17 Quotes by Zen-Influenced Composer John Cage

John Cage was one of the most important composers of the 20th-century. His music defined the avant-garde— it was entirely new and experimental. Cage drew heavily from Zen ideas and even studied briefly with DT Suzuki. His art follows the Zen principle of transcending judgment, embracing the accidental sounds of everyday life as music. Cage raised the mundane or unheard into the realm of high art. He taught audiences that anything can beautiful if we shift our perspective and learn to pay attention to our surroundings.

Here are some bits of wisdom from John Cage:

“Value judgments are destructive to our proper business, which is curiosity and awareness.”

“College: two hundred people reading the same book. An obvious mistake. Two hundred people can read two hundred books.”

“I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.”

“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”

“In the dark, all cats are black.”

“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

“As far as consistency of thought goes, I prefer inconsistency.”

“The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I feel it’s not beautiful? And very shortly you discover there is no reason.”

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in.”

“Every something is an echo of nothing”

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

“Our business in living is to become fluent with the life we are living, and art can help this.”

“The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. This puts one in accordance with nature, in her manner of operation.”

“Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of it’s own accord.”

“It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.”

“I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”

“When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”

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