It is said that John Cage had a list of Ten Rules for Students and Teachers that he lived and created by. These “rules” were posted on the studio wall of his long-time partner and legendary choreographer, Merce Cunningham (at 55 Bethune St, NYC). But the rules were originally created by a woman, Sister Corita Kent. Sister Kent was an educator and silkscreen artist. Cage adopted these rules and added to them.
Here they are:
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
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.” (John Cage)
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.
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."
The truth is good rules are timeless. They go beyond a particular profession or what’s in fashion and become a guideline for living.
Having rules is an interesting concept. They help us to organize and categorize what is important. But the minute they are created, there is a need to butt up against them. As the old saying goes, ‘rules are made to be broken’. Yet without a guideline of any sort, without structure, where does the creator stand? And what does she or he stand on or for?
From my own perspective, a set of guidelines is helpful in establishing the ideal environment in which to create. It sets up a foundation, a pedestal from which to jump off of daily. But it is always there, guiding me back when I need it. Kent and Cage’s rules seem to apply to more than teaching and making art, but to life in general.
I have set about making my own list, adding to it when necessary. I have a cheap notebook where I write my thoughts down about the work I make in the studio. Somewhere in the middle of this notebook, I have a list of directives. I will share them with you here.
1. Work creates work. Do the work don’t just think about it.
2. Let the work do the talking. Visual art should speak for itself first and foremost without literal explanation. Is this the case?
3. Know the space of quiet. Be able to get there and work from there.
4. Have a plan and then be willing to adjust it.
5. Know why you are doing a specific thing. What’s the real reason? Be honest here.
6. Work instinctively. Let go of what the brain thinks and work until it becomes intuitive.
7. Let the work gestate. Spend lots of time looking with fresh eyes. The work will guide you.
8. Never ever compromise your integrity. Ever. Oh, and be nice.
9. Be interesting - to yourself. Live a rich and fulfilling life. Patience (with all things exterior) becomes irrelevant if your are interested and engaged in what your are doing.
10. Understand the systems you have chosen to be a part of or have created. Understand that they are just systems and you are the master.
John Cage and his creative process: listen to John Cage: How to get started, 1989.
To learn more about Merce Cunningham’s work: Merce.org
Merce Cunningham Dance Company at BAM: Watch here.
All about Sister Corita Kent: Corita.org
“The Pop Art Nun Who Combined Warhol with Social Justice”: from Artnet.com
Books Worth Reading:
Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies:
Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) is a card-based method for promoting creativity jointly created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, first published in 1975. Physically, it takes the form of a deck of 7-by-9-centimeter (2.8 in × 3.5 in) printed cards in a black box.
Note: Book and card links are affiliate links that are of no cost to you but can provide a very small % to me, if you purchase. I only recommend what I personally think is great material. Check them out and fulfill your own curiosity.
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