John Cage's ten rules for students and teachers

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Good stuff, but I disagree with Rule 9. Happiness is fine and useful for many people in many circumstances, but it’s neither an always necessary nor universally desirable condition. I’ve done plenty of good learning (and I hope good teaching) in a state other than happiness. Moreover, there are emotional states other than happiness and unhappiness. IMHO a lot of people exacerbate their own anxiety by telling themselves that they need to be happy, and that can be detrimental to both learning and teaching.


College Professor here. These are lovely rules. I think I may incorporate some of them into my syllabi for the fall. Thanks for sharing them.


Too bad – if true – that John Cage plagiarized the list from the artist Sister Corita Kent. Not even an acknowledgement of his source. Sigh…

Still, most of the list looks pretty good regardless of the author. I might adapt it and use it without citing Cage.


Great post!

I agree with everything except Rule 6. I think the idea that making without preconditions is its own form of success is alright, but for me making mistakes and experiencing failure are critical to learning. I’d go as far as saying that working to understand why something failed is the central act around which learning occurs. Then again, I spend most of my time doing things I have no business doing, so YMMV.

In any event, Cage’s list is much more positive than Burroughs’ list. I’m going to try to work some of it into my practice.


There’s no hint of the chain of ownership here, it’s just as likely it got attributed to Cage since he distributed it sometimes. The 10th rule is a John Cage quote, sometimes in quotes with his name following. Since that is sometimes the only name on the page, it’s not hard to imagine how the list got attributed to him.

It’s been around since long before the internet, and you know how those things end up after being re-typed a dozen times.

Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think.

I take this to be a play on the mid-20th Century hit pop song “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later than You Think”. My parents, who were both born in the same decade as Cage, used to sing that (in a more ominous manner than Cage uses it here).




The First Rule For Students and Teachers is You Do Not Talk About Students and Teachers


SAVE EVERYTHING. It might come in handy later.

Sounds like good advice for a tinkerer or artist. Or the merry path to appearing on Hoarders.


The work of Sister Corita Kent, btw:

ugh, the vocal cadences(do they have an inhouse class on how speak this annoyingly?), but this piece tells you a bit about Kent:

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Justification in a list typed in a monospaced type? Seriously?


Cage played with ideas of authorship (see his work with Rauschenberg, or his use of the I Ching). He’d be quite amused about the confused attributions. I doubt he would have had much concern about the “credit” at all, and I very much doubt he’d have been self-seeking or malicious about it.

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I think that Rule 6, as stated here, is really just a variant of “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. In other words, starting out with the goal of achieving/making something and ending up with something different doesn’t mean you ‘failed’.


Hah, came here to post this one:


If memory serves, the tune was used to advertise Labatt’s 50 Ale:notes: Enjoy yourself, take five for 50 Ale!

This. Don’t be in the “fake it 'till you make it” brigade. You might “make it” in some shallow sense, but will anyone, most of all you, respect you and your work? And this rule also applies to the many people who are convinced that it’s networking, or it’s who you know, that rules the day. News Flash: the people who do the work instead of worrying about those things are people who are not following false gods. The social aspects don’t hurt, no one wants to create in a vacuum, but they don’t help if you aren’t primarily obsessing over the fucking work.

You could just show up for class…close your books and sit there for 4 mins and 33 seconds…all silent and such. I mean you could go for 5 minutes but that would be derivative.


I’m not even sure Corita claimed this as her rules.


Yeah, this one stood out for me too. “Follow the leader” is seriously bad advice, along with all the current popular guff about finding a mentor. Whatever happened to “think for yourself”?

And the rest of this rule is way too obfuscated. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes” is a much better way of saying it.

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