When I was a dance student at UCLA, I was fortunate to study with avante-gard composer, John Cage. He stirred my creative habit and how I use it for life.
Cage's book, “Silence,” had a great impact on me. I carried it around with me always, underlining and writing my notes in the spaces between his poetry and prose.
Cage taught me about improvisation, and that “not knowing” oftentimes brings revelation. In the catalogue of an exhibition, he once wrote, “I had no idea this was going to happen. I did have an idea something else would happen. Ideas are one thing and what happens another.”
Here are the “10 Rules for Students and Teachers” inspired by Cage and written by Sister Corita Kent in Los Angeles in 1968. They were posted at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York, and now they're in my office. I find them witty, wise, and intelligent:
RULE 1: Find a place you trust, and then, try trusting it for a while.
RULE 2: (General Duties as a Student) Pull everything out of your teacher. Pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE 3: (General Duties as a Teacher) Pull everything out of your students.
RULE 4: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE 5: 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 6: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE 7: 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 8: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE 9: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
Rule 10: “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.
These are the rules I like to live by. They're rebellious, powerful, and fun.
Consider them an experiment!
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