Rules for Students and Teachers

Nothing is a mistake: There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”

A number of years ago I ran across a wonderful online list titled Some Rules for Students and Teachers. It was attributed to composer John Cage and had been posted at legendary modern choreographer Merce Cunningham’s dance studio.  Immediately I was struck by how empowered I felt when reading the list. I wanted to learn more. With a little bit of research I discovered that this list was originally made by Sister Corita Kent.

Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.”

Sister Corita Kent

Kent’s uplifting and positive work was the subject of my last post (see below). Rules for Students and Teachers was originally created as part of a project for a class she taught between 1967 and 1968. Kent’s rules became the official art department rules at the college of LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent where Kent taught and later led the art department. Kent and Cage knew each other. In fact, the tenth rule cites Cage directly and he was the one who popularized these rules beyond Immaculate Heart College.

Consider everything an experiment.”

Choreographer Merce Cunningham, Cage’s longtime partner, kept a copy of it in the studio where his company rehearsed until his death. The list can also be found in Sister Corita Kent’s Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

These rules have become integral to my teaching and have kept me feeling inspired. Today I want to share them with you:

Sister Corita Kent

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.

Rule 6 on a banner at the Stanford Design School.


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