Wednesday, December 2, 2009

John Cage: Composer as Painter at UR

I find the UR campus to be a circuitous exercise in futility, despite having been there many times. I'm most successful when I'm going to the Modlin Center, because I've been there more than anywhere else.

And today I was going to the Harnett Museum of Art which is in the Modlin Center and I still made a needless loop around the campus, mostly due to several major construction projects impeding my progress.

Our destination was the exhibit, "John Cage: Zen Ox-Herding Pictures,"displaying the composer John Cage's experiments in watercolor painting on paper towels.

All I knew of Cage was his work in music, so I was intrigued to see what so unorthodox a composer would have created visually.

I knew his interest in East Asian and Indian philosophy took him in the direction of putting aside memory and intention and focusing on process and chance.

I was curious how that would manifest itself in painting.

The images were used to illustrate the East Asian parable of the path to and beyond enlightenment (Zen Ox-Herding) and each watercolor was accompanied by a fragment of Cage's writing that could be tied to the parable.

Since the writing was not done specifically for the images, it was unexpected how utterly poetic and completely appropriate they were in furthering the story.

Looking for
something irrelevant, I found I
couldn't find it

The fifty-five watercolors are striking in their lyricism, especially knowing the man was using the medium for the first time.

They were abstract, some with elements of calligraphy to them, many suggesting activity or motion.

If music can be translated to the visual, Cage did so and he did it on brown paper towels with words that evoke in the same way that music does, meaningfully and beautifully.

Nothing's changed yet
something immense

The exhibit is most definitely worth seeing...and I wish you luck in navigating that labyrinth of a campus.


  1. did you know there was a musical john cage bday event @ chop suey books (old location)?

    music/noise in every room - buddist chanting in the back,
    jazz in front , guitar feedback upstairs & the no bullshit brass band outside

  2. You mean like this?