The 10 Rules for Students and Teachers Popularized by John Cage: “Nothing Is a Mistake,” “Consider Everything an Experiment” & More

The Brian Eno archive More Dark than Shark recently posted on its Twitter account a list of twelve rules for students and teachers used by John Cage. Though much has been written about the artistic affinities between Eno and Cage, both of whose compositions have pushed the boundaries of how we think about music itself, they also both have a deep connection to the idea of using rules to enhance the experience of creation. Where Eno has his deck of creative process-enhancing Oblique Strategies cards, Cage had this list of rules first composed by an educator, silkscreen artist, and nun named Sister Corita Kent.

Kent came up with the list, writes Brainpickings' Maria Popova, "as part of a project for a class she taught in 1967-1968. It was subsequently appropriated as the official art department rules at the college of LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent, her alma mater, but was commonly popularized by Cage, whom the tenth rule cites directly." That tenth rule, more of a meta-rule, reminds the reader that "we're breaking all the rules" by "leaving plenty of room for X quantities." But one can easily imagine how the previous nine, having as much to do with the enjoyment of the work of learning, teaching, and creating as with its rigorous performance, might appeal to Cage as well. The complete list runs as follows:

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.

Some of the rules on Kent's list, which has now exerted its influence for half a century, sound faintly like the Oblique Strategies Eno and the painter Peter Schmidt would come up with in the 1970s. Take rule number six, "Nothing is a mistake," which brings to mind the Oblique Strategy "Honor thy error as a hidden intention." But we're all on the same field when it comes to techniques to move our minds in worthwhile new directions, as Cage, Kent, Eno, Schmidt, and most other serious students, teachers, and creators might agree. They'd certainly agree that, all rules aside, everything ultimately comes down to doing the work itself, day in and day out. "Craft," as Eno once said," is what enables you to be successful when you're not inspired."

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Notations: John Cage Publishes a Book of Graphic Musical Scores, Featuring Visualizations of Works by Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, The Beatles & More (1969)

Jump Start Your Creative Process with Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” Deck of Cards (1975)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Behold the Art-o-Mat: Vintage Cigarette Vending Machines Get Repurposed & Dispense Works of Art

It’s a well known fact that anyone who’s quitting smoking will need to find something to occupy their hands.

Many experts suggest holding a pencil or another vaguely-cigarette-shaped object.

Others prescribe busy work—cracking nuts and peeling oranges.

Hardcore cases are advised to keep those paws busy with a hobby such as painting or woodworking.

But from where we sit, the most spiritually rewarding, symbolic activity for someone in this tender situation would be creating a tiny artwork prototype to sell in an Art-o-Mat®, one of over 100 vintage cigarette vending machines specifically repurposed to dispense art.




Located primarily in the US, the machines are the brainchild of artist Clark Whittington, who loaded the first one with black & white, block-mounted photos for a 1997 solo show in a Winston-Salem cafe.

These days, there are a hundred or so Art-o-Mats, stocked with the work of artists both professional and amateur, who have successfully navigated the submission process.

A variety of mediums is represented—painting, sculpture, fine art prints, jewelry, assemblages, cut paper, and tiny bound books.

Worthington encourages would-be participants to avoid the ease of mass production in favor of unique items that bear evidence of the human hand:

The vending process is only the beginning of your Art-o-Mat® art. Once purchased and two steps away from the machine, your work is solely a reflection of you and your art. Many pieces have been carried around the globe. So, think of approaches that do not convey “a Sunday afternoon at the copy shop” and consider ways that your art will be appreciated for years to come.

The guidelines are understandably strict with regard to dimensions. Wouldn’t want to kill the blind box thrill by jamming a vintage vending machine’s inner workings.

Edibles, magnets, balloons, glitter, confetti, and anything processed alongside peanuts are verboten materials.

A certain popular decoupage medium is another no-no, as it adheres to the mandated protective wrap.

And just as cigarettes carry sternly worded warnings from the Surgeon General, artists are advised to include a label if their submission could be considered unsuitable for underage collectors.

If you need a hand to walk you through the process, have a look at crafter Shannon Greene’s video, above.

Greene became enthralled with the Art-o-Mat experience on a heavily documented trip to Las Vegas, when she put $5 in the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s machine, and received a box of string and painted canvas scrap bookmarks created by Kelsey Huckaby.

(Witness artist Huckaby treating herself to one of her own creations from an Austin, Texas Art-o-Mat on her birthday, below, to see a machine in action. Particularly recommended for those who came of age after these once-standard fixtures were banned from the lobbies of bars and diners.)

Other repurposed machines in the Art-o-Mat stable include the zippy red number in Ocala, Florida’s Appleton Museum of Art, a cool blue customer residing in Stanford University’s Lantana House, and a 6-knob model that periodically pops up in various arts-friendly New York City venues.

As the jolly and self-deprecating crafter Greene observes, at $5 a “yank,” no one is getting rich off this project, though the artists get 50% of the proceeds.

It’s also worth noting that these original artworks cost less than a pack of cigarettes in all but six states.

We agree with Greene that the experience more than justifies the price. Whatever art one winds up with is but added value.

Greene does not regret the considerable labor that went into the 100 tiny journals covered in retired billboard vinyl she was required to crank out after her prototypes were greenlit.

To determine whether or not you’re prepared to do the time, have a peek at Katharine Miele’s labor-intensive process, below. Even though the artist’s contact information is included along with every Art-o-Mat surprise, there’s no guarantee that she’ll hear back from anyone who wound up with one of the geometric chair linocuts she spent a week making.

Other Art-o-Mat artists, like Susan Rossiter, have figured out how to play by the rules while also realizing a bit of return beyond the Pippi Longstocking-like satisfaction of creating a nifty experience for random strangers. The machines are stocked with originals of her tiny multi-media chicken portraits, and she sells prints on her website.

Or perhaps, you, like mononymous physicist Colleen, find a meditative pleasure in the act of creation. To date, she’s painted 1150 cigarette-pack-sized blocks for inclusion in the machines.

Still game? Get started with an Art-o-Mat prototype kit for $19.99 here.

(As Greene joyfully points out, it comes with such goodies as a little journal, a pencil, and an official Art-o-Mat eraser.)

Take inspiration - or dream about what $5 might get you - in the collector’s show and tell, above.

Feeling flush and far from the nearest Art-o-Mat location?  Support the project by dropping a Benjamin on an Art-o-Carton containing 10 tiny artworks, custom selected in response to a short, personality-based questionnaire.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Eleven Rules for Writing from Eight Contemporary Playwrights 

Chances are most of us won’t be immediately familiar with the eight mostly British playwrights reflecting on their process in the National Theatre’s video, above.

That’s a good thing.

It's easier to choose which pieces of inspiring, occasionally conflicting writing advice to follow when the scale's not weighted down by the thumb of celebrity.

(Though rest assured that there’s no shortage of people who do know their work, if the National Theater is placing them in the hot seat.)




It’s impossible to follow all of their suggestions on any given project, so go with your gut.

Or try your hand at one that doesn’t come naturally, especially if you’ve been feeling stuck.

These approaches are equally valid for those writing fiction, and possibly even certain types of poetry and song.

The National wins points for assembling a diverse group—there are four women and four men, three of whom are people of color.

Within this crew, it’s the women who overwhelmingly bring up the notions of permission and perfection, as in it’s okay to let your first draft be absolutely dreadful.

Most of the males are prone to plotting things out in advance.

And no one seems entirely at home marooned against a seamless white background on a plain wooden stool.

Jewish identity, school shootings, immigration, race, climate change, and homophobia are just some of the topics they have considered in their plays.

Some have worked in film and TV, adapted the classics, or written for young audiences.

They have won prestigious awards, seen their plays staged ‘round the globe, and had success with other artistic pursuits, including poetry, performance, and dance.

Clearly, you'll find some great advice below, though it's not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Let us know in the comments which rules you personally consider worth following.

Eleven Rules for Writing from Eight Contemporary Playwrights

1. Start

or

2. Don’t start. Let your idea marinate for a minimum of six months, then start.

3.. Have some sort of outline or plan before you start

4. Do some research

5. Don’t be judgmental of your writing while you’re writing

6. Embrace the terrible first draft 

7. Don’t show anyone your first draft, unless you want to.

8. Know how it’s going to end

or

9. Don’t know how it’s going end

10. Work with others

11. Print it, and read it like someone experiencing it for the first time. No editing aloud. Get that pen out of your hand.

And now, it’s time to discover the work of the participating playwrights. Go see a show, or at least read about one in the links:

In-Sook Chappell

Ryan Craig

Suhayla El-Bushra

Inua Ellams

Lucy Kirkwood

Evan Placey

Tanya Ronder

Simon Stephens

The National Theatre has several fascinating playlists devoted to playwriting. Find them here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Wednesday, May 16 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Malcolm Gladwell Explains Where His Ideas Come From

For many readers out there, the publication of a new Malcolm Gladwell article ranks as an event demanding immediate attention. They'll read whatever he writes, not just because they enjoy his style but because they trust his instinct for finding fascinating subjects, from coffee to health care, college rankings to dog training, shopping malls to school shootings. How did he develop that instinct? He reveals aspects of his idea-generating process in the seventeen-minute interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick just above. It turns out that, just as with most of us — or as it would ideally go with most of us — Gladwell's ideas sprout organically from his strengths.

But those strengths, in turn, sprout organically from his weaknesses. An early New Yorker assignment, handed down by then-editor Tina Brown, had Gladwell covering the 1989 attack on the woman referred to, at the time, as the Central Park Jogger. Instead of doing the kind of prolonged, emotional interviews many reporters would have done with the victim's friends and family, he instead contacted the surgeon who operated on her, ending up with a piece on "practice variation in medicine," the phenomenon whereby different medical practitioners in different regions of the country end up going about their job in persistently different ways. "They can't seem to get everyone on the same page," as Gladwell frames the problem.




The intersection of the New Yorker's tradition of and expectation for long-form pieces with his own inability to perform traditional reportage gave Gladwell a sense of where he should look for promising leads. Rejecting character as a hook, he instead goes looking for intriguing theories, operating on the conception of most writers as "experience-rich and theory-poor." Instead of simply reporting on the latest school shooting, for instance, he wrote about a Stanford sociologist's theory of riots that he could apply to the phenomenon of school shootings themselves. His next book, about which he reveals a thing or two in this interview, deals in part with a different kind of shooting: that committed by police.

"I have the advantage of coming to it late," Gladwell says to Remnick, explaining how his perspective and thus his writing on the subject might differ from those of others. That simple statement may hold the key to Gladwell's vault of ideas: with no obligation to give a rundown of the facts as they emerge, he can step back for a moment (be it a few months or a few decades) and get a sense of which stories will ultimately take the right shape to connect to the many broad, intriguing ideas, in the form of academic theory or otherwise, with which he's already familiarized himself. As much as Gladwell seems like a writer of the moment (and here he describes his "ur-reader" as a fortysomething Trader Joe's executive who only has time for three books a year, plus podcasts), he gets a fair bit of mileage out of one of the most old-fashioned assets of them all: a well-stocked mind.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Elton John Proves He Can Turn any Text into a Song: Watch Him Improvise with Lines from Henrik Ibsen’s Play, Peer Gynt

I'm not a lyric writer. I get all my inspiration from looking at the written page. - Elton John

Inspiration is one thing. Acting on it is another. Sir Elton’s output seems to go beyond his magical combination of talent, work ethic, and training. He claims to have taken all of 30 minutes to complete "Your Song." In his 2005 appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio, excerpted above, he passed his genius off as something akin to a party trick, calling on the audience to pass up a book—any book—as source material for an insta-song.

Given the number of student actors in the audience, it’s really not so surprising that the first volume to hit the stage was Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 verse play Peer Gynt.




Magicians heighten the drama by demanding absolute silence prior to a difficult trick.

John swings the other way. The resulting improvised tune is all the more impressive for his off the cuff, raunchy text-based patter. It's hard to imagine Ibsen playing so fast and loose with lines like:

Everything spites me with a vengeance

Sky and water and those wicked mountains

Fog pouring out of the sky to confound him

The water hurling in to drown him

The mountains pointing their rocks to fall-

And those people, all of them out for the kill!

Oh no, not to die!

I mustn’t lose him. The lout!

Why’s the devil have to tease him?

What might Metallica or Iron Maiden have conjured from such material? In John’s hands, it becomes a lush, emotionally charged ballad, the mountains and fog apt metaphors.

In his book Inside Inside, host James Lipton names this as one of “the two most astounding improvisations in the history of Inside the Actors Studio.” The other was Robin Williams making merry with a pink pashmina shawl.

In a 2012 interview with NPR, John went into the nature of his collaboration with his longtime word man, Bernie Taupin. Unlike other lyricists, Taupin does not think in terms of verse and chorus, leaving it to John to free the song from a wall of text:

It’s just a blank—well, not a blank, but it's a piece of paper. In the old days, it was handwritten. Then it got typed. Then it got faxed. Now it gets emailed. And it's no suggestions, nothing. And we've never written in the same room. I don't know if people know that. But he gives me the lyric, and I go away and write the song, and then come back and play it to him. And I've never lost the enjoyment or the thrill of playing him the song that I've just written to his lyric.

If you’d like to finish what John started by further musicalizing Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, the complete script can be read here. Or listen to the 1946 radio adaptation starring Ralph Richardson as Peer Gynt and Laurence Olivier as the Troll King and a button-moulder, below. Also above, you can watch John turn instructions for using an oven (yes, that daily appliance) into song.

via metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Mandy Harvey, the Deaf Singer Songwriter Who Performs Barefoot & Feels the Music Through Vibrations in the Ground

Attractive young female singer-songwriters who shuck their shoes onstage sometimes find that this small attempt to pass themselves off as folksy and “real” has the opposite effect.

Mandy Harvey, however, is above reproach. The deaf singer-songwriter performs barefoot out of necessity, using her unclad soles to pick up on the vibrations of various instruments through the floorboards. It allows her to keep time and, in so doing, helps her to stay emotionally connected to the other musicians with whom she’s performing, as she told NPR earlier this year, when she was one of 10 finalists on America's Got Talent.

“I’ll feel and concentrate on the drums through the floor, through my feet and then the bass through your chest,” she said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio. “And then if a saxophone player is next to me then it will be on my arm. So you just designate different parts of your body so you can concentrate on who’s playing what and when.”




Born with near perfect pitch and a connective tissue disorder that impaired her hearing, she was able to pursue her love of music by relying on hearing aids and lip reading until 18, when she finally lost her hearing for good, as a freshman Vocal Music Education major at Colorado State University.

While she has never heard fellow songbirds Adele or Taylor Swift, she has gotten over the stage fright that plagued her when she still retained some hearing. Vocally, she turns to muscle memory and visual tuners to see her through.

Her talent is such that some listeners are convinced her deafness is a publicity stunt, a misperception that eats at Wayne Connell, founder of the Invisible Disabilities Association, a non-profit with whom Harvey is active:

We've created an idea [of] how people are supposed to look when they're broken and so when you don't fit that imaginary mold, then it's a trick, or you're a liar — or you're not really broken, so you shouldn't be doing certain things.

See Harvey performing barefoot at the Kennedy Center on the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The “Humans of New York” Photo Project Becomes a 13-Part Video Documentary Series: Watch It Free Online


New York, New York—there are many ways of assessing whether or not you’ve “made” it here—these days it includes an appearance on photographer Brandon Stanton’s wildly popular blog, Humans of New York, in which a spontaneous street portrait is anchored by a personal quote or longer anecdote.

Following several books and a UN-sponsored world tour to document humans in over twenty countries, the project has morphed into a 13-episode docu-series as part of Facebook’s original video content platform.

Aided by cinematographer Michael Crommett, Stanton elicits his customary blend of universal and specific truths from his interview subjects. Extending the moment into the video realm affords viewers a larger window onto the complexities of each human’s situation.

Take episode four, “Relationships,” above:

An ample, unadorned woman in late-middle age recalls being swept off her feet by a passion that still burns bright…

An NYU grad stares uncomfortably in her purple cap and gown as her divorced parents air various regrets…

A couple with mismatched views on marriage are upstaged by a spontaneous proposal unfolding a few feet away…

La Vie en Rose holds deep meaning for two couples, despite radically different locations, presentations, and orientations.

A little girl has no problem calling the shots around her special fella…

I love you, New York!!!

Other themes include Money, Time, Purpose, and Parenting.

One of the great pleasures of both series and blog is Stanton’s open-mindedness as to what constitutes New York and New Yorkers.

Some interviews take place near such tourist-friendly locales as Bethesda Fountain and the Washington Square Arch, but just as many transpire alongside noticeably Outer Borough architecture or the blasted cement heaths aproning its less sought after public schools.

Those who live here will nod with recognition at the cherry blossom selfies, "showtime" in the subway, and the Bushwick vibe of the groom who proposed to his bride at Coney Island, under the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Wall of Fame.

Ditto the appearance of such local celebrities as Jimmy Webb, emeritus manager of the punk boutique, Trash and Vaudeville and Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, the city’s unofficial wizard.

Below, Stanton explains his goal when conducting interviews and demonstrates how a non-threatening approach can soften strangers to the point of candor.

It's well know 'round these parts that certain segments of the local populace would gnaw off limbs to be immortalized by Stanton, but he cleaves to the pure serendipity of his selection process. Asking to have your picture taken ensures that it won’t be. Luck puts you in front of his lens. Sharing your truth is what makes you human.

Watch Humans of New York: The Series here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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