and the bedrock of my success. I have a large and supportive family. I’ve never met Bob Dylan. It’s quite possible I wouldn’t even like him if I did. But I think that sums up the value of art. It’s a fantasy world. It’s a fantasy world, where you can never be contradicted unless it’s by yourself. And you won’t be doing that once you’ve developed a touch of arrogance.
I’d choose Bob Dylan. We’re close in age. I first heard his music when I went to university. Another student in my digs had his first four albums on a big reel to reel tape recorder. I’d never heard anything like it.

I didn’t have a very high opinion of myself when I first left school. I hadn’t carved a place for myself in any social hierarchies. But gradually, over that first year at university, I developed the confidence to re-invent myself. I’d give Bob a lot of the credit for that.

We both had much the same look, mass of curly hair, weak chin, pouty lips, but there was a world of difference in the way we carried ourselves. I was so nervous, so shy. But Bob just exuded arrogance. You could hear it in his voice, you could see it in his face, the way he stared fearlessly out of his LP covers, never smiling, just giving you that look that says ‘I’m so much cooler than you in ways you can’t even begin to understand.’

Arrogance is not a widely admired human characteristic. It can lead to a lot of trouble in personal relationships. But it’s a useful trait in a competitive environment. You won’t succeed without self–belief. You need to be able to back up that mind set with performance. But performance without self-promotion often goes un-noticed, especially in work environments, where people judge rapidly based on appearance and attitude.

I’ve had a more successful life than I could possibly have imagined when I left school. Bob Dylan has been a constant presence that whole time. He’s 75 now, but he’s still working, still producing albums. I gave up my work as an engineer when I was sixty. But I was financially secure. I decided to spend the rest of my life indulging myself. For me that meant a leisurely life of writing, gardening, philosophy, and art.

In practical terms, my wife has been my constant companion and the bedrock of my success. I have a large and supportive family. I’ve never met Bob Dylan. It’s quite possible I wouldn’t even like him if I did. But I think that sums up the value of art. It’s a fantasy world. It’s a fantasy world, where you can never be contradicted unless it’s by yourself. And you won’t be doing that once you’ve developed a touch of arrogance.


 

Sir James Black
Sir James Black

Dr Frank Prior

I have been a researcher and inventor all my life. In the last 40 years I have been developed a wide range of medical inventions ranging from a new device to remove prion protein, (the agent responsible for Mad Cow Disease) and my major project, the development of a new theory of blood pressure. I was very lucky to be one of the prizewinners of the Medical Futures award in 2008. This award is the top gong for UK healthcare related inventions, One of my heros, Sir James Black was the guest of honour.

Sir James was probably the best inventor of new drugs ever, He derrived some of the most useful medicines ever invented. Propranolol, the first of a group of drugs which lowered blood pressure. was his first major success. He also developed cimetidine, the drug which has revolutionised the treatment and prevention of stomach ulcers.

I was really touched with his interest in my inventions and particularly interested in my blood pressure work. We ended up having a half hour chat and found that we shared a common interest in music, mathematics, physiology pharmacology and Medicine. I remember looking up at one point and saw four television cameras focusing on our chat, He was wonderfully inspiring, very very bright and a master at inspiring creativity. How wonderful.

The picture of the two of us has pride of place on the wall behind my computer. In times when the results just wont fit, or I need extra inspiration I look at this picture. As he told me the major attribute you need in research is tenacity.


 

British Sign Language
British Sign Language

Michael Richardson

I am emailing to let you know that I am interested in doing a fine minute presentation on the power of the face as a tool for communication by British Sign Language users.

I will talk about Bryan Marshall, a Deaf adult who taught me BSL who in his younger years was an award winning actor in national Deaf drama competitions; and through him I will discuss the knowledge that has been passed on to me about facial expression both in everyday communication and in theatre.


 

John Peel
John Peel

David Lamond

If I were to deliver a talk on an influence I would choose the late radio broadcaster John Peel. The musician’s dj, John Peel, worked tirelessly in supporting bands and artists from the underground in Britain and abroad. His sudden death in 2005 left a chasm at radio 1. His legacy is partly remembered on the alternative, bbc 6 music. As musician Mark E Smith commented on the eve of his death

“John’s great talent was his subjectivity”

John had an ear for the wierd and the wonderful. It is this search for the ‘new and obscure’ that I would focus on as it is this that John imparted to me, not only in listening to music but in shaping my approach to art in general.

 

 

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