corita kent

Rules to Live By

Every year around this time, teachers go about the process of putting together lesson plans, syllabi, and projects for the coming term. If they are anything like me, I’m sure they do so with the hope that some of it will stick – that it will be helpful for at least one of those students and help develop positive life skills. If I’m honest (and a bit cynical), I’m sure that roughly 98.9% of what I put out there gets lost in the ether or ignored. The optimist in me, though, knows that 1.1% is more than enough to go out there and change the world for the better!

Almost fifty years back, Sister Corita Kent, an instructor at Immaculate Heart College is Los Angeles and somewhat unlikely figure in the LA art scene created “Some Rules for Students and Teachers” in the Art Department and actually managed to create something that has affected generations of artists and students for years afterward. These rules were created for a class she taught in 1968. Kent was a friend of a number of celebrated artists and thinkers such as Buckminster Fuller and John Cage. In fact, many people mistakenly attribute this list of rules to Cage, due to the fact that he is credited for the last rule. Though he did not pen these rules, he was definitely fond of them and spread them around. His lifelong partner Merce Cunningham was said to have them posted on his studio wall. One of the things that has always struck me about this list is, even though it was made for artists, it works for students and teachers of all persuasions. Student or teacher, you could do worse than keep these ten rules in mind as you head back to school this fall.

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.