Transcending Media: Yoko Ono’s Collective Works
Writer’s Workshop F
“Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace, and the message will spread quicker than you think.” This famous Yoko Ono quote perfectly captures her message. Ono is a multimedia artist, experimental avant-gardist, and an influential peace activist. She has had a notable impact on the path modern art has taken and along the way made breathtaking strides toward togetherness and peace among people. Her inspiring messages of spreading love stay relevant today.
Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933. Her parents were practically royalty in Japan, although they were somewhat absent in her childhood. Ono didn’t meet her father until she was two years old, when she and her mother rode a boat to America. The family traveled between America and Japan, but the Vietnam War set a tense relationship between the two countries. In America she was “too Japanese” and in Japan she was “too American.” She felt misplaced. Ono’s father wanted her to be a pianist, but she dreamed of becoming a composer. When the Ono’s moved to Scarsdale, New York, just outside the city, she started going to college at a prestigious liberal arts school in the Bronx, called Sarah Lawrence College. There she studied composition and literature. In her free time, she experimented with avant-garde type art, and discovered a passion. She dropped out of college to pursue art, and was soon putting on shows in a rented loft apartment with a group of experimental artists called Fluxis.
Ono was esteemed for her unique and conceptual take in the underground artistic community, but was often misunderstood by the public. Despite lack of recognition, she continued to create, and as Ono gained momentum in the art industry, she began putting on solo shows in other countries. One piece she had on display at her first show in London was a simple stand on top of which was a single apple. The idea of this piece was that the buyer is paying to watch it decompose over time. The shows she puts on often have an element of performance art and a motif of something beautiful but fleeting. Much of her work seems absurd at first glance, but the message and thought behind it is brilliant.
The reason so many people didn’t understand her content was likely because Ono was decades ahead of her time. Apart from being an innovator of modern art, she also releases albums with her musical group, Plastic Ono Band, and produces/directs her own films. Ono was producing music in the 60s that sounded a lot like the style of alternative rock 20 years later. Her films dealt with taboo topics and made bold statements that painted Ono as quite a controversial character. When her film, “No. 4: Bottoms” was banned in England, she led a peaceful march through London as protest. After she returned to America with John Lennon and was continuing to gain a following, the government saw her activism as a possible threat to the country, and had the FBI keep tabs on her and Lennon. Nothing could silence Ono.
Just as a gas expands to fill it’s space, Yoko Ono’s ideas are contained only by media that exists. She is an innovator of modern art. Her philosophy is that what makes a piece of art good is not what you see, but the message behind it. So sometimes she would present only the idea in the form of what she called an “Instruction.” This was similar to poetry, but were steps for creating a piece of art. The instructions that are described are a very interesting mix of surreal and ordinary process-oriented art. During her time with Fluxus, Ono wrote and personally published the first edition of her book of Instruction poems, Grapefruit. Her intention was for the reader to either create the piece or imagine creating the piece. Each piece would look different and have a different meaning for every person. Much of Ono’s art is intended for the viewer to complete with their own imaginations, or even physically add to the piece. Since 1996, lots of her exhibitions have included Wish Trees. Museum-goers write a wish they have for the world or for themselves on a tag, and tie it to the tree. This concept was inspired by the white blooming trees Ono saw in courtyards growing up in Japan. She thought that from afar, the wishes looked like blossoms. Her idea about this is that everyone can make change with their mind even starting with something as small as a wish.
Yoko Ono is a fearless activist and pushes the boundaries of art, questioning the world around her in an effort to better it. Today she continues to use her timeless messages and ability to capture a feeling in art to advocate for peace, self-love, and feminism.