THE ARTISTS, POETS and PROFESSORS of BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE (the college featured in the film THE LONGEST RIDE) Part 1 John Cage


The Longest Ride Official Trailer #1 (2015) – Britt Robertson Movie HD

John Cage on Silence

Nicholas Sparks wrote concerning his film THE LONGEST RIDE:

The story for The Longest Ride really began when I learned about Black Mountain College. I had been struggling to find something that excited me for my next novel when I came across a reference to the college online. I was, to understate it, greatly captivated: that an isolated college in my home state of North Carolina was so influential to the American art scene seemed so unlikely that I began researching the school immediately.  Thinking about all that happened during the school’s 25-odd years in operation—World War II included—seemed so ripe with possibility. Soon enough, Ira’s character came into my mind and The Longest Ride began coming together.

Then, because Ira and his wife, Ruth, were such a wonderful example of enduring love, I wanted to find a perfect counterpoint as an example of new love.  And that’s how I came up with Luke and Sophia.  Sophia was created to resonate with my college-aged fans, and Luke is really the quintessential All-American guy.  I had never been to a Professional Bull Riding event, but there are so many ranches throughout North Carolina, it just seemed to make sense that he would be a bullrider.

Fully Awake: Black Mountain College-John Cage Excerpt

Black Mountain College

Uploaded on Apr 18, 2011

Class Project on Black Mountain College for American Literature

Movie Review: “The Longest Ride” turns corn into corn syrup

rideThe pretty coed doesn’t want to go, doesn’t see herself “as a rodeo gal.” But her sorority sisters insist she ogle the “easy on the eyes” cowboys with them.
He rides a bull, falls off and loses his hat. She picks it up as he dusts himself off. Her blue eyes lock with his blue eyes.
“Keep it,” he grins, and she pokes the dirt and sawdust with the toe of her cowgirl boot to show she’s interested.
Welcome to Nicholas Sparks world. Welcome to “The Longest Ride.”
Clint Eastwood’s son Scott stars as laconic Luke, an archetypal Sparks hero — quiet, brave, courtly. Britt Robertson, earning “next big thing” buzz thanks to her role in the upcoming “Tomorrowland,” is Sophia Danko, the Wake Forest University art history major about to graduate, but about to find herself distracted by the handsome, fatalistic rodeo cowboy.
It’s not a question of if he’ll get hurt, he drawls, “it’s when, and how hard.”
Their old-fashioned first date ends with him rescuing an old man (Alan Alda) from a car wreck. She recovers the men’s precious box of mementos — a Purple Heart, old love letters. And in reading those to the old man in the hospital, she and Luke learn of a great love of the past and what it takes to achieve such a love — in Nicholas Sparks world.
It does no good to over-think the corn served up in this fantasy land, but when you flash back to 1940, you’re telling us the man in the hospital is 93-95 years old. And driving. And he’s not living in Florida. Alan Alda, who as aged-Ira twinkles and pretty much steals the picture, doesn’t suggest that. Luke is bull-riding to save the family ranch in “Walkerton, N.C.” Walkertown, N.C., between Winston-Salem, where Wake Forest is located, and Greensboro, where the World War II love story of Ruth (Oona Chaplin) and Ira (Jack Huston) is set, is not exactly known as cattle country, ranch country or a bull-riding training ground.
But if it’s not set in N.C., how is Sparks going to get his young lovers to the beaches of Carolina? Without the beach, there is no “beach novel.”
Director George Tillman Jr., who did the very fine “Notorious” Biggy Smalls bio-pic, manages stunningly real bull riding scenes, and gives his winsome young stars plenty of room to shine, though neither rises above dull. Chaplin and Huston set off a few sparks in the flashbacks, which touch on North Carolina’s exalted place in the world of contemporary art, thanks to famed Black Mountain College.
But the moment that first letter is opened and its trite, moony expressions of love and pointless (in a love letter) pages of exposition are narrated, the movie turns Sparks insipid.
Consistent? The man’s a broken record, an LP on a crackly old record player in the high fructose corn syrup corner of Carolina. Near the beach. Bulls are optional.

In this video below at 13:00 Anderson talks about John Cage:

[ARTS 315] Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns – Jon Anderson

Published on Apr 5, 2012

Contemporary Art Trends [ARTS 315], Jon Anderson

Working in the Gap Between Art and Life: Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper John

September 23, 2011

In The Ocean – A Film About The Classical Avant Garde

Published on Feb 2, 2013

Philip Glass, Frank Zappa, John Cage, Steve Reich and others


It has been my practice on this blog to cover some of the top artists of the past and today and that is why I am doing  this current series on Black Mountain College (1933-1955). Here are some links to some to some of the past posts I have done on other artists: Marina AbramovicIda Applebroog,  Matthew Barney,  Allora & Calzadilla,   Christo and Jeanne-Claude Olafur EliassonTracey EminJan Fabre, Makoto Fujimura, Hamish Fulton, Ellen GallaugherRyan Gander, John Giorno,  Cai Guo-QiangArturo HerreraOliver HerringDavid Hockney, David HookerRoni HornPeter HowsonRobert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Martin KarplusMargaret KeaneMike KelleyJeff KoonsSally MannKerry James MarshallTrey McCarley,   Paul McCarthyJosiah McElhenyBarry McGeeTony OurslerWilliam Pope L.Gerhard RichterJames RosenquistSusan RothenbergGeorges Rouault, Richard SerraShahzia SikanderHiroshi SugimotoRichard TuttleLuc TuymansBanks ViolettFred WilsonKrzysztof WodiczkoAndrea Zittel,

Friday, January 31, 2014

Art and Literature Go Mystic


Pastor Stephen Feinstein

In today’s post, I will be summarizing Francis Schaeffer’s discussion on mysticism as it affected music and art. Recall that mysticism is the third level below the line of despair. The line of despair refers to the rejection of the existence of absolutes, such as truth. This way of thinking is the natural byproduct of atheism. If the universe is not God’s universe, but instead it is random material happenings, then there can be no absolutes. Truth would be relative, right and wrong would be concepts of nonsense, and all existence would be without meaning and purpose. Many people bought into this, but it proved impossible to live out. As humans made in the image of God, we live according to absolutes, we cannot separate ourselves from them, and we intrinsically know that everything has meaning and purpose. We know things are not random. Our very lives depend on the universe being stable and predictable rather than random and chaotic. So those who still chose to embrace the irrationality of their atheism had to find a way to live with absolutes even though they believed such absolutes were not real.

Nihilism gave way to dichotomy, which allowed people to pick whatever truth they wanted to believe in, while at the same time understanding that it is nothing more than a preference based on one’s leap of faith. Well, this dichotomy was not good enough for some, and so mysticism was the next result. Mysticism was this idea that there is some sort of absolute, but it is unknowable. All attempts to define and explain it are inadequate and therefore are equally valid expressions of the truth. Mysticism became necessary because most people could not deal with the idea of reality being meaningless.

By this point of reading my posts, I hope you can see that each major thinker that has been introduced has a different explanation of what this mystical absolute is. It is no different with music. Schaeffer focuses in on John Cage (1912-1992). He was so committed to the idea that the universe is random, that he saw that randomness as the mystical absolute. He did whatever he could to make his music random too. He would compose his music after flipping coins thousands of times. Eventually the methods became more sophisticated than this, but the result was the same – music that made little sense to the ears. Cage believed that the “truth” of chance can best be communicated through chance methods coming forth in his music. Well, sometimes when his music was played, rather than offering applause, the audience hissed and booed. Why? It is rather simple. In our heart of hearts, we know that the universe is not meaningless and it is not random. It is designed with intelligent purpose. We were designed with intelligent purpose, and given that we ourselves are designed along with everything else in nature, anything we create must be intelligently designed too. Cage’s randomly designed music was not pleasing to our ears. If chance is the true mystical reality, then chance should be able to communicate to us, but it cannot. Why? Because the ultimate reality is not chance! The fact that his music was aesthetically worthless should have caused him to reject his own presuppositions of randomness, but instead he pressed on and continued to produce utter nonsense. Consider this one more example of an atheist claiming to believe the evidence, but then ignores the largest pieces of evidence that stare him right in the face.

An interesting point to note about Cage is that like all other atheists that claimed there are no absolutes, he could not apply this belief consistently. To his credit, he did apply his philosophy to his craft of music. In that sense, he was consistent. However, he eventually became a mushroom enthusiast. He would wander the forest and study mushrooms diligently to where he became a very well informed amateur mycologist. He had a large library just on mushrooms, and knew that many were deadly and poisonous. He is quoted as saying, “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly. So I decided that I would not approach them in this way.” In other words, he could not apply what he believed to be the truth of the universe to the simple hobby of picking mushrooms. If he picked mushrooms randomly, he would be dead in a few days. With his life on the line, he practiced mycology as though there were absolutes, meaning is real, and intelligent care must be taken with each mushroom. This is just one more proof that that Cage’s atheistic assumptions were wrong. The fact that people booed his music because it was random, and the fact that he would not randomly pick mushrooms because his life was at stake both demonstrate the impossibility of living according to his assumptions. These were two screaming realities that should have caused him to reject his folly, and seek the real truth.

The painter Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) also decided to use the “mystical absolute” of chance to direct his painting. He is famous for laying canvases on the floor, and allowing paint to randomly drip on them. Because of the atheistic philosophical message that lied behind the ugly drip paintings, many saw this as brilliant. But at the end of the day, very few people’s eyes actually crave to stare at random drops of paint on a canvas. When artists buy into thought below the line of despair, this is the type of thing that happens. The artists of the Renaissance painted their worldview, which was fairly biblical. Painting, sculpture, and architecture were ways to communicate the biblical stories and truth to the masses. Well, these atheist artists that live below the line of despair choose to communicate their belief and story with these bizarre paintings that are sore on the eyes.

Perhaps it is noteworthy that we can stare for hours at paintings that reflect the biblical worldview. We can appreciate their beauty and we intrinsically appreciate the order and design behind them. Yet, when it comes to the “religious/philosophical” message of the atheist artists, we can only bare to look for a short time. We cannot appreciate disjointed chaotic expressions. Maybe this is simply one more reality screaming in the face of such artists, and yet it is a reality they choose to suppress. We are what the Bible says we are, and this is why we appreciate art and music consistent with the biblical worldview of order and design. If we were really products of chance, then we should be able to enjoy these “chance-based” artistic productions. Since we are made in the image of God, we cannot enjoy these things. Instead, we can only mourn for the tortured souls that put such chaos on canvas. Sadly, Jackson Pollock became entirely hopeless after he exhausted what could be done in art with his “chance” method. In 1956, he committed suicide. This is the frustration that comes from trying to consistently live as though the Bible is not true. Most forms of mysticism falsely help people avoid the despair, but Pollock was able to find no such relief.

In terms of literature, we can return to Henry Miller (1891-1980) of whom I wrote of before. He originally intended to use his gift of writing to destroying meaning in general, especially with regard to sex. So he wrote extremely dirty things meant to defile the mind and trivialize meaning where it mattered greatly. Yet, later in life, he changed his position. In fact, if one were not a careful reader, they might assume he became a Christian. He started using Christian words, biblical imagery, and he certainly became focused on spiritual matters. He even quoted Scripture. Like Salvador Dali, he saw spiritual significance in the dematerialization of matter into energy. He began to believe the ultimate reality was certainly spiritual, and that meaning does in fact exist. However, his faith was in pantheism. He believed the universe itself is the divine reality, and we are just part of it. Individual man does not matter, but we are just one small part of the whole. As I said in previous posts, this is not too far off from Eastern Hinduism. Francsis Schaeffer sums up Miller by writing, “He is doing the same as Salvador Dali and the new theologians—namely, using Christians symbols to give an illusion of meaning to an impersonal world which has no real place for man.”

Sadly, this mysticism did not spare theology. Just like dichotomy infiltrated theology after it captured the other disciplines, so too did mysticism. Next time I will focus on what Schaeffer calls the new theology.

Posted by Stephen Feinstein at 12:46 PM

Labels: Apologetics, Arminianism, Atheism, Bible, Calvinism, Christianity, Debate,Epistemology, Grace, Presuppositionalism, Salvation, Scripture, Theology

Francis Schaeffer pictured below:

 John Cage at Black Mountain College



John Cage and Merce Cunningham pictured below:




When John Cage met Robert Rauschenberg

How the artist’s seemingly simple paintings inspired one of the most challenging compositions of the 20th century

White Painting (seven panel) (1951) by Robert Rauschenberg
White Painting (seven panel) (1951) by Robert Rauschenberg

Artistic influence tends to travel down the generations, from senior practitioner to novice. Yet, on occasions, it can run the other way, such as when the American painter and sculptor Robert Rauschenberg met the avant-garde composer John Cage.

As author Catherine Craft explains in our Phaidon Focus title dedicated to Rauschenberg, Cage first met the painter and sculptor in May 1951, during the artist’s debut solo exhibition, at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. Cage was in his late thirties, and well established within the field of avant-garde music; Rauschenberg, thirteen years his junior, was just starting out.

Nevertheless, it was the spirited innovation of the painter that most closely influenced the composer. In particular, Cage was taken with Rauschenberg’s White Paintings. In our survey of post-war art, Painting Beyond Pollock, author Morgan Falconer describes this seminal series of five, paneled works, which date from 1951, as being “painted on canvas in a smooth, unmodulated white, and structured in a sequence that includes one, two, three, four and seven panels.”


John Cage in his Model A car at Black Mountain College. Photo by Robert Rauschenberg


John Cage in his Model A car at Black Mountain College. Photo by Robert Rauschenberg

In Falconer’s mind, the abstract works should be seen less as works in the high, spiritrual register of Abstract Expressionism, and more as simple communication tools – an idea developed by Josef Albers, Rauschenberg’s tutor at the innovative, interdisciplinary arts institution, the Black Mountain College, where Rauschenberg studied 1948 – 49.

Whatever the influence, it was on returning to Black Mountain College in the spring and summer of 1952, that Cage and Rauschenberg’s creative relationship, which developed around these White Paintings, truly flourished. The remote college already had a reputation for artistic freedom and the breaking down of boundaries, having had Albert Einstein serve on its board of directors, and Buckminster Fuller teach classes.


Robert Rauscenberg, self portrait of the artist with his work


Robert Rauscenberg, self portrait of the artist with his work

In Black Mountain’s liberal campus during the balmier months of 1952, Cage looked to Rauschenberg’s canvases to inform his ideas about how art should engage with the intrusions of the natural world. As Craft explains, “Cage was astonished by the White Paintings, which showed him how artists could work with, rather than against, the ever-changing nature of their surroundings.”


The score for John Cage's 4'33


The score for John Cage’s 4’33

Falconer picks up the point in his book, where he writes: “Cage used the White Paintings as a backdrop for one of his concerts Theater Piece #1 (1952), and he later said that they were an important inspiration for his most famous composition, 4’33” (1952), an entirely silent piece in which the sound comes not from the pianist, but principally from the ambient noise of the concert auditorium.”

This idea of an artwork as a kind of backdrop for the world, was something Cage first recognized in Rauschenberg’s paintings.

“Cage viewed the White Paintings less as images that projected the artist’s expression, than backdrops against which the flux of the world might stand out, an understanding that he arrived at through his appreciation of Henri Bergson and Zen Buddhism. ‘The White Paintings were airports for the lights, shadows, and [dust] particles,’ Cage said. Rauschenberg would never immerse himself in these ideas with the same enthusiasm as his mentor, but Cage was important in shaping his outlook in these early years.”

Indeed, Falconer suggests that one of Rauschenberg’s best-known forms, his ‘combines’ – or hybrids of painting, sculpture and college, were first developed for Cage, in response to a prop request to accompanying the performance of the composer’s 1954 work, Minutiae.


Canyon (1959) by Robert Rauschenberg, one of the artist's famous combines


Canyon (1959) by Robert Rauschenberg, one of the artist’s famous combines

Even if this debt can’t be firmly established, the pair certainly collaborated on another notable, fine art work. In Automobile Tire Print (1953), Rauschenberg got Cage to drive a car, its tyre covered in black house paint, over sheets of paper Rauschenberg had glued together.

Rauschenberg said that Cage was the only driver in Manhattan willing to collaborate on such an unusual scheme. Perhaps this is a suitably flip comment to accompany so brisk a work. When asked if the work is a little like a musical stave, the artist demurred, preferring to compare it to a Tibetan prayer scroll. Yet, Cage drove over Rauschenberg’s scroll in the very same Model A Ford that he had carried him to Black Mountain College in a few years earlier; and doesn’t this single track bring to mind a little something of Cage’s featureless score for 4’33” – the silent work that’s never quite rid of the world’s noise?


Automobile Tire Print (1953) by Robert Rauschenberg


Automobile Tire Print (1953) by Robert Rauschenberg

For more on Rauschenberg’s work, consider our Phaidon Focus monograph; meanwhile for more on how his and Cage’s relationship helped influence the development of painting in the 20th Century, buy a copy of our overview, Painting Beyond Pollock.


Cabinet Posts Audio From Launch of Eva Díaz’sThe Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College

BY HARRIET STAFFFuller_dome_web

Lucky us: Thanks to Cabinet Magazine, if you missed the launch for The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College(University of Chicago Press 2015), art historian Eva Díaz’s new book onBlack Mountain College, a terrific audio recording of the event is now up on their site. The recording includes a performance by musician Nick Hallett, a reading by poet Jeremy Sigler, and a conversation between Díaz and art historian Judith Rodenbeck about the book.

Listen up here.

More on the book from the press:

Díaz’s focus is on experimentation. [Josef] Albers, [John] Cage, and [Buckminster] Fuller, she shows, taught new models of art making that favored testing procedures rather than personal expression. These methodologies represented incipient directions for postwar art practice, elements of which would be sampled, and often wholly adopted, by Black Mountain students and subsequent practitioners. The resulting works, which interrelate art and life in a way that imbues these projects with crucial relevance, not only reconfigured the relationships among chance, order, and design—they helped redefine what artistic practice was, and could be, for future generations.

At top: Kenneth Snelson, R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dome, Demonstration of Strength, Black Mountain College, 1949. More on the event, which took place on February 12, at Cabinet.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Harriet Staff.

Chance Conversations: An Interview with Merce Cunningham and John Cage

Uploaded on Jul 27, 2009

In the spring of 1981, during a residency at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage sat down to discuss their work and artistic process. As frequent collaborators, Cage and Cunningham pioneered a new framework of performance. Their novel approach allowed for mediums to exist independently, or rather cohabitate, within a performance, thus abandoning the co-dependent model of dance and music. Cage and Cunningham go on to discuss the methodology and motivations behind chance operations, a term used to describe artistic decisions based on unpredictability. Wanting to free himself of his likes and dislikes, Cage describes how Zen Buddhism influenced his work, leading him to use tools of chance. These new methods, adopted by both Cunningham and Cage, overturned a whole foundation of thought around music, movement, and the process of creating art.

What is John Cage trying to demonstrate with his music? Here are comments from two bloggers that take a look at what Cage is trying to put forth.


If there is no God, there can be no meaning for man except that which he creates for himself. Modern music
has expressed this concept in a most powerful way. One might well say that the history of modern music is the
story of man’s failure to attain to anything solid or permanent as he has sought to create his own meaning. We
look, then, at Modern Music…At this point we will quote from a European writer. He
is discussing the work of a well-known symphonic composer, Mr. John Cage. Here it will become clear that the
new framework of thinking does indeed explain some of the strange “happenings” in great concert halls of the
The power of art to communicate ideas and emotions to organize life into meaningful patterns, and to
realize universal truths through the self-expressed individuality of the artist are only three of the
assumptions that Cage challenges. In place of a self-expressive art created by the imagination, tastes,
and desires of the artist, Cage proposes an art, born of chance and indeterminacy.
Back in the Chinese culture long ago the Chinese had worked out a system of tossing coins or yarrow
sticks by means of which the spirits would speak. The complicated method which they developed made
sure that the person doing the tossing would not allow his own personality to intervene. Self expression
was eliminated so that the spirits could speak.
Cage picks up this same system and uses it. He too seeks to get rid of any individual expression in his
music. But there is a very great difference. As far as Cage is concerned there is nobody there to speak.
There is only an impersonal universe speaking through blind chance.
Cage began to compose his music through the tossing of coins. It is said that for some of his pieces lasting
only twenty minutes he has tossed the coin thousands of times. This is pure chance, but apparently not pure enough, he wanted still more chance. So he devised a mechanical conductor. It was a machine working on cams, the motion of which cannot be determined ahead of time, and the musicians just followed this. Or, as an alternative to this, sometimes he employed two conductors who could not see each

other, both conducting simultaneously; anything, in fact, to produce pure chance. But in Cage’s universe
nothing comes through in the music except noise and confusion or total silence.
There is a story that once, after the musicians had played Cage’s total chance music, as he was bowing
to acknowledge the applause, there was a noise behind him. He thought it sounded like steam escaping
from somewhere, but then to his dismay realized it was the musicians behind him who were hissing.
Often his works have been booed. However, when the audience members boo at him they are, if they are
modern men, in reality booing the logical conclusion of their own position as it strikes their ears in music.
We might add that one of the “compositions” of John Cage is called “Silence.” It consists of precisely that: four
and a half minutes of total silence! One could almost laugh, if it were not so sad—and serious. But it is. When
man rejects God, and God’s word revelation to man, he ends up here—doomed to silence. For what can man say
(musically, or in any other way) in a universe that has no meaning? When man refuses to think—and speak —
God’s thoughts after Him, he is consigned to this predicament.


John Cage at Black Mountain College pictured on right.




In The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer refers to the American composer John Cage who believes that the universe is impersonal by nature and that it originated only through pure chance.  In an attempt to live consistently with this personal philosophy, Cage composes all of his music by various chance agencies.  He uses, among other things, the tossing of coins and the rolling of dice to make sure that no personal element enters into the final product.  The result is music that has no form, no structure and, for the most part, no appeal.  Though Cage’s professional life accurately reflects his belief in a universe that has no order, his personal life does not, for his favorite pastime is mycology, the collecting of mushrooms, and because of the potentially lethal results of picking a wrong mushroom, he cannot approach it on a purely by-chance basis.  Concerning that, he states: “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly.”  John Cage “believes” one thing, but practices another.  In doing so, he is an example of the person described in Romans 1:18 who “suppresses the truth of God,” for when faced with the certainty of order in the universe, he still clings to his theory of randomness.


How Should We then Live Episode 7 small (Age of Nonreason)

#02 How Should We Then Live? (Promo Clip) Dr. Francis Schaeffer

10 Worldview and Truth

Two Minute Warning: How Then Should We Live?: Francis Schaeffer at 100

Francis Schaeffer “BASIS FOR HUMAN DIGNITY” Whatever…HTTHR


A Preliminary Thinking
Mary Emma Harris

The occasion of the 2011 ReVIEWING BMC 3 conference sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and the University of North Carolina at Asheville was an opportunity for a first-thinking specifically about John Cage and Black Mountain College. This initial effort is to bring together basic information: when was he there, what did he accomplish while there, and the nature of his influence on the college and vice versa.

The extensive Black Mountain collections of  the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, North Carolina State Archives, Western Regional Branch at Oteen, North Carolina are referenced as NCSA and the title of the individual collection. 

At Black Mountain College in the summer of 1948, there was a rare coming together of kindred spirits in an environment receptive to interaction, experimentation, and a lively, imaginative exchange of ideas. The associations formed that summer were to be the catalyst for an expanding community of artists whose lives were inextricably interwoven through personal relationships, shared ideals and interests, and collaborations. The summer was to alter not only the artists’ lives but also the course of the arts in the United States in the Twentieth Century and beyond. This community of artists was not so much a circle as it was a magnetic field of forces within which there were many interlocking centers of energy. There were interactions, conflicts, connections, disconnections, attractions and repulsions.


Josef Albers critiquing student work. Left to right: Frances Kuntz,
Hope Stephens (Foote), Lisa Jalowetz (Aronson), Bela Martin, Elizabeth Brett (Hamlin).
Courtesy NCSA, Black Mountain College Papers.

To understand the dynamics of the Black Mountain community in the summer of 1948, one must look back to the college’s founding ideals and the evolution of the community over time. The college founders knew from the beginning that the arts would be at the center of college life and the curriculum. They could not, however, have imagined when they brought Josef and Anni Albers from Germany in November 1933 that this single action would alter the history and influence of the college. A dynamic fusion of American Progressivism, as represented by the founders, and European Modernism, as represented by the refugee artists, was to be the catalyst for the evolution of a unique community. From American Progressivism, there was a sense of pioneering and naiveté, respect for manual work, and the integration of living and learning through community; from European Modernism, experimentation in the arts and a dynamic relationship to the past as it informs the present. In addition, the Alberses, along with the other refugee teachers, reinforced the founders’ idea that the practice of the arts should be central to the learning process. They brought an acceptance of the arts as an integral and necessary part of a culture, a respect for disciplined study, and a high professional standard. Their presence was a corrective to the emphasis on self-expression as an end in itself which so often characterized the Progressive Education movement.

The Black Mountain community as it evolved integrated studies with work on the farm and grounds maintenance, concerts and drama performances, parties, hikes in the mountains and other activities. The college was owned and administered by the faculty, and students and faculty served on the many committees that ran the college. Energies that might otherwise have been dispersed had the college been close to a major cultural center were concentrated and focused inward. Through the special summer sessions in the arts, the first of which was held in 1944, the college became known as a community-based learning environment receptive to exploration of new ideas and art forms.

John Cage and Merce Cunningham first visited Black Mountain in the spring of 1948. At the time there were eighty-six students. The G.I.s, who were older and more mature, were less willing to submit to authority than the younger students and eager to get on with their education. Their presence had re-energized the college. Josef Albers had returned reluctantly to teach and organize the summer session after a year-and- a-half’s sabbatical during which he had been able to concentrate on his painting. Ilya Bolotowsky, who had taught when Albers was away, remained for the 1948 spring term. Music was taught by two European refugees, Charlotte Schlesinger, composer and pianist, and Erwin Bodky, harpsichordist and clavichordist. Arthur Penn was student-teacher in drama. M.C. Richards taught reading and writing. There were workshops in printing, woodworking, weaving and bookbinding as well as classes in history, Latin, German, French, Russian, economics, business, social sciences, mathematics, chemistry, physics and farming.

In 1948, John Cage was experiencing a period of critical acceptance, if not one of financial success. On the West Coast he had been able to make a living composing music for dance using both conventional instruments and ones of his own devising. In the spring of 1942, he moved to New York. There his immersion into Eastern music and philosophies had led him to texts such as those of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and the lectures of Dr. D.T. Suzuki at Columbia University. In Virgil Thomson he had found a sympathetic critic for performances of his music. His composition The Seasons, commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein and performed at the Ziegfield Theatre in New York on May 23, 1947, had been well-received as had a 1946 performance by Maro Ajemian of sections of his incomplete Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Cage’s marriage had ended, and he and Merce Cunningham had formed their life-long partnership. In 1946 he had moved into an apartment at 326 Monroe Street which was to house other colleagues including members of the expanding Black Mountain community.

In the spring of 1948, Cunningham’s situation was more tenuous than that of Cage. After six years as a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company, he had left to focus on his own choreography and independent dance. He had worked with different dancers including Katherine Litz and Jean Erdman and had begun to explore unconventional concepts. A review of the April 1948 visit noted that Cunningham and Cage worked together yet separately, having determined that dance and the rhythm of accompanying music are not interdependent.[i] 


Josef Albers, Merce Cunningham and John Cage at a community reception, April 1948. Felix Krowinski, photographer. © Black Mountain College Project.

In April 1948, Black Mountain College was the first stop on a two-person tour. Cunningham danced and gave classes; Cage gave the first complete performance of his Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. As he prepared the piano in the dining hall, students and faculty stopped to watch the process and discuss what he was doing.  After the performance, everyone gathered in the community house for coffee and questions with the artists.  The review concluded: “The current of creative energy since their visit has illuminated the college both in creation and response.”[ii]

Att 1 BMC Bulletin, May 1948

In lieu of an honorarium which the college could not afford, faculty and students, enchanted by their performances and by their persona, filled their car with gifts of food and art work. From Chicago Cage wrote to Josef and Anni Albers:

“You were so friendly and Black Mountain was so good to be at, and the last minute gestures and gifts brought us a kind of ecstasy (the heads among the eggs were discovered near the summit of the Smokies where the mists made everything gently awe-inspiring. – you were as generous as they)….

“[F]or the most part this trip seems tending always toward what is beautiful and meaningful, and I can only say that we feel we were profoundly lucky to spend some days with you…. Being in New York without leaving it for so long had made me believe that only within each one of us singly can what we require come about, but now at Black Mountain and again with the Trappists I see that people can work still together. We have only ‘to imitate nature in her manner of operation’….

“We love the gifts you gave us, but especially loved being with you….’”[iii]

Cage and Cunningham were invited back for the summer session.

The now-legendary 1948 summer session organized by Josef Albers was the result of both careful planning and fortuitous circumstance. Cage and Cunningham arrived as planned. Their friend Richard Lippold, not wanting to be left out, volunteered to live with his family in their hearse, if only he could be there. The college found housing and offered an appointment as sculptor-in-residence. Peter Grippe was the official sculpture teacher. Mark Tobey, possibly recommended to Albers by Cage, cancelled at the last minute as did architect Bertrand Goldberg. Willem de Kooning, discouraged by his first one-person show at Egan Gallery at which nothing sold, agreed to replace Tobey. Goldberg recommended Buckminster Fuller. Other summer faculty and lecturers included Beatrice Pitney Lamb, Isaac Rosenfeld, Beaumont Newhall, Winslow Ames, and Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. Students included Hazel Larsen Archer, Ruth Asawa, Lili Blumenau, Etta Mandelbaum (Deikman), Gustave Falk, James Leo Herlihy, Warren Jennerjahn, Elizabeth Schmitt Jennerjahn, Ray Johnson, Albert Lanier, Lore Kadden (Lindenfeld), Harry Noland, Kenneth Noland, Mary Phelan Outten, Warren Outten, Pat Passlof, Arthur Penn, Oli Sihvonen, Sewell Sillman, Kenneth Snelson, Paul Williams, and Vera Baker Williams.

Elaine de Kooning recalled Willem de Kooning’s first reaction on entering the rustic unkempt grounds: “‘I feel like turning around and going home’.” Reassured by Albers’ warm welcome: “Ach so, the de Koonings,” they remained. “The school activities engulfed us like a warm breeze.” [iv] Guest faculty were not told what or how to teach. For some the freedom was disconcerting; others saw it as an opportunity to undertake projects which in a different setting would have required scrutiny by sponsors, advance publicity and extensive funding. They taught their current passion, projects on which they were working at that time. Thus, the students had the benefit of the excitement and uncertainty that comes with new learning.


Buckminster Fuller and students.
Supine Dome with model in foreground. Summer 1948.
Beaumont Newhall, photographer. Courtesy Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd.

Buckminster Fuller, described by Kenneth Snelson as “a summer substitute for a legitimate architect,”[v] arrived a couple of weeks after the session started with his trailer of intriguing models. He captivated and confounded the audience with his first very long lecture. Snelson recalled that he was “absolutely hypnotized and electrified”,[vi] and Lippold that it was “like meeting Zoroaster speaking Islamic.”[vii] Fuller’s project for the summer was to construct his first geodesic dome of Venetian blind strips, christened in good humor the “Supine Dome” when it failed to rise.

CageJohn Cage playing for the Satie Festival. Clemens Kalischer, photographer. Courtesy Kalischer.

RuseofMedusaErik Satie’s Ruse of Medusa (Le piège de Mĕduse) with Buckminster Fuller as the Baron Meduse, William Shrauger as Astolfo, Elaine de Kooning as Frisette and Merce Cunningham as Jonas, a costly Mechanical Monkey. Clemens Kalischer, photographer. Courtesy Kalischer.

Cage conducted an Amateur Festival of the Music of Erik Satie. He gave twenty-five half-hour after-dinner concerts performed at times on the grand piano in the dining hall and at times on the upright in his house while the audience sat outside in the grass. The culmination was a performance of Satie’s Ruse of Medusa (Le piège de Mĕduse).


The Satie concerts might have been experienced simply as a delightful after-dinner entertainment had Cage not stated in his lecture “Defense of Satie” “immediately and unequivocally [that] Beethoven was in error [in his definition of harmony as the basic structural element of music composition], and his influence, which has been as extensive as it is lamentable, has been deadening to the art of music.”[viii] He offered as remedy Webern and Satie’s perception of time lengths as the basic structural component. Erwin Bodky, who was concurrent with the Satie Festival sponsoring a series of concerts of the music of Beethoven, took exception, and soon the entire community was lined up on one side or the other. The crisis was finally resolved by a duel with one side armed with Wiener schnitzel and the other with crêpe suzette (certainly only semblances thereof).

Cage played the piano for a dance concert by Merce Cunningham, Louise Lippold and Sara Hamill on August 20. Three of the pieces by Cage were composed that summer: In a Landscape, choreographed and danced by Louise Lippold; Suite for Toy Piano with a dance A Diversion choreographed and danced by Cunningham, Sara Hamill and Louise Lippold; and Orestes with choreography by Merce Cunningham. Dream, composed in New York, was choreographed and performed by Cunningham. Also included in the concert wereTotem Ancestor (1942) and Root of an Unfocus (1944).[ix]


For Cage the friendships forged in the summer of 1948 were to be the fulcrum of a community of artists who were to be critical to his career. Between Fuller and Cage, both “inventors of genius,”[x] an immediate bond was forged, one that was not dependent on physical presence or collaboration. It was enough for each to know that the other was out there somewhere. Ray Johnson and Richard Lippold fell in love, and both moved into the Monroe Street building.


David Tudor and M.C. Richards at Black Mountain College.
Mary Ann Fretz Giusti, photographer.

Although it has been suggested that the three-year interval between 1948 and Cage’s return to the college in the summer of 1952 was a consequence of lingering hostility over the Beethoven-Satie controversy, there was, in fact, a close relationship between Cage and Black Mountain during this period. At the end of the summer, Albers wrote to Cage, “How can we thank you appropriately for all you did for us this summer? Therefore I say only, God Bless you.”[xi] Bodky resigned at the end of the 1949 summer session. In 1950 Cage dedicated his Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard to Josef and Anni Albers. On August 12, 1950 Cage’sString Quartet in Four Parts received its first performance by the Summer Session String Quartet led by Vollmer Hetherington, who replaced Bodky on the faculty. On August 18, 1951, David Tudor performed Cage’s Music of Changes, Part 1.


On the recommendation of Cunningham, Katherine Litz taught dance, and Cage recommended the composer Lou Harrison. After M.C. Richards left in 1951 to live with David Tudor in New York, she returned for summer sessions and retained close contact with both the college and Charles Olson, the commanding personality there after his return in the summer of 1951.

Cage’s three-year absence from Black Mountain was undoubtedly a consequence of other obligations and activities. His Sonatas and Interludes had its New York premiere in 1949. It resulted in a Guggenheim Fellowship for Cage and a trip to Europe where he completed his collection of Satie scores. In New York he had formed a friendship with Morton Feldman and had discovered the I Chingwhich led to his use of chance operations as a method of composition. Whereas in 1948 Cage was enjoying a period of critical acceptance, by 1952 when he returned to Black Mountain for a second summer, he was receiving scathing reviews and had been abandoned by many of his peers.

After the 1948 summer there were essentially two parallel Black Mountains, the North Carolina community whose members often spent their long winter break in New York and those who lived in New York and who were at the college for shorter teaching assignments or as visitors. Many had never been at Black Mountain at the same time. They met at parties, events such as concerts and exhibition openings, at The Club, and in passing on the street. Between 1948 and Cage’s return in 1952, his Black Mountain community had expanded to include other Black Mountain students: lighting director Nick Cernovich, psychologist and artist Irwin Kremin, and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil, who had enrolled at Black Mountain in the fall of 1948. Although it often is assumed that Rauschenberg and Cage met at Black Mountain, it was probably on the 1948-49 winter break in New York that they first met.

Cage returned to Black Mountain for the 1952 summer session. Guest faculty included Franz Kline and Jack Tworkov in art, Cunningham in dance, and, of course, Cage in music. Sewell ‘Si’ Sillman, a former Albers student, returned to teach color. Drawing was taught by Charles Oscar, Katherine Litz’s husband. Karen Karnes and David Weinrib taught ceramics.  Lou Harrison, who had received a Guggenheim fellowship to work on his opera Rapunzel,was resident composer, and Stefan Wolpe, who was to replace Harrison in the fall, taught music. David Tudor gave concerts.

Cage’s proposed curriculum was to have students work on hisWilliams Mix, a composition of electronic music for which former Black Mountain student Paul Williams had provided funding. The composition required the tedious cutting and splicing of tape according to a score created by Cage from chance operations. The students were not interested, and Cage subsequently recalled that the most significant teaching at Black Mountain took place in the animated and extended conversations in the dining hall.


College dining hall and auditorium.
NCSA, Black Mountain College Papers.

Despite his lack of students, for Cage the summer was significant. Robert Rauschenberg had returned in the summer of 1951 with Cy Twombly and remained through the 1952 summer.  His all-white paintings which Cage first viewed that summer were inspiration for his reputation-breaking silent piece 4’33” which is dedicated to Black Mountain student Irwin Kremin and which was first performed by David Tudor on August 29, 1952 at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock. New York. In addition, one of Cage’sHaiku was published by Lou Harrison’s Black Mountain College Music Press on September 1, 1952.[xii]


On August 9, David Tudor performed Cage’s Music of Changes, and on August 12, his Two Pastorales and Water Music (August 12, 1952). A small program printed on tissue paper and glued to a program for the August 9 performance announces a second Black Mountain performance of the Sonatas and Interludes.

Att 6 1952 AUGUST 9 11 TUDORAtt 7 TUDOR PROGRAM 12 AUG 1952) (908)

In August Cage staged Theater Piece #1 (Black Mountain Piece), which subsequently came to be known as the first “happening.” Undoubtedly the Light Sound Movement Workshop taught by Warren ‘Pete’ Jennerjahn from 1949-51, theater performances directed by Wesley Huss, and Charles Olson’s interest in ritual as an alternative to conventional theater had created an environment receptive to Cage’s ideas. Another influence was Antonin Artaud’sThe Theatre and Its Double (Grove Press, 1958) which M.C. Richards was translating in New York and reading to the community as she worked. Cage recalled that it was from Artaud that he determined that action and text need not be interdependent. The seats were placed in four triangles with wide aisles between. Cage noted that, unlike the theater-in-the-round where action takes place only in the center, in the “happening” action occurred in the center, the aisles and around the audience.[xiii] The “script” for the performance assigned time slots determined by chance operations to different participants including Cage, Cunningham, M.C. Richards, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Tudor. As has been noted in numerous sources, memories vary according to just who did what and where it occurred. This disparity in accounts is a reflection both of the fact that each person had a different view of the event and of an assumed-insignificance of the performance at that time.

Cunningham taught both at Black Mountain and at the Burnsville School of Fine Arts, a project of The Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) in nearby Burnsville, North Carolina. Among his Black Mountain students that summer were Viola Farber, who was to become a principal dancer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; Timothy LaFarge, who danced briefly with the company; and Harvey Lichtenstein. As executive director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1967-99, Lichtenstein invited emerging and experimental artists including Cage and Cunningham for performances. At Burnsville, Cunningham choreographed a performance of Brigadoon and performed the role of Harry Beaton. The musical was performed at The Parkway Playhouse on August 15-16,18-19. Cage was listed as faculty in publications, but it is not clear whether or what he taught. On July 28 he performed hisSonatas and Interludes there.

The 1953 summer was the last big summer program at Black Mountain.  Cage visited although he did not teach. The focus for the summer was on ceramics with Peter Voulkos, Warren Mackenzie and Daniel Rhodes as teachers. Painting was taught by Esteban Vicente. Stefan Wolpe organized a series of concerts with Irma Wolpe, Josef Marx, Seymour Barab, Rudolph Benetsky, and Abraham Miskind. Merce Cunningham returned for a third summer with a group of dancers with whom he had been working in New York. He designates that summer of intense choreography, rehearsal and performance as the founding of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Tudor performed Cages’s Music for Piano 4-19 (May 1953) in July at the “Waterfront Auditorium.”

In the fall, faced with a diminishing faculty, student body and income, the college abandoned the lower campus including the Studies Building, the dining hall, and the dormitories and moved into faculty cottages. In New York the Monroe Street “Bozza Mansion” which had provided Cage and friends and collaborators with cheap rent in the company of friends and peers was being demolished.  He along with other Black Mountain students and faculty needed inexpensive housing and craved the sense of community they had experienced both at Black Mountain and in the Monroe Street building.  Paul Williams, who had received an inheritance from his father, and his wife Vera Baker Williams suggested they form a Black-Mountain-like community within commuting distance of New York City in a natural environment similar to that of the college. The Gatehill Cooperative Community — “The Land” — was formed in 1954 with John Cage, David Tudor, M.C. Richards, David Weinrib, Karen Karnes, Vera Baker Wiliams and Paul Williams as founding members. Musician Patsy Lynch Wood, who was married to LaNoue Davenport, and Betsy Weinrib Williams, Paul Williams second wife and David Weinrib’s sister, were part of the community. Stanley VanDerBeek had a dome studio there.


Stan Vanderbeek studio at The Land.
Mary Emma Harris, photographer.

Cage’s influence on Black Mountain was significant. It was his recommendation of Lou Harrison in 1952 that assured a role for the most vanguard music at the college. On his visits David Tudor performed music by Arnold Schoenberg, Morton Feldman, Stefan Wolpe, Anton Webern, Henry Cowell, Pierre Boulez, Christian Wolff, Lou Harrison, and, of course, John Cage. Although Cage had few students, his comment that the most important teaching took place in the dining hall captures the essential Black Mountain. One can only imagine the lively and challenging exchange of ideas and the undocumented impact of these conversations on the work of the participants.

The influence of Black Mountain College on John Cage was profound. At the college he came into contact with individuals who were to be his physical, intellectual and spiritual community for the remainder of his life.  Some were to be close friends and collaborators; with others he was to have more peripheral associations. The Land, where he lived from 1954 until he moved back into New York City, provided him with an extended family celebrating holidays, birthdays and other occasions. At a point in his career when he became increasing alienated from his peers, this community of kindred spirits was a critical support. Black Mountain College was for Cage and others a touchstone, a shared bond, and an instant act of recognition and inclusion.


[i] Black Mountain College Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 4 (May 1948).

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] John Cage to Josef and Anni Albers, Spring 1948. Courtesy of the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany, Connecticut and the John Cage Trust. Cage and Cunningham visited a Trappist monastery, probably The Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardston, Kentucky, after leaving Black Mountain.

[iv] Elaine de Kooning, “De Kooning Memories: Starting Out in the 1940s, a Personal Account,” Vogue, No. 3921 (December 1983):352,394.

[v] Snelson interview by Mary Emma Harris, 25 May 1972, NCSA, Black Mountain College Research Project Papers.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Richard Lippold interview by Mary Emma Harris, NCSA, Black Mountain College Research Project Papers.

[viii] John Cage, “Defense of Satie,” in John Cage, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (New York: Praeger, 1970):81.

[ix] The website (which no longer is online (2013)) noted that the score for Experiences II has a mention of Black Mountain. There is no known record of its having been performed there.

[x] “Inventor of genius” was the phrase used by Arnold Schoenberg to describe Cage’s musical gifts.

[xi] Josef Albers to John Cage, 7 September 1948, NCSA, Black Mountain College Papers.

[xii] The text for the Haiku reads “Autography by the composer. Editor, Lou Harrison. Designer and / printer, Carroll Williams. Printed with Bauer Futura types / and a zink [sic] line cut on Omi-V for the envelopes and Kochi / for the mnsic [sic] at the Black Mountain College Music Press,  Black / Mountain College, Black Mountain, North Carolina, in the / first edition of three-hundred on the first of September, 1952.”


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