John Cage: 10 thoughtful rules

John Cage. Portrait by Susan Schwartzenberg/The Exploratorium.

John Cage. Portrait by Susan Schwartzenberg/The Exploratorium.

I dug a little bit into the author (John Cage) of our original piece, “Some rules for student and teachers,” and what I stumbled upon was an interesting article which implies that Cage took these rules from his former teacher and mentor, Sister Corita Kent. Turns out that the original list was created for a project she oversaw in 1967 at the College of LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent. The list was later popularized by Mr. Cage. John kept a copy of the rules with him at his various studios–he tried to live and work by these simple, yet diverse rules. I do not have a problem with Cage taking the list and using it for his benefit, but the credit should obviously go to Kent.

Sister Corita Kent. Courtesy of

Sister Corita Kent. Courtesy of

Now about the list of rules. They vary in importance and relevance, but I am sure they are useful for people who have the time to dissect them and put them to use. They originate from an art department so they can probably be used much more effectively if you are an artist in some way, shape or form. What constitutes as art, though? Does it have to involve a paint brush or some other tool for design? Can art not be written, spoken or shown? Of course, so maybe these rules can in fact be used for any student or teacher after all. I believe they can as long as the students and teachers really delve themselves into the material and focus on every detail of these rules.

I particularly like these rules:

“9. Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.”

It is always good advice to try to be happy in what you do, whatever it is or however much money you make–it is the most important thing (in my mind). I do not care if I do not make a lot of money, as long as the bills get paid and my wife is by my side (a vacation every now and then would be nice).

“4. Consider everything an experiment.”

Everything is an experiment, even after dozens, hundreds or thousands of tries. Things do not always go as planned–the variables can change daily.

“6. Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.”

This is an interesting philosophy. It is also one that I disagree with. I win and fail many, many times a day. Some people, like Kent or Cage may see that as “making,” which does happen, but I fail as a human being, boyfriend, student, classmate, brother and son all the time. I have to be able to acknowledge that or else I am making excuses. I also have victories (wins), however big or small, which keep me motivated and strong.

These are some intriguing rules to follow. I do feel that by the time I was done reading and applying these rules to myself I would look up and see that the class was already dismissed, and I was left overanalyzing my place in this class and this university. Perhaps I am being too negative towards these rules. Maybe I am not a rule person; perhaps I function better with guidelines.


One response to “John Cage: 10 thoughtful rules

  1. Pingback: Bootcamp2013: An unforgettable, thought-provoking, exhausting, educational trip worth taking | Jack in the Box·

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