Artist biography

American composer, philosopher, writer and printmaker. He was educated in California and then made a study tour of Europe (1930–31), concentrating on art, architecture and music.

Cage's studies of Zen Buddhism and Indian philosophy during the 1940s resulted in a decision to remove intention, memory and personal taste from music. According equal status to both structured sound and noise, he treated silence as an element in its own right. Cage produced his 4'3" (shortly after Robert Rauschenberg's ‘white canvases'), in which the performer(s) make no sounds but only delineate the work's three movements.

Also in 1952 Cage organised an untitled event at Black Mountain College which foreshadowed the ‘happenings' of the following decade and initiated an approach to performance in which music and movement were conceived separately and performed simultaneously.

From 1963 Cage developed a new poetic form that he called the ‘mesostic', in which new words were formed vertically by highlighting one character within each line of the horizontal text. An example of this is the score of a composition for unaccompanied, amplified voice, 62 Mesostics re Merce Cunningham (1971).

Cage's increasing involvement in the graphic presentation of his work also led him to create purely visual works that have no musical connections. These are largely in the form of limited editions, mostly carried out in the etching studio of Crown Point Press in Oakland, CA, where he created 28 series of prints in the course of fairly regular visits between 1978 and his death in 1992.

Grove 6; Grove Amer. Music; Grove Instr.
C. Tomkins: ‘Figure in an Imaginary Landscape', New Yorker (28 Nov 1964), pp. 64–128; rev. as ‘John Cage' in The Bride and the Bachelors (New York, 1965); Eng. edn as Ahead of the Game: Four Versions of the Avant-garde (London, 1965), pp. 69–138
R. Kostelanetz, ed.: John Cage (New York, 1970/R London, 1971); rev. as John Cage: An Anthology (New York, 1991) [incl. ‘Cage's Visual Art', p. 219, a list of graphic works to 1989]
D. Charles: ‘Cage et Duchamp', L'Arc, 59 (Oct-Dec 1974), pp. 72–9 [repr. in Gloses sur John Cage (Paris, 1978), pp. 183–96]
Pour les oiseaux: Entretiens avec Daniel Charles (Paris, 1976; Eng. trans. London and Boston, MA, 1981) [based on interviews pubd in Rev. Esthét., xxi/2–4 (1968)]
H.-K. Metzger and R. Riehn, eds: John Cage I (Munich, 1978), pp. 65–91, 132–46 [well illus.; rev. 1990]
Tri-Quarterly, 54 (Spring 1982) [issue ded. Cage], pp. 62–232; also as A John Cage Reader, ed. P. Gena and J. Brent (New York, London and Frankfurt, 1982) [illus., incl. 8 colour pls from Changes and Disappearances]
John Cage: Etchings, 1978–1982 (exh. cat., Oakland, CA, Crown Point Gal., 1982) [with introductory essay and chronology; incl. items by L. Toland and K. Brown orig. pubd in Tri-Quarterly, 54 (Spring 1982)]
R. Kostelanetz, ed.: Conversing with Cage (New York, 1988/R London, 1989), pp. 173–90 [selections from interviews, esp. since 1965]
H.-K. Metzger and R. Riehn, eds: John Cage II (Munich, 1990) [well illus.; incl. M. Erdmann: ‘Chronologisches Verzeichnis', pp. 305–41, an annotated list (to 1988) of compositions, graphic works and writings]
R. Kostelanetz: ‘John Cage: The Development of his Visual Art', Musicworks, 52 (Spring 1992), pp. 40–42 [graphic works to 1969, in special Cage issue]
D. Revill: The Roaring Silence: John Cage, a Life (London, 1992), pp. 261–5, 273–7, passim [first biography, incl. list of compositions (to early 1992) and ‘Chronology of Visual Works', pp. 367–8]
J. Pritchett: The Music of John Cage (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 180–89


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