10 Rules for Students and Teachers Popularized by John Cage

JohnCage_teaching rules

Avant-garde composer John Cage started out as a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg. He greatly looked up to the exiled Austrian as a model of how a true artist ought to live. Cage, in turn, inspired generations of artists and composers both through his work – which incorporated elements of chance into his music – and through his teaching.

One of those whom he inspired was Sister Corita Kent. An unlikely fixture in the Los Angeles art scene, the nun was an instructor at Immaculate Heart College and a celebrated artist who considered Saul Bass, Buckminster Fuller and Cage to be personal friends.

In 1968, she crafted the lovely, touching Ten Rules for Students and Teachers for a class project. While Cage was quoted directly in Rule 10, he didn’t come up with the list, as many website sites claim. By all accounts, though, he was delighted with it and did everything he could to popularize the list. Cage’s lover and life partner Merce Cunningham reportedly kept a copy of it posted in his studio until his dying days. You can check the list out below:

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

Via Gotham Writers

Related Content:

Listen to John Cage’s 5 Hour Art Piece: Diary: How To Improve The World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)

Hear Joey Ramone Sing a Piece by John Cage Adapted from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Watch a Surprisingly Moving Performance of John Cage’s 1948 “Suite for Toy Piano”

Woody Guthrie’s Fan Letter To John Cage and Alan Hovhaness (1947)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

 



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  1. Alan Drabke says . . . | April 17, 2014 / 5:57 am

    Hooray! Somebody finally said something positive about a woman of the cloth! Careful know, ehat if everyone in the performing arts community becomes a tee totaler!

    (O.K. I used a tired worn out cliche, now you know I’m a baby boomer.)

  2. John Kennedy says . . . | April 22, 2014 / 12:01 pm

    Just to clarify, this list was not made by John Cage. Nor did he ever have anything to do with this or as you say, do “everything he could to popularize the list”. Cage did not believe in rules for art, even benign ones and pleasant ones such as these. This is recirculated internet myth that is unfortunately, fast becoming “history”.

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