THE ARTISTS, POETS and PROFESSORS of BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE (the college featured in the film THE LONGEST RIDE) Part 5 ceramic artist Karen Karnes and her husband sculptor David Weinrib


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

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 Introduction

Uploaded on Jul 27, 2009

FULLY AWAKE is a 60 minute documentary film about the legendary Black Mountain College (1933-1957), an influential experiment in education in Western North Carolina that inspired and shaped 20th century modern art. The film uses narration, archival photography, and interviews with former students, teachers, and historians to explore the schools beginnings, its unique education methods, and how its collaborative curriculum inspired innovation that changed the very definition of art. For more information, please visit or to purchase the film, please visit

The third post in this series was on Jorge Fick. Earlier we noted that  Fick was a student at Black Mountain College and an artist that lived in New York and he lent a suit to the famous poet Dylan Thomas and Thomas died in that suit. Both Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg were featured in the second post in this series and both of them were good friends of the composer John Cage who was featured in my first post in this series. The fourth post in this series is on the artist  Xanti Schawinsky and he had a great influence on John Cage who  later taught at Black Mountain College. Schawinsky taught at Black Mountain College from 1936-1938 and Cage right after World War II. In the fifth post I discuss David Weinrib and his wife Karen Karnes who were good friends with John Cage.

In  1952 David Weinrib and his wife Karen Karnes came to Black Mountain College and became friends with John Cage and his partner Merce Cunningham  and several others such as David Tudor and Paul and Vera Williams and Mary Caroline Richards. In 1954 they all moved to Stony Point, Rockland County, 40 miles from New York and they had hoped to start a community that would grow but it didn’t turn out that way. Below is the story of the art of Karen Karnes and her first husband David Weinrib and the story of John Cage and his mushroom story as told by Francis Schaeffer.

Josef Albers
Fiddling with Leica.
Merce Cunningham
In an oudoor solo.
Merce Cunningham
Photo by Robert Rauschenberg

Black Mountain College

Uploaded on Apr 18, 2011

Class Project on Black Mountain College for American Literature


Mark Shapiro: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes (at 11 min mark discusses Black Mountain College) 

Published on May 23, 2012

Mark Shapiro gave a presentation about the life and work of ceramic artist Karen Karnes at the 2012 American Craft Council Baltimore Show.

Smithsonian Oral History Interview: Karen Karnes

Oral history interview with Karen Karnes, 2005 Aug. 9-10, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Karnes, Karen, b. 1925, Potter, Morgan, Vt.

An interview of Karen Karnes conducted 2005 Aug. 9-10, by Mark Shapiro, for the Archives of American Art’s Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at the artist’s home and studio in Morgan, Vt.

Karnes discusses her childhood in Brooklyn and the Bronx as the daughter of Russian and Polish immigrants working in the garment industry; living in a cooperative housing project built especially for garment workers and their families; attending the High School of Music and Art, New York City; going on to Brooklyn College, and fortuitously landing in the class of Serge Chermayoff, who taught primarily in the Bauhaus style; meeting her first husband, David Weinrib, with whom she eventually moved to Pennsylvania; David bringing home a slab of clay for her to work with, her first experience with the material; traveling to Italy and working in a ceramics factory there; attending a summer session at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and taking a class with Josef Albers; moving to Stony Point, in Rockland County, N.Y., to start Gatehill Community; her first gallery relationship, with Bonniers, New York City; the birth of her son Abel in 1956; the first time she used a salt kiln, while at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts, Penland, NC, in 1967, and its effect on the character of her work; her relationship with the Hadler-Rodriguez Galleries, New York City; the pottery show in Demarest, New Jersey; her teaching philosophy and methods…meeting her life partner, Ann Stannard, in 1970; Ann’s home in Wales, and living there before settling in Vermont; the fire that destroyed their home and studio in 1998; the issues of privacy and isolation in an artists life; her expectations about her career, especially as a Jewish woman; and her feelings on the work of contemporary potters.

Karnes also recalls John Cage, Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, Charles Olsen, Marguerite Wildenhain, Paul and Vera B. Williams, Mary Caroline Richards, Goren Holmquist, Paul J. Smith, Mikhail Zakin, Jack Lenor Larsen, Isamu Noguchi, D. Hayne Bayless, Zeb Schactel, Warren Mackenzie, Garth Clark, Joy Brown, Robbie Lobell, Paulus Berensohn, and others.



when david weinrib* installed hank de ricco’s 27 pole piece on the green area outside of the design center, it took me a while to get used to this


(L–R) Leon Smith, Guardian, 2003, painted steel, 5 ½ x 3 x 2½ feet; Sculpture Park Curator David Weinrib with sculptor Leon Smith

work called Double Loops 1965

1962 work called Needle

Weinrib’s Pocket

Published on Apr 11, 2014

Curatorium. Hudson ny

Sometimes we sit around Harriet HQ and daydream about what it woulda been like to be a student at Black Mountain College in the 50s. Sitting in on Charles Olson’s marathon workshops


8:00 pm, Friday, November 30
Admission: $7 / $5 BMCM+AC members + students w/ID

On Friday, November 30th at 8:00 pm the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (56 Broadway in downtown Asheville) presents a rare opportunity to hear first-hand about the Black Mountain College pottery program and the amazing artists who worked at the school in the early 1950s. Artist David Weinrib was potter-in-residence and guest faculty along with Karen Karnes from summer 1952 through summer 1954 at Black Mountain College.

In 1952, David Weinrib and Karen Karnes were invited to come to Black Mountain College for the summer. This visit evolved into their positions as BMC’s Potters in Residence. That same year, they played hosts to a symposium moderated by Marguerite Wildenhain, featuring Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada and Soetsu Yanagi as presenters. The following year, the pair organized a summer session with yet another influential group of ceramicists: Peter Voulkos, Daniel Rhodes and Warren Mackenzie. These symposia were hugely influential to the studio pottery movement, with some potters claiming that their directions as artists were forever altered.

In the time that followed his Black Mountain College experience, Weinrib was instrumental in starting the intentional community, the Gate Hill Cooperative at Stony Point in New York. Involved in this live/work project were several faces from BMC: John Cage, David Tudor, Karen Karnes, Paul & Vera Williams and M.C. Richards.

David Weinrib has worked as an instructor, potter, designer, curator and sculptor (in various mediums, including plastics), and has received numerous awards for his work. The pieces that Weinrib created at BMC have a painterly quality that is at once engaging and unique. His work displays a versatility and creative energy that is not often rivaled.

This is perhaps one of the most famous photographs taken at the Archie Bray Foundation. From left to right are Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach, Rudy Autio, Peter Voulkos, and Shoji Hamada.


Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Soetsu Yanagi, and Marguerite Wildenhain at Black Mountain College


Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes

Catalog essay for the show that Mark curated at the Penland Gallery, March 22–May 8, 2011.

show announcement

People often ask whether I was a student of Karen Karnes. It is always somehow awkward to answer. I first say no, explain that she doesn’t really teach, that I have gotten to know her over the years, that her work and place in the world are deeply important to me. That she is a mentor even though I never actually studied or worked with her.

My hunch is that many potters feel this way. The thirteen artists whose work is represented in Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes certainly do. In fact, Karnes’s outstanding career of over sixty years has touched several generations of potters. She has inspired many young potters to pursue their unlikely vocation, and artists of her own generation—even those working in other fields—to take up clay. Her influence derives mostly from her quiet personal magnetism, integrity, and the uncanny power of her work. An encounter with Karnes is often a transformational event.

Unlike many of the well-known figures of the studio pottery movement, Karnes never taught for any length of time at a university, influencing students as they passed through. Nor did she have apprentices working in her studio to internalize her attitudes and protocols and carry them forward, nor books extending her following. Many of the prominent mentors in modern ceramics have arisen out of such contexts. For example, the British potters Bernard Leach and his apprentice Michael Cardew not only influenced the many apprentices who worked in their studios, but their seminal writings reached thousands of readers. University professors such as Karnes’s contemporary, Warren MacKenzie (who himself apprenticed with Leach), have had important impacts on younger potters [1].

In the Studio

Karnes has preferred to work in the quiet privacy of her studio, rarely employing assistants, and never directly on her work. Though she did share her studio at several points over her career—at Black Mountain College in 1952–4 with her then-husband sculptor, David Weinrib; and for several years with Weinrib and the poet, painter, and scholar M.C. Richards at the Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point, New York—she did so in the spirit of cooperative engagement with partners and peers. (She shared a studio again two decades later when she formed a life-partnership with Ann Stannard, an accomplished educator and artist, this time for a decade or so until Ann’s interests moved on to other areas.) But generally, Karnes fiercely protected the privacy of her studio and worked alone.

Growing up, McKenzie Smith was an occasional visitor to Gate Hill, where Karnes had her studio for 25 years, and Smith’s aunt, Johanna Vanderbeek, was also a resident. He recalls Karnes’s formidable presence, amidst the wildness and freedom of the scene at Gate Hill in the late 1960s—“flat-out naked hippieville,” it seemed to him, in contrast to his more conventional Florida upbringing. Karnes stood apart, literally, as her studio was separated from two clustered hillside quadrangles, and in her serious and disciplined persona. She might indulge the band of roving boys McKenzie was tearing around with by giving them each a small lump of clay, but after a brief time she would indicate clearly that it was time for them to move on so that she could return to work.

Her studio solitude only shifted as she entered her 80s and welcomed Normandy Alden, a student she’d met teaching with me at Haystack School in 2005, to share her studio in northern Vermont. By then Karnes was producing much less work and needed help maintaining her studio and rural homestead.

The Question of Teaching

Karnes is sometimes erroneously described as having been on the faculty at Black Mountain College, but actually she and Weinrib were artists-in-residence and did not officially teach. Curious faculty and students would visit the pot shop; M.C. Richards, for example, began working more seriously in clay there with the couple’s encouragement.

Later, at Gate Hill, after she and Weinrib split up and MC moved back into the city, Karnes taught some classes in her studio, but she strictly limited her teaching to one afternoon a week and stopped when her pots sold more reliably. It was in these studio classes, though, that Mikhail Zakin, who had been working in jewelry and sculpture, took up pottery; eventually she helped Karen build her salt kiln. Zakin, five years Karnes’s senior, might be said to be the earliest and longest bearer of her influence.

In the 1960s, as workshop teaching opportunities expanded with the growth of the craft movement, Karnes taught sporadically, twice at Haystack School and, notably, once here at Penland, where in 1967 she first salt-glazed, a career-changing event. From then on her primary material vocabulary turned to salt surfaces and her work for the next dozen years took on the iconic orange-peel texture and rich tonality that we associate with classic Karnes. But though many studio potters became regulars on the workshop circuit, Karnes did not. She was simply too absorbed with the private pleasures and demands of the studio, now irresistible as she was finding her voice—and market—with this new approach.

Still, one workshop she gave at the Wesleyan Potters studio in Connecticut broke the pattern. It was so compelling that the students arranged to continue meeting every few months on an ongoing basis. The “Continuum,” as they called it, met periodically in different studios over half a dozen years until 1979, mainly under Karnes’s leadership, but also under guest presenters such as British potters Mick Casson and David Leach. It was as a peripheral participant in this group that Malcolm Davis first encountered Karnes.

Old Church

The institution, however, most associated with Karnes’s legacy is the annual pottery show at the Art School at Old Church Cultural Center, in Demarest, New Jersey, just north of Manhattan. The weekend show, which she has curated since 1974, each year features 25 potters from around the country. Potters donate a third of their sales to benefit the art school, which Zakin had founded in an old abandoned church. For years, the show was the main fundraising event for the school. When Zakin originally came to Karnes with the idea of the show, Karnes accepted her curatorial role on condition that the potters be “really treated well”: the school would provide them with housing, food, and prepared display spaces, take care of sales and packing so they could enjoy each other, mingle with the customers, and maybe even spend an afternoon in the city. This was to be a show by potters forpotters. And the potters, Karnes was adamant, would be promptly paid. The atmosphere would be celebratory and coalesce around a festive potter’s dinner on Saturday night. The idealism with which the show was conceived is consistent with Karen’s early history of communitarian self-sufficiency, and reflects the values of mutual aid among the tradespersons living in the Bronx “Coops,” the first worker-owned housing project in New York City, where she grew up with her parents, who were garment workers and socialist union activists.

Each year, Karnes introduces younger potters among the regulars who rotate in and out of the show. A few participants enjoy a kind of tenured status—Zakin, who has participated from the beginning; Rob Sieminski, since 1977; Scott Goldberg since 1980; and Malcolm Davis a few year later. All of the potters in Many Paths (with the exception of Alden, who is currently in graduate school, and Paulus Berensohn, who worked in other media and did not produce pots in quantity) have shown multiple times at Old Church. They all remember feeling honored and encouraged by Karen’s belief in their work, and especially grateful for the sustaining sense of community that she fostered.

For many, the show was their first national professional venue, a chance to put work next to peers and senior practitioners in the field and in front of a savvy public. The event has been a rite of passage for many, myself included. Malcolm Davis’s first experience of the show is typical. As he was just beginning to make pots seriously, Karnes responded to something incipient in his forms, and invited him to exhibit, though he didn’t feel his work yet merited it. “She saw something in my pots and opened a door to professionalism and gave me courage. It was a huge stroke.”

Karnes and Zakin set up the show to give concrete economic support to the potters. Not only did it connect potters to enthusiastic buyers each December, but the invitations dependably went out considerably in advance, and first-time potters were given a several-year commitment. All this meant that the show could be part of a longer-term plan, giving potters a respite from the uncertainties of juried craft shows. Rob Sieminski, knowing he could count on an income stream every December, felt greater freedom to take bolder risks in his work because of this and the sense of Karnes’s unqualified support for his creativity. As he says, “pots with nails fired into them” (a feature of his work for a number of years) “weren’t exactly an obvious popular direction.”

In the case of Robbie Lobell, Karnes’s support extended to the sharing of her pioneering formula for making flameware—low-expansion clay and glazes that could be put directly over a burner. These were the basis of Karnes’s famous line of casseroles that sold so well over almost four decades. Lobell felt the practical intent of Karnes’s generous gesture. “She always talked about how hard it is to be a potter. She was handing me something that would allow me to make a living.”

Bob Briscoe notes, “Karen proved that there is strong support for functional ceramics in the general public. By recognizing and nurturing this support, Karen has shown that it is possible for numerous potters to make their living doing what they love.” In fact, the show has become a model for several others around the country, notably the Northern Clay Center’s American Pottery Festival, which Bob Briscoe and Mathew Metz initiated after brainstorming on their long drive back to Minnesota after participating in Old Church in 1998 [2].

The Woman over Time

From very early on, Karnes was a strong and successful woman, making her living by selling her wares independently and on her own terms, without the backup of a professional spouse’s income. She built her own kiln (with Zakin) and began firing with salt at a time when such activities were quite male-dominated. Mary Barringer and Aysha Peltz, whose sights as young potters were set on making a living from studio production, were particularly encouraged by Karnes’s example as a successful independent craftswoman. Barringer’s words speak for scores of women who encountered Karnes as they were thinking about making a life in clay: “I visited Karen at her Stony Point studio, and I can still recall the impact that seeing her in her own working space had upon me. Seeing with my own eyes the evidence of a working woman potter opened a door in my mind that I had not realized was closed. Karen’s example sent me forth into my working life.”

Karnes’s vitality, continued productivity, and constant creative growth well into her 80s is one of her most admired qualities, remarked on by many but particularly meaningful to younger women. Regardless of the limitations of her body, she has never ceased to make new work, experimented with different firings as a guest in colleague’s kilns—and last year even building a new salt kiln. And she has continued her role as Old Church curator. “As a woman aging in a physically demanding field, Karen is a hero for me,” says Silvie Granatelli. Working alongside Karnes in her Morgan, Vermont, studio, encouraged Normandy Alden to “look expansively at my own life in clay and consider how I might prepare for an aging body that inevitably comes.” Gail Kendall hopes to “match her vigor and engagement in the field over time. She is always changing, growing, and exploring.”

Life and Art

Karnes seems to have achieved an almost perfect merging of life and art, perhaps any artist’s highest aspiration. As Scott Goldberg puts it, “Karen has devoted her life to her work. Through the years, she steadily, self-confidently, invents, and holds to ideals that express exquisite, subtle form and meticulous craftsmanship. Her unwavering approach to the merging of the crafts of life and art has been an inspiration to me.” This seemingly effortless representation of her whole being in her work, the way it encompasses her environment, body image, all the rhythms of her days is truly remarkable. Peltz sees this fluid and peaceful integration of experience and expression at the heart of Karnes’s accomplishment, “her self, sources, and experiences are present in her work with an organic ease that few potters achieve.”

This resonates with my sense of Karnes as an embodiment of the complete artist, one confidently in pursuit of a transformative vision, in harmony with the world, at peace with her refusal of its distractions, organically and inexorably moving with her work into new places. As she says in one of her rare pronouncements about her creative process, “The pots kind of grow from themselves—it’s a feeling. The forms will extend themselves—or contract. I feel my forms live in my body, on my breath.” It is this somatic integration of her creativity, her beautiful embodiment of it that makes her so compelling.

Even her very physical presence carried Karnes’s art. Maren Kloppman remembers the “magical moment” she met Karnes during a thunderstorm. Karnes’s “keen eye and gentle honest criticism inspired ambition and possibility in me,” says Kloppman. For Paulus Berensohn, the encounter was fateful. He was a young New York dancer, was attending an annual picnic at Gate Hill, when he wandered off from his hosts and happened to see Karnes at her wheel—no surprise that she was hard at work even during such an event—through the window of her studio, facing away from him. As he describes it, “she was seated throwing a cylinder her back long straight and beautiful. She reached a graceful arm toward the slip bucket and without for a second taking her eyes off the spinning pot, picked up the waiting sponge. I just had to learn that dance.”

The graceful confidence that she exudes physically flows in part from how completely she is at peace with her choices and accepts their moral implications. She rejects compromise of her artistic intent for worldly gain and eschews any distraction from her muse. I am reminded of a dealer who, knowing of the demand for Karnes’s classic large-scale work, her need for funds, and the limitations of her aging body, suggested that she hire a young thrower to make her forms. Karnes, baffled, responded, “Why would I ever do that?” Zakin sums it up eloquently: “Karen is somebody who lives with total integrity to her value system. That has been the great lesson for me—that it can be done, that you can live that way.”

Mentors and Patrons

These stories focus on Karnes’s influence on and mentorship of other artists, but it seems important to circle back to her early days as an artist, her own experience starting out. I have mentioned how Karnes’s conditions for curating the Old Church show reflected the ameliorative engagement of her childhood milieu, a commitment to helping others that is in her blood. This instinct was also nurtured by mentors and patrons who played different supportive roles in her early career.

As a student in the 1940s, her creative gift was recognized by Serge Chermayeff, the Chechen-born modernist architect and designer who headed the art department at Brooklyn College. Chermayeff believed in her strongly and encouraged her to apply to Harvard in architecture. Though she declined, she is one of the only former students he singles out in his Chicago Architects History Project interview (1986) in which he calls her pot an example of the “brilliant… awfully good” students he taught at Brooklyn [3]. He later arranged for her full fellowship at Alfred University in Charles Harder’s studio. She was again recognized during her stay in the Italian pottery town of Sesto Fiorentino when her work caught the eye of leading designer Gio Ponti. Ponti was so taken with her work that he featured it in his prestigiousDomus magazine. Chermayeff and Ponti were both masters in fields somewhat peripheral to Karnes’s chosen one, and were in positions to offer avenues of advancement to the young Karnes.

At Black Mountain College, Karnes experienced a different kind of a transformational teaching when she encountered a master working in her own material, the legendary Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada, who along with Bernard Leach, Soetsu Yanagi, and Marguerite Widenhain came to the college to give a seminar the first summer of her residence. She describes “breathing in” his spirit as he quietly worked, uncomplaining, with the available clay while Leach went on and on about proper clay, plasticity, etc. She says that whenever she had any doubts about throwing pots in front of a group she would recall Hamada’s peaceful undistracted presence.

At the college she also enjoyed the support of the college’s rector, poet Charles Olsen. While in the 1950s, pottery was somewhat marginal to the heady abstract discourse of the students, Olsen wanted to move the college toward a curriculum based on his “institute model” where students would study consecutively four of bodies of knowledge that would begin with crafts, with pottery enjoying parity with weaving, architecture, and graphics. As he stated in a 1952 letter to Wildenhain (who he tried to recruit to the college before Karnes signed on), “…it damn well interests me as an act, (pots do)” [4].

Finally, the architect Paul Williams extended generous patronage to Karnes (and the other residents at Gate Hill Cooperative), building her house and studio and even providing a VW bug for the community to use, enabling Karen to pursue her passion at a time when she had few material resources at her disposal. The consistent support Karnes has extended to others over her long career, then, is a reciprocation rooted in the legacies and support from which she herself benefited.

The diversity and excellence of the work of the multigenerational assembly of artists in Many Paths and their connections to Karnes and to one another is testimony itself to Karnes’s rich legacy. Though the space here at the Penland Gallery has limited this group to a baker’s dozen, many more in the Penland community and around the country also carry her as a touchstone of excellence and a model of commitment, community, and integrity. Potters everywhere have been transformed by the fierce beauty of her life and work. Karnes is not just essential to the many paths taken by the artists in this show; her presence runs through generations of American ceramists.


I am grateful to Karen Karnes for being the inspiring artist and person she is; to Kathryn Gremley at the Penland Gallery for encouragement and putting the exhibition together; to the Penland School for funding this essay; and to the thirteen artists in the show, for their work and their thoughts about Karnes’s influence that are at the heart of Many Paths. Finally I am indebted to my wife Pam Thompson for her incisive editing and unwavering support.


1 MacKenzie exemplifies this model of mentorship. From his position at the University of Minnesota, he created a vibrant ceramic culture and taught many students, notably an exceptional group of potters in the late 1960s, including Michael and Sandy Simon, Mark Pharis, Randy Johnston, Wayne Branum, and Jeff Oestreich.

2 The highly successful St. Croix Pottery Tour has since extended this legacy. The Tour, a circuit of six host studios north of the Twin Cities, hosts an additional three dozen guest potters and includes social events that reflect the community spirit that Karnes nurtured at Old Church.

3 Serge Chermayeff, interview by Betty J. Blum. Wellfleet, MA, 23–4 May 1985. Chicago Architects Oral History Project. (Chicago: Ernest R. Graham Study Center for Architectural Drawings. Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago) 26.

4 Charles Olsen, letter to Bernard Leach. 24 May 1952. Black Mountain College Papers, II. 25.

The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College

The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College

Eva Diaz

Practically every major artistic figure of the mid-twentieth century spent some time at Black Mountain College: Harry Callahan, Merce Cunningham, Walter Gropius, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Aaron Siskind, Cy Twombly – the list goes on and on. Yet scholars have tended to view these artists’ time at the college as little more than prologue, a step on their way to greatness. With The Experimenters, Eva Diaz reveals the influence of Black Mountain College – and especially of three key instructors, Josef Albers, John Cage, and R. Buckminster Fuller – to be much greater than that. Diaz’s focus is on experimentation. Albers, Cage, and Fuller, she shows, taught new models of art making that favored testing procedures rather than personal expression. The resulting projects not only reconfigured the relationships among chance, order, and design – they helped redefine what artistic practice was, and could be, for future generations. Offering a bold, compelling new angle on some of the most widely studied creative minds of the twentieth century. The Experimenters does nothing less than rewrite the story of art in the mid-twentieth century.

Chicago, 2015, 17.8 x 25.4cm, illustrated, 256pp. Hardback.

Friday, April 8, 2011

John Cage Collecting Mushrooms

When I was a teen I was lucky to meet John Cage. He died in 1992 so one had to be quick about it. He was in Broward Community College. He preformed his work with the students there, which were regular instruments and found instruments(that one wouldn’t consider an instrument). He rehearsed the work twice when he said the performance was fine and played the whole thing. He had a very Zen like attitude to his creations that all the performances were going to be different, but a specific attitude what instruments or situations were going to be used. It was a relief to me that a performance doesn’t have to be identical. Most of his later works were done with the I Ching divination, that would show the outcome of the notes, the instruments he would use was asked of the I Ching. He didn’t want a self expression, but the notes and instruments would follow a certain way. Then later there was a formal concert were he played his piano composition that were early and not chance works. Then he did a very long reading from one of his books which was a total chance operation from the I Ching. I had earlier taken pictures with him. I let him sign his book, “A Year from Monday.” A few years later I went to a concert that they played Martinu orchestra music, Cage music for percussion, and a large work of Earl Brown a friend contemporary of Cage sat beside me in the audience. It was a very memorial concert for many orchestral instruments. A past time cage had was collecting mushrooms, hence the picture.

The Mushroom Man!

John Cage, Stony Point (c.1955)/Photo credit: David Gahr

Here’s a little find!  A short interview with Laurette Reisman, former student of John Cage’s Mushroom Identification class at the New School in 1962, talking about Cage, mushroom walks, and the conception of the New York Mycological Society.  This story was produced by Aasim Rasheed for National Public Radio’s “Storycorps Digital Storytelling” program.  Reisman, interviewed by Rasheed, calls John Cage “The Mushroom Man.”

Thanks to Rasheed for providing the interview in both recorded and transcribed form to the ever-growing archives of the John Cage Trust!

Laura Kuhn


Thursday, January 8, 2015

John Cage and His “Art”

I’m teaching an apologetics and worldview class for high schoolers.  One of the textbooks we are using is James Sire’s The Universe Next Door (5th edition).

In discussing nihilism Sire talks about how “nihilism means the death of art” (p. 114).  Sire writes:

Art is nothing if not formal, that is, endowed with structure by the artist.  But structure itself implies meaning.  So to the extent that an art-work has structure, it has meaning and thus is not nihilistic.  Even Beckett’s Breath has structure.  A junkyard, the garbage in a trash heap, a pile of rocks just blasted from a quarry have no structure.  They are not art.  (p. 115)

Since Sire mentions Beckett’s Breath here is one renditon:


Uploaded on Jan 11, 2008

National Theatre School First Year Technical Production Class project, production of Samuel Beckett’s play Breath.


Sire goes on to state:

Some contemporary art attempts to be anti-art by being random.  Much of John Cage’s music is predicated on sheer chance, randomness.  But it is both dull and grating, and very few people can listen to it.  It’s not art.  (p. 115)

To get a flavor for John Cage’s work here are few items.  The first piece is “Music of Changes–part one”

John Cage-Music of Changes Book 1 (1951)

Published on Nov 14, 2012

Vicky Chow, piano
DiMenna Center, NYC
NY SoundCircuit
June 9, 2012

John Cage performing Water Walk


This piece entitled “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” uses 12 radios to make random sounds

John Cage: “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” for 12 radios (1951)

Uploaded on Dec 7, 2008

As performed by students of Hunter College (NYC) in Prof. Joachim Pissarro’s + Geoffrey Burleson’s “Cage Class” 12/5/08. 2 players per radio – 1 for frequency tuning, the other for volume, tone, and page-turning of the score.

John Cage’s 4’33”

Uploaded on Dec 15, 2010

A performance by William Marx of John Cage’s 4’33.
Filmed at McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA.

Composer John Adams wrote the following in The New York Times review of Mr. Cage’s new biography, “The Zen of Silence” :
“John Cage….prodded us to reevaluate how we define not only music but the entire experience of encountering art.”
Read the complete review of Kenneth Silverman’s book:

John Cage – 4’33”

Is John Cage’s 4’33” music?: Prof. Julian Dodd at TEDxUniversityOfManchester

Published on Jun 8, 2013

Julian is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manchester with a particular interest in the philosophy of music. He has recently worked on authenticity in musical performance, the ontology of jazz and musical profundity. In this talk Julian discusses the controversial 4’33” by 20th century American composer John Cage, a famous classical music composition…or is it?

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)


I first learned of John Cage from reading Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There (1968).  Here a few of his comments:

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 could not allow his 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 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 could not be determined ahead of time, and the musicians followed that.  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.  All this is below the line of anthropology.  Above the line there is nothing personal, only the philosophic other, or the impersonal everything.

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 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.

Cage himself, however, is another example of a man who cannot live with his own conclusions.  He says that the truth about the universe is a totally chance situation.  You must just live with it and listen to it; cry if you must, swear if you must, but listen and go on listening.

Towards the end of The New Yorker Profile we read this:

In 1954 … the sculptor David Weinrib and his wife moved into an old farmhouse on a tract of land in Stony Point, Rockland County, forty miles from New York, which the Williamses had brought.  Cage lived and worked in an attic room that he shared with a colony of wasps, and often took long, solitary walks in the woods.  His eye was caught right away by the mushrooms that grew so abundantly in Rockland County, in all shapes, and sizes and brilliant colors.  He started to collect books on mushrooms and to learn everything he could about them, and he has been doing so ever since.  After all, mushroom hunting is a decidedly chancy, or indeterminate pastime.

No matter how much mycology one knows—and Cage is now one of the best amateur mycologists in the country, with one of the most extensive private libraries ever complied on the subject—there is always the possibility of a mistake in identification.  “I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly,” Cage said not long ago.  “So I decided that I would not approach them in this way!”

In other words, here is a man who is trying to teach the world what the universe intrinsically is and what the real philosophy of life is, and yet he cannot even apply it to picking mushrooms.  If he were to go out into the woods and begin picking mushrooms by chance, within a couple of days there would be no Cage!

Francis Schaeffer The God Who Is There [1968] in Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 77-79.


THE LONGEST RIDE Interview – Nicholas Sparks, Britt Robertson & Scott Eastwood



In Plot Recreated With Reviews, a feature I’ve been doing for a few years now, we use the summary grafs from reviews to recreate the entire plot of the movie, an idea based on the premise that a bad movie isn’t nearly as entertaining as curmudgeonly, verbose critics describing a bad movie. It all began with a Nicholas Sparks movie, and Nicholas Sparks, God bless that old cheese-dick cornball, no movies are better fodder for Plot Recreated with Reviews than his.

This week brings us The Last Ride, based on a 2013 Sparks novel, a love story starring Clint Eastwood’s wooden son Scott and Britt Robertson (along with Eastwood, it also stars Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter Oona and John Huston’s grandson Jack). It features everything you’d expect from a Nicholas Sparks movie – gauzy romance, melodramatic tragedy, gratuitous flashbacks to the 40s, a pretty white lady who has to choose between an old-fashioned hunk and her empty internship/scholarship/fellowship in New York City – along with a fresh new Holocaust twist. I haven’t seen it, but something tells me the guy who sets all his novels in North Carolina writes really realistic Jews. As a nod to the title, it’s apparently 128 minutes long. Two-plus hours. So as you read this, never forget the sacrifice these critics made.

 “The Longest Ride” tells the story of a bull rider and an upwardly mobile sorority girl who meet one day at the rodeo. (SF Chronicle)

Scott Eastwood, 29, plays Luke, a hunky, but gentlemanly, bull rider. He lives in a well-appointed former barn. Meadow grass blows in the breeze whenever he saunters by. (USA Today)

Luke continues to ride, against doctor’s orders, because he needs money to save his family ranch. (FilmRacket)

Sophia is a New Jersey girl, an art history major at Wake Forest University who has tagged along with some of her sorority sisters hoping to see “the hottest guys.” (NY Times)

Her sorority sisters squeal and shout, “I want a cowboy!” Moronic bull-riding commentators call Luke “easy on the eyes and a magician on a bull!” (Red Eye)

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. (Tribune News Services)

When he asks her on a date, she is all but unfamiliar with this quaint custom. What, you mean he wants to pick her up? And have plans? And not just text here “Wanna hang out?” Ladies, he even arrives with flowers, to the collective sighs of the entire sorority house. (BeliefNet)

The first date is eventful: Luke brings her flowers, surprises her with a romantic picnic near a mountain lake, and saves an elderly man from a burning car. (The Dissolve/USA Today)

Amid a mild thunderstorm, and before drifting out of consciousness, the man adamantly urges Sophia to save the box of love letters he has in the front seat. (Slant Magazine)

As Luke lugs [the old man] to safety, Sophia pulls a box of letters from the burning car (he just carries them around, as one does). (Miami Herald)

And the stage is set for one of Sparks’ bifurcated then-and-now narratives, in which the lessons of the past help to guide the action of the present. (Variety)



During each of Sophia’s daily visits to Ira (Alan Alda) [at the hospital], she reads a different letter that he wrote many years before, and on each occasion this introduces a flashback to the early 1940s. (SF Chronicle)

The Alda character is revealed as one Ira Levinson, a Jewish nonagenarian whose coveted letters tell of his 60-year romance with wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin).

It’s not quite clear why he wrote so many letters to a woman he saw every day — letters that sometimes seem to narrate what they did together just a few hours before the time of composition — but it’s sweet that he saved them. (NY Times)

In a nod to Jewish culture and history, we learn Ruth’s desire for family is tied to the loss of hers. Most of her relatives didn’t make it out of Austria before Hitler took control. That reveal comes as she and Ira walk home from a synagogue, moments that look remarkably like typical Southern Sunday go-to meeting scenes except for the “good Shabbats.” (LA Times)

…phlegmatic Borscht Belt accents and references to Shabbos. (Variety)

Some jokes work in either era, like Viennese sophisticate Ruth fondly calling her small-town beau “a country pumpkin.” When Ira explains that Americans say “bumpkin,” she says either term works fine. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

There’s even a consultant in Jewish culture listed in the credits. (BeliefNet)

She wants kids but he returns from war impotent, leading him to drown his sorrows at the local soda jerk. (Metro)



Unable to have children, Ira and Ruth collect art, traveling to nearby Black Mountain College to buy paintings by real-life artists. (NY Times)

…and their failure to adopt a parentless hillbilly boy who shows intellectual promise, simply serve to demonstrate how few obstacles Luke and Sophia face compared to theirs. (Hollywood Reporter)

As Sophia runs into relationship trouble with Luke, she [continues to] visit Ira in the hospital and reads the letters with him. (AV Club)

He’s into rodeos, barbecue and “old school” manly ways; she’s into Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and liberated female thinking. (Toronto Star)

Luke doesn’t believe in women buying him a drink or calling him first. (AV Club)

Sophia loves art, as she explains: “I love art. I love everything about it.” (AV Club)

This guy’s “old-school” and says so. (“Call me old-school,” Luke says.) (Chicago Tribune)

When Sophia invites Luke to meet the art dealer she intends to intern under, and his reaction to the collection she brought from New York to display to prospective buyers is a smirk: “I think there’s more bullsh*t here than in my field.” (Slant Magazine)

Twice here, when characters get their hearts scuffed, thunder claps and it begins to rain. (LA Weekly)

[But] as Sophia hears Ira’s stories, she realizes Luke is the one for her. (FilmRacket)

Tillman has fun contrasting an old-fashioned gentleman like Luke with the frat bros at Sophia’s college, soft man-children in pastel polo shirts who text late at night instead of courting her with dinner dates and flowers. (LA Weekly)

Soon after, she decides pop music gives her headaches and switches the radio to country. (LA Weekly)

Beautiful landscapes loom large. Gauzy curtains sway as the lovebirds get tastefully amorous. (USA Today)

Seacoast and sunlight, white people kissing in-the-rain (NY Times)

sun-dappled shots of lovers sitting together, smiling and staring at an undetermined spot (Metro)

misty vistas of gauzy fog draped delicately over lush North Carolina forests and gleaming lakes (Seattle Times)

kissing under a spray of water (NY Times)

honey-glow sunsets and utter fraudulence (Chicago Tribune)

at least three instances of Ira giving Ruth a gift and her jumping on him in joy. (Metro)

Smiles are dazzling. Complexions are flawless. Hair is perfect. (Seattle Times)

Insulting to immigrants, minorities, soldiers and horses (Red Eye Chicago)

Montages of walks along the ocean, horseback rides through verdant meadows and Eastwood’s ever-present abs (LA Times)

His blue eyes, high cheekbones and chiseled jaw have Clint Eastwood’s genetic imprint. His toned pecs and abs are given nearly as much focus (USA Today)

to say nothing of the incipient crinkles in both his voice and his forehead. (The Wrap)

At the right angle, he looks exactly like Dirty Harry Callahan — but the young Eastwood has more sex appeal than his flinty father did. (Newsday)

those distracting Eastwood abs. (LA Times)

chiseled Luke could easily get a gig as an underwear model (The Wrap)



The two end up in a lovemaking montage that intercuts bull-riding with their mistily shot grapplings. (Boston Globe)

one effective sequence that cuts together Luke’s professional bull-riding, Sophia’s attempt to ride a practice rig, and the couple having sex constantly.  (AV Club)

crosscutting their first sexual tryst with clips of him teaching her to ride an oil barrel suspended by ropes (Slant Magazine)

But, despite their attraction, they know the romance is going nowhere. She’s about to graduate and head up to New York to work in an art gallery. She might as well say she’s going to spend the summer burning American flags. (Guardian)

Much is made of this art-gallery internship throughout the movie: Should Sophia stay with the man she loves …or take a job that pays no money? (SF Chronicle)

The movie tries to wring suspense from Luke’s confrontation with his greatest enemy: the villainous bull that threw him off and gave him his head injury in the first place. (AV Club)

One year earlier, Luke was violently thrown from a practically undefeated bull-nado and spent two weeks in a coma. Disregarding doctor’s orders, his only current priority is to buck his way to the top. (Slant Magazine)

His mom (Lolita Davidovich) begs him to quit. “It’s eight seconds,” his mom says. “That girl could be the rest of your life.” (USA Today)

Everyone sane in Luke’s life is begging him to hang up the spurs. Naturally, he won’t. He’s got to be the best. And that means one final ride against Rango (credited “as himself”), even if the doctors warn he may never walk again. (Guardian)

“This is what I do,” he tells Sophia. “It’s all I know.” (Toronto Star)

Luke, in the lead as 2015’s top cinematic narcissistic asshole, doesn’t, in fact, sever his spine. His idiotic machismo gets him the trophy and, even worse, the girl. This is after she dumps him for refusing to give up his idiotic career. (Guardian)

A third-act twist, in which these nice and nice-looking people are handsomely rewarded for so much niceness, has all the narrative sophistication of a 10-year-old closing her eyes and wishing dreamily before blowing out the candles. (Austin Chronicle)

Finally everything is tied up in a neat moral bow, with Luke realising that the challenge of the rodeo pales next to the “longest ride” of the title, which – I hope I’m not giving too much away – is the ride they call life. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Folks, I hope that was enough closure for you. I combed through so many damned reviews waiting for someone to spoil the twist ending that I feel like I’ve seen this horrible movie six times over.

Also, after putting together at least three or four of these features on Nick Sparks movies, I’ve come to the conclusion that you could actually write a really solid Nick Sparks fan-fiction story in the style of a Nick Sparks novel. It’s about this guy from rural North Carolina whose college girlfriend leaves him to take a scholarship in New York. Instead of just moving to be with her, the guy stubbornly stays home, and spends the next 30 years writing the same goddamned story about a handsome, perfect, old-fashioned good ol’ boy being such a honey-dicked stud that he gradually convinces some liberated woman to turn down her scholarship and spend the rest of her life having his babies and baking peach cobbler. Then one day, he crashes some dumb car he bought with his schmaltz money, and the woman who left him all those years ago reads about it in the newspaper and rushes to his side. She gets to the hospital just in time to tell him that she’s read all his books, and that his 37 nearly identical self-mythologizing novels are the ultimate proof of what an obsessed, delusional sociopath he always was, right before he dies. He doesn’t have time to alter his will and it turns out he’s left everything to her, the only woman he ever loved. She uses a little of it to fix the transmission on her Volvo and have him cremated, and gives the rest to charity. The end.

Related posts:

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 55 THE BEATLES (Part G, The Beatles and Rebellion) (Feature on artist Wallace Berman )

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 54 THE BEATLES (Part F, Sgt Pepper’s & Eastern Religion) (Feature on artist Richard Lindner )

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 53 THE BEATLES (Part E, Stg. Pepper’s and John Lennon’s search in 1967 for truth was through drugs, money, laughter, etc & similar to King Solomon’s, LOTS OF PICTURES OF JOHN AND CYNTHIA) (Feature on artist Yoko Ono)

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 52 THE BEATLES (Part D, There is evidence that the Beatles may have been exposed to Francis Schaeffer!!!) (Feature on artist Anna Margaret Rose Freeman )

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 51 THE BEATLES (Part C, List of those on cover of Stg.Pepper’s ) (Feature on artist Raqib Shaw )

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 50 THE BEATLES (Part B, The Psychedelic Music of the Beatles) (Feature on artist Peter Blake )

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 49 THE BEATLES (Part A, The Meaning of Stg. Pepper’s Cover) (Feature on artist Mika Tajima)

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE PART 48 “BLOW UP” by Michelangelo Antonioni makes Philosophic Statement (Feature on artist Nancy Holt)

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 47 Woody Allen and Professor Levy and the death of “Optimistic Humanism” from the movie CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS Plus Charles Darwin’s comments too!!! (Feature on artist Rodney Graham)

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE PART 46 Friedrich Nietzsche (Featured artist is Thomas Schütte)

RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS!! Part 21 (Dr. Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State, “…most scientists don’t think enough about God…There’s no evidence that we need any supernatural hand of God”)

RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS!! PART 20 (Carolyn Porco, director of CICLOPS, Like Darwin she gave up her Christianity because of Evolution & is obsessed both with the Beatles & the thought that the human race may end!!)

RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS!! PART 19 ( Sir John Walker, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry, Like Darwin he gave up his Christianity with great difficulty )

RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS!! PART 18 (Brian Harrison, Historian, Oxford University, Charles Darwin also wrestled with the issue of Biblical Archaeology and the accuracy of the Bible)

March 24, 2015 – 12:57 am


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