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Cage, John (1912-1992)  
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Undoubtedly the most famous (or notorious) example of Cage's shifting the burden of creating meaning to the audience is his 4'33" (1952), in which a pianist sits silently at a piano for precisely four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Inspired by Robert Rauschenberg's White Painting, Cage's work asks the listener to create a world of sound out of silence.

Cage introduced his ideas to an entire generation of artists through his teaching. In addition to numerous visiting appointments throughout the United States, he taught for extended periods at the School for Social Research in New York and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He encouraged students to look outside themselves for inspiration and to think of art not as self-expression but as self-alteration.

The abstract character of Cage's works does not present many opportunities to read them as "gay" works. Only a few pieces seem to have what might be considered autobiographical content, but his process does provide what might be considered a democratic attitude toward sound in which all sounds (including those generally considered noise) are valued equally. Silence itself is valued as much as any notes actually performed.

Art historian Jonathan Katz has suggested that Cage's ironic emphasis on the importance of silence in music reflects a political position related to the imposed silence of the closet prevalent in 1950s America.

Jeffery Byrd

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Cage, John. Silence. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961.

Katz, Jonathan. "John Cage's Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Matters Worse." GLQ 5.2 (1999): 231-252.

Perloff, Marjorie, and Charles Junkerman, eds. John Cage: Composed in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Pritchett, James. The Music of John Cage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Revill, David. The Roaring Silence: John Cage: A Life. London: Bloomsbury, 1992.


    Citation Information
    Author: Byrd, Jeffery  
    Entry Title: Cage, John  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 14, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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