John Cage was a composer who “wrote” and performed a piece of silence called 4” 33’ (four minutes and thirty-three seconds). It was simply himself, on stage, and sitting at a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. However simplistic and absurd it might have seemed and still perhaps is, I believe that the art, while not found in the actual performance is in fact found in the thought. This is culture.
I believe that many of us are realizing that what we consider culture is really nothing at all but consumerism. Culture is virtuous; consumerism is not. A man sitting at a piano and not playing the instrument, I thought, can be analogous to individuals who find themselves in a consumerist society without being consumers. I know this is a stretch, perhaps, but I believe there is something true in it.
To play a piano is a choice and one must learn, and learning takes time and effort; much time and much effort. That is why so many begin by taking lessons but few come to play the piano. Not being a consumer takes time and much effort.
The burgeoning agrarian movement that seems to be blossoming in this country can be seen as a reaction to a society that has lost its priorities to profit and consumerism, but I like to think of it as a choice, an idea that often times is ridiculed (as John Cage was when he performed his piece).
Perhaps John Cage was reacting to the ever-more complexities of modern classical music at the time? And if so, the analogy becomes even more similar. Rather than complaining as a composer, Cage did something to point this out. In the same way, we can make choices that go against the relentless pressure to consume.
Some may argue that actions such as Cage’s piece or the agrarian movement are simply fads, but I’m not sure that the argument stands. Cage’s piece is famous (or infamous) even today and he as a composer changed the landscape of modern classical music. In the same way I think that as more and more people realize the cost of a consumer lifestyle is not sustainable, they too will choose to take a stand. In Cage’s situation it was not too play for 4 minutes and thirty three seconds.
Our stand against consumerism can start with a split second decision.