10 Rules for Students & Teachers Created by Sister Corita Kent, and Popularized by John Cage

cage teaching rules

Image by WikiArt, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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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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Comments (13)
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  • Alan Drabke says:

    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.)

  • John Kennedy says:

    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”.

  • arvind verma says:

    nice rule

  • Patrik says:


    Here’s a nice poster by swedish graphic designer Rikard Heberling containing the rules

  • Esther Megargel says:

    I have kept this list in a prominent place and refer to it often. It’s great advice for a composer, even though John Cage didn’t write it.

  • Anastasia says:

    Aren’t the rules popularized by Sister Coritha Kent then ?

  • Abraham lincoln says:

    These rules don’t make sense.


    It’s a shame you’ve focused on John Cage rather than Corita Kent, who wrote the list.

  • Jeff Gates says:

    I taught college for 23 years. I was always amazed by those who approached me at the beginning of the term to ask, “What do I need to do to get an ‘A’? Finally, I came up with a perfect response: “If you listen to me, you’ll get a C; if you learn something, you’ll get a B; but if you teach me something, you’ll get an A.” I wasn’t there to just blab. I was there to discuss and question.

  • CS says:

    Shouldn’t the photo be of Corita Kent? John Cage is cool, but not the author of the list.

  • JrF says:

    this is misogyny plain & simple. Cage had nothing to do with writing the list & yet he is the focus of the headline & image & text of the article.

  • VermontHillsAreTheBest says:

    Give credit where credit is due PLEASE.

  • Tina Elliott says:

    I LOVE LOVE what Jeff Gates above says the tells students who ask: “What do I need to do to get an ‘A’? 1) “If you listen to me, you’ll get a C; 2)if you learn something, you’ll get a B; 3)but if you teach me something, you’ll get an A.”

    Its a shame but I MUST tell high school students to Be kind & courteous, to Keep voices calm and use respectful and appropriate language.

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