I received an email from a reader who suggested that “The Rules” by Corita Kent (which I cited a few posts back) was actually written by John Cage. This same reader (who asked to remain anonymous) claims to have seen in person, this list of rules in typewritten copy on the bulletin board at the Cunningham Studio (very cool).
And so there begins a little investigation on my part. The version of “The Rules” that I posted was printed in the book “Learning by Heart” by Corita Kent and Jan Steward. I happen to know for a fact (because she wrote about him and quoted him) that Corita was a big fan of John Cage (not surprising to me as both of them rank in my top five favorite artists of all time and all of my favorite people in the world are linked in some way to John Cage). The other curious thing is that my memory tells me that “the rules” were printed also in a book about John Cage with a different title and attributed to him.
I did find one link in my investigations that implied that the list was written by John Cage and typeset by Corita but there was no actual evidence for this. On another site I found this info:
As far as I know these “Rules” were the work of Corita Kent , (1918-1986), serigrapher and teacher extraordinare, in which she included a quote from John Cage. The calligrapher David Mekelburg produced them in hand-carved stamped lettering and they were published in Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit , a book begun by Corita with her former student Jan Steward and finished by Steward after Corita’s death. (Bantam 1992). -Trish Johnston, Atlanta, GA, USA
and then I find this one: “John Cage’s words visually formatted by Sister Corita Kent. Cage’s original title is “Some Rules and Helpful Hints for Students and Teachers.”
which confirms what my memory tells me. But…
then I start to put 2 and 2 together, if Rule number ten is a quote:
“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)
Then it stands to reason that the simple act of quoting John Cage, leads many people to believe he is the author. It is quite possible that Merce Cunningham was sent a copy of Corita’s Rules because they quoted his partner (and because they are so good he put them up on his wall.) OR John himself received a copy and put it on Merce’s studio wall. This seems the more logical conclusion to me. The only grey area is what to make of the rules being published in one of John Cage’s books.
(After my husband looks at it he wonders if she is citing John Cage for the whole thing, since his name is at the end of all the rules, the quotes make this confusing.)
So what is the answer? Is it John Cage or Corita Kent?
If you have any information (evidence) that will help solve this mystery I would love to hear it (it will help me sleep at night).
(note: this whole thing brings up one of my big pet peeves with the internet, the lack of citing original sources.)
update: I just found this from a seemingly knowledgeable source:
The “10 Rules for Students and Teachers” that is often ascribed to Sister Corita Kent was actually authored by the composer John Cage. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who knows anything about the relationship between the two. I believe Cage came to know her and Sister Magdalene Mary originally through Peter Yates, but the history is still very sketchy. Thank you.
Laura Kuhn, Director, John Cage Trust