John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing and Its Inspirational Value for the Visual Arts

a presentation by Kay Larson

October 16, 2021 at 2:30 PM

BMCM+AC (120 College Street) + Zoom

Proof of vaccination required for entry

Presented as part of the Faith in Arts Institute

John Cage became famous in several ways: By linking his music with Merce Cunningham’s choreography, so that each partner could boldly explore previously unimagined methods of creating. By taking risks with his music in parallel with his urgent quest to envision the qualities of spirit he discovered in Asian practices such as Hinduism and Zen. And by writings that continue, some 80 years after first publication, to provoke and explain by their example. In a recent review of German artist Gerhard Richter’s “Cage Series” of paintings, art critic Jason Farago wrote: “John Cage’s dictum, ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it,’ could be Mr. Richter’s motto as well.” The phrase comes from Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” perhaps the most radical, most important, and most provocative of Cage’s essays. Published in 1961, in Cage’s first book Silence, “Lecture on Nothing” has much to say to creative artists. The lecture is also beautiful and tough-minded, and worth performing in its own right. In all his work, Cage sought to “get himself out of the way” so that vivid encounters with the world could “make their own art.” These methods are still useful and timely.

Open to All | Free

Kay Larson is the author of Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists, Penguin Press, 2012, a portrait of John Cage’s life and spirit. (See for reviews and information, and Wikipedia for a more extensive biography.) Cage’s “changed mind” — his Zen-inspired revelations — dramatically changed his work. His spiritually illuminated performances and writings were catalytic for artists turning away from Abstract Expressionism. Before becoming enamored of Cage, Kay Larson wrote a weekly column of art criticism for more than 20 years, for publications such as The Real Paper, the Village Voice, then for New York magazine (1980-1994), where she was art critic and contributing editor. After 1994, she was a frequent contributor to the New York Times. She served on the Content Committee of Awake: Art, Buddhism, and the Dimensions of Consciousness, a colloquium of art professionals in Marin County, California (1999-2004). She has practiced Buddhism in the Zen and Tibetan traditions since 1994.