I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago highlighting “The 10 Rules for Students and Teachers” that was attributed to John Cage. It is a pretty amazing list, and when I saw it I didn’t think to question whether or not John Cage was the author. But thanks to a trackback from this post on Michael Leddy’s Orange Crate Art blog a mystery as to whom the author of these rules really is has come to my attention. According to the Corita Art Center site, 1960s pop artist and Roman Catholic nun Sister Mary Corita Kent is the author. And if you head over to this post by Keri Smith in 2010 the plot thickens—according to Jill Bell in the comment thread the rules were created as part of a class project in a 1967 or 1968 class taught by Corita Kent. Yet, in the same comment thread Nancy Dalva of the Merce Cunnigham Trust contends that if Laura Kuhn, the founding trustee and executive director of the John Cage Trust, says the List of Rules belongs to Cage (which she did—at least until the source link broke) then that must be taken seriously (the Trusts weigh in—I hope I have a trust to weigh in when I am gone!).
Well how about that? I had no idea of the back story before I posted this, and one quick Google search probably would have uncovered that there even was such a mystery to be concerned about. And while I failed in my duties as an unpaid, hobbyist blogger to fact check my source, the lazy web took over seamlessly and brought the mountain to Mohammed. I guess that is what’s most interesing about this particular incident for me, I’m not so much concerned about whether John Cage or Corita Kent wrote the list, or even that a now unknown group of people were co-authors. What’s cool about this is that a web of people interested in such things can bring this information back to you and make you a little bit smarter and that much more mindful. This is a perfect example of the web working like a distributed conversation amongst people who don’t even know, or ever have to talk to, one another.
Your research is interesting, but seems inconclusive to me. The style of prose in the “rules” seems to have a very un-Cagelike quality to me; they’re fast, hard, and simplistic, and Cage was never fast, hard, or simplistic in any of his writings or in his music. If anything, he was a cheerleader for deeper and more individual rendering and interpretation of sounds and music, not the regimentation described in the document. So I question whether Cage would have authored it.