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the art of yoko ono.

T H E  A R T  O F
Y   O   K   O    O   N   O

The name congers thoughts of debates and sometimes, undeserved hatred. Thoughts of the Beatles, and John Lennon, the time when the group split. This written piece will not cover any of those; this is about her art, stand-alone and performance, the art before and after. 

She was born on February 18th, 1933, in Tokyo, Japan to a wealthy banker and former classical pianist. In kanji, Yoko translates into ocean child. She is a Japanese-American multimedia artist, songwriter, singer, and peace activist. Most of her work is performance art and filmmaking. She is also known as the wife of John Lennon, in which they were married from 1969 to his death in 1980.


It was first performed in Kyoto, in nineteen-sixty-four.

THE INSTRUCTIONS of the performance piece: 

Performer sits on stage with a pair of scissors in front of him.
It is announced that members of the audience may come on stage-one at a time-to cut a small piece of the performer’s clothing to take with them.
Performer remains motionless throughout the piece.
Piece ends at the performer’s option.

The piece has been deemed a feminist ideal; though Ono herself has stated to having no notion of feminism at the time of her first performance. The artist's own interpretation of the piece was the act of "giving", in Buddist terms. "I FELT THAT I WAS WILLINGLY SACRIFICING MYSELF," she said. The term "sacrifice" is used in terms of giving and taking. She wore her best suit, a larger sacrifice than if she had worn a simple disposable garment instead. 


In the nineteen-sixty-six performance, each person from the audience that cuts a fragment of cloth from her was invited to keep the piece. During the wake of 9/11, she asked for the fragments of cloth to be given to loved ones, in a gesture of reconciliation.

I found the piece interesting - interesting to see each person walk up and examine her, some walk around her, some take a piece of fabric and cut quickly as if it was uncomfortable to do so. It was also interesting to see which people cut the most, which parts, and what emotion rested upon their face as they did so. How some responded in the sense that this was a human being and they had to be gentle and take a little of the fabric, while some responded with almost animal instinct, taking more fabric and taking up more time on the stage.


THE CEILING PAINTING / THE YES PAINTING was created in nineteen-sixty-six. The conceptual piece is made from glass, paper, a metal frame, a metal chain, a painted ladder, and a magnifying glass. The work in an interactive piece, the viewer climbs the ladder and uses the magnifying glass to look a the word YES, printed on a piece of paper.

Ono has since spoken about the idea of the piece, she has said that she was depressed at the time and wanted to give some positivity to her life. Some have even said that the act of walking the ladder and reading the word YES, was the first affirmation in their lives. A journey to HOPE. 

The work premiered at Ono's autumn nineteen-sixty-six show, UNFINISHED PAINTINGS AND OBJECTS BY YOKO ONO in London. This is said to be the piece that John Lennon had seen on preview night of the show. He said that he had "climbed the ladder, looked through the spyglass, and in tiny little letters it said 'yes'. So it was positive. I felt relieved. The positive nature of the piece brought Lennon to Ono. 

APPLE, 1966.


This instructional piece invites visitors to hammer a nail into a canvas, which turns the cards on the traditional thought that the artist creates the art.


This work is constructed with various objects that have been painted white and cut in half. It was displayed at Ono's HALF-A-WIND show. Ono said of the piece, that her feelings at the time, "was a half-empty space." Another interpretation was the pointlessness of material things without human connection that ultimately gives them meaning. 


WHEN IN 1980, JOHN LENNON WAS KILLED OUTSIDE THE COUPLE'S NEW YORK APARTMENT, YOKO ONO took his bloodstained glasses and photographed them, a symbol of gun-control and wanting peace, the same peace John and herself hoped and stood for decades prior. 


Yoko has continued her artistic endeavors thought the past years, working towards the goal of peace and freedom, using her voice and talents to create thought-provoking pieces and messages. 

In future works, I will discuss her films, books, and historical events.