Everyone has his or her favorite cultural icon, right? I do too, and mine is John Cage. He grew up in southern California, lived most of his life on the east coast of the US, and was a composer, among many other skills and specialties. His music is sparse, abstract, noisy, at times loud and harsh and at other times perfectly quiet and peaceful. In some ways a product of American culture and history, in others a radical departure, Cage was at all times a hard worker, completely devoted to creating music and bringing sounds together. He brought this same focus to his side pursuits, such as mushroom gathering and macrobiotic cooking, as well. His whole life, as a synthesis of all of these dynamic activities, went into his compositions and recordings.
We also have just a few books containing his lectures and poems, such as Silence and Indeterminacy. There is so much more to explore about Cage’s life, music, and philosophy, but this is a bookbinding blog. What I wanted to share about Cage is one of his writings I happened across, very much in chancy Cage-like fashion, at the Prelinger Library. Cage had mixed opinions about formal schooling, having dropped out of Pomona College as an undergraduate, though he was valedictorian of his high school class. I think it can be comfortably said that he continued to learn, study, and teach throughout his life, and that the concept of lifelong learning–questioning assumptions, gathering data, and growing and adapting–was central to his thinking. I wanted to share the following piece in light of the classes I will be teaching soon, as well as the classes I have been taking lately. The past year has been a very active one for me, filled with growth and change. It has been over eleven years now since I received my diploma in bookbinding, and so I have had nearly adequate time to begin to practice and reflect on what I learned there. But now, it is time for me to resume my pursuit of learning, growth, and adaptation. Last summer, I took the Design Binding Intensive class from Dominic Riley. I think Dominic is a very Cage-ian instructor: eccentric, with unparallelled skill, completely engaged in his classes, often taking us on field trips and giving us lots of concrete information.
I also taught some classes, some at home and others further afield.
This summer, I will be taking some classes at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation in northwestern Illinois. And last weekend, I took a class in finishing with gold leaf taught by Gavin Dovey to refine my skills. I believe there is always more to learn in any field, but especially in a field like bookbinding, and I am grateful to have found a profession for which there is always room for expansion.
I have been teaching bookbinding for years, and feel that I often learn more from my students than they learn from me… Perhaps these few lines from Cage explain why.
Some Rules and Hints for Students and Teachers
RULE #1: Find a place you trust and then, try trusting it for a while
RULE #2: GENERAL DUTIES AS A STUDENT
Pull everything out of your teacher
Pull everything out of your fellow students
RULE #3: GENERAL DUTY AS A TEACHER
Pull everything out of your students
RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE #5: Be self disciplined.
This means finding someone smart or wise 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#6: Follow the leader
Nothing is a mistake.
There is no win and no fail.
There is only make.
RULE #7: The only rule is work
If you work it will lead to something.
It is the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans— but not the players.
RULE #8: Do not try to create and analyze at the same time.
They are different processes.
RULE #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it.
It is lighter than you think.
RULE #10: We are breaking all the rules, even our own
How do we do that?
By leaving plenty of room for ‘x’ qualities
Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully and often. Save everything. It may come in handy later.
…and speaking of “Come or go to everything,” here is an event not to be missed for anyone who was ever curious about how fine bindings are made:
It is sponsored by my local bookbinding organization, and will be a great way to begin the festivities relating to Codex and the Antiquarian Book Fair. I’m hoping we will record it in some way, but the best way to experience it will be in Cage-ian fashion: be there.