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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