(American, 1912-1992) was a composer, visual artist, writer, and philosopher. Born in Los Angeles, CA, Cage is best known for his Minimalist musical compositions, often characterized by his use of chance and mathematical formulas, as well as the incorporation of non-musical objects and periods of silence. In the early 1930s, Cage studied with Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian-born composer who invented and employed a 12-tone composition technique. The pair worked together at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. Schoenberg was a significant influence on and inspiration for John Cage’s own musical works. In the late 1930s, while at UCLA, Cage began producing musical accompaniments for dance and choreography. After moving to Seattle in 1938 to be an accompanist at the Cornish College of the Arts, Cage met dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who became his lifelong friend and collaborator.
Cage was associated with and connected to a wide variety of other well-known artists and luminaries, including Robert Rauschenberg
(American, 1925–2008), Jackson Pollock
(American, 1912-1956), R. Buckminster Fuller (American, 1895–1983), and Marcel Duchamp
(French, 1887-1968). The composition 4’33”
, considered Cage’s best-known work, was cause for controversy and criticism among colleagues and audiences. The score, written in 1952 and first performed that year by David Tudor in Woodstock, New York, instructs the performer not to play the instrument for the entirety of the piece—four minutes and 33 seconds. While 4’33”
is often thought of as consisting only of silence, it is meant to be comprised of the environmental sounds heard by listeners during the performance. Beginning in 1969, Cage turned to various other media of artistic expression, such as painting
, etching, print-making, photography, and writing.
His better-known visual works include Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel
(1969), incorporating lithographs and Plexiglas panels with silkscreen printings; a series of abstract prints titled Changes and Disappearances
(1979-1982); and a watercolor series titled River Rocks and Smoke
(1990). Cage’s work was regularly exhibited at the Margarete Roeder Gallery in New York. The most recent retrospective was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1993. In addition to his visual works, Cage wrote multiple books, including Silence: Lectures and Writings
(1973), and Empty Words
(1979). He was the recipient of the New York Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture in 1981, and was awarded the Commandeur de l''Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the French Government’s highest honor for contributions to cultural life, in 1982.