In our on-going series on this list known as "John Cage's Rules," I feel it is critical to point out that the composer John Cage only popularized it. The list was originally written by Sister Corita Kent, a kick-ass artist, arts educator, and nun. Here's the original:
Rule 5: Be self-disciplined. This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
I'm not sure what Sister Corita means with this rule — I can't find my copy of Learning by Heart to see if she explicated it more fully — but on the face of it she's advising us to STEAL FROM THE BEST. How that meshes with discipline or self-discipline I am not sure.
Perhaps she means that rather than pulling willy-nilly from every artist around, it is better that you consciously decide on your influences? If that is the case, I'm afraid I've failed at following this rule, as I've never consciously modeled my work on anyone. Except for the "Prelude No. 4 (no fugue)," which is pretty much a rip-off of Shostakovich. And once I ripped off Beethoven's 8th for a high school band piece. But otherwise my STEALING FROM THE BEST has been more about using the forms of the past than absorbing a single influence.
I shall try to steal in a more disciplined manner.