Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education

Day 24 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up:  the purpose of beauty?

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Terry, a big Scouse presence appears as if by magic on the floor of an imposing, oaken school library dressed in the hybrid clothing of part teacher gown, part trainer top, part designer trousers and complete black and white brogues.  

Looking out at the wintery skyscape, Terry takes to the floor with ease and an in-your-face energy from which there is no shirking.  The wooden panels of the walls stare back at him with their air of sobriety and gravitas, waiting for the scouser to show his true colours. Blue or (well) red?

The seats and tables are shoved back to the walls, giving him the floor space which he takes to like a duck to proverbial, slurping out of his bottle of noisy water, telling me about the fecundity of the group’s work  from the previous week.  An awkward gaggle of angular faces, beaks and folded arms look on and I’m reminded that despite all the experience in the world, you never know what you’re going to face: all the preparation, all the theory, all the lesson plans, all the tricks and tips and turn ons is fine but… in the end…. you’ ve got a line of expectations, gazes, hopes, resentments, gaps, blank minds, active minds fidgeting just waiting for you, for someone, for something to switch them on….

He confides in the assembled Leekettes that  “this is a special day kid – chrimbo next week” and follows up with an impromtpu solo improvisation about his own experiences of  education and the resistances he encountered:  “what are you going to night school for, you poof?” before launching into the session proper  by reading some of his own poetry, a love poem about a boy and girl on Wigan Pier.

He meets and is met by the group’s  gaze.

Before we can complete the school electronic register, we’re sailing through some turbulent performance poetry at 9.45 in the morning to boot.  “How can you have more than one heart?” 

Moving onto some early morning workshop games,  Terry introduces the group to a trust exercise which is premised on the simple rule that one player has to be guided through a maze of  plastic glasses on the floor with instructions called from the other side of the room.  One simple rule is all it takes for the group to be up on the floor, wrestling, challenging, getting on with getting on, laughing, joking, defiling the solitude of the normally hallowed walls, breaking the rules of what it is to be and behave in a library.

Straight into a flip chart exercise, the rule being to complete the phrase, ‘I want to be the first…’  “I want to be the first whisper first heard by a deaf man.’  

Momentarily, we’re all stunned.  But we move on and gloss over.  How do we acknowledge, value that moment produced by a young lad who looks as bemused at his contribution as the rest of us who have just registered it? 

A huge question but not followed through. For all the talk about personalised learning in the classroom, can we ever have the wherewithal to respond to moments of beauty that don’t entail ticking off an outcome within the confines of a cell in an excel spreadsheet?

Or do those moments of beauty succeed in silencing us, once and for all?  Is that the purpose of beauty?  Or just its side effect?

Back to the rules. Rule 1:  it can’t be wrong, whatever you write. Followed by a quick exercise: complete the following phrase:     In case of… X then Y. Rule 2: the last word starts the next line: but remember Rule 1: all answers are equally valuable “it doesn’t matter what you say, it can’t be wrong…” he urges.  Rule 3: the first line and last line have to be the same, “like a jigsaw puzzle: ironically meaning that the final rule negates the principle of Rule 1.  But we’re not worried as we frantically scribble, trying our best to fill that empty page of lined paper.

In the fluidity of the writer, child, teacher relationship, the writer establishes the rules,  yet breaks them rapidly, easily, without consternation or complaint.  “It can’t be wrong, you’re the author”.

From the transience of the writer’s rule setting regime an essence emerges of a kind of super-author who makes and breaks the rules for his apprentices, his minor authors.  Through the walls he drifts, from the floor he rises: the meta-author,  the author of authors. Welcome to the world of the writer in residence.

The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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