Happy Birthday, Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono turns 81 today! Below is a New York Times magazine article celebrating the enigmatic life and art of the avant-garde activist, excerpted from Lisa Carver’s book, Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono.

Yoko Ono is not pretty, she is not easy, her paintings aren’t recognizable, her voice is not melodious, her films are without plot and her Happenings make no sense. One of her paintings you are told to sleep on. One of her paintings you are told to burn. One of her paintings isn’t a painting at all — it’s you going outside and looking at the sky. Most of her stuff is not even there. This is why I love her. This is why we need her. We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward.

We need more impossible in our culture. Go out and capture moonlight on water in a bucket, she commands. Her art is instructions for tasks impossible to complete. We already have a billion lovely things and a million amazing artists who have honed their talent and have lorded it above us. People who have achieved the highest of the possible. People wearing their roles as artist or writer or filmmaker or spokesman as a suit of armor or as an invisibility cloak or as an intimidatingly, unacquirably tasteful outfit.

Even other artists can’t figure out Ono or accept her as legit, nor can she obey the club rules. Her stuff is all wrong. She tells you to spend a whole year coughing. Listen to a two-minute song of recorded silence, music lovers. As for you, the most imperialist and arms-profiteering superpower in the history of the world, give peace a chance.

There are two schools of art. One is what is made beautiful by the artist; the other is to make way for the viewer to see or feel what is already beautiful.

The first is to make something ornate and unreachably special with skills. The viewer or listener is awed, their belief regarding the order of things is confirmed and they are reminded by this unachievable beauty of their own powerlessness. And I do love that kind of art, the beautiful kind.

The other way to make art is to tear down what’s between us and nature, us and eternity, us and the realization that everything is already perfect. In this experience of art, the viewer or listener loses respect for the current order or arrangement of civilization and thus becomes powerful, like King Kong, and outside civilization, like God — or simply like the shuffling janitor who is pleased with his own work and sleeps well.

I always admired the Japanese use of negative space in decorating and the unspoken in conversations (or so I gather from old films). Ono uses the negative positively. She is a classically trained operatic student who uses silence or screeches in her singing; a recipient of coveted gallery showings who hangs unpainted canvases with requests for you to pound holes in them or to walk on them. She was the first woman admitted to the philosophy program at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, and could travel the world discoursing multisyllabically, yet instead she tries lying in bed and not lifting a finger to cure a war.

It takes an enormous lack of ego to not put your imprint on everything you do, to notemploy your learning and position. To stand back, to hold back, to keep your mouth shut. To yell with your silence, when you know you very well could make soothing and welcomed sounds at the drop of a hat. She could sing; she knows how. And being a Beatles wife could have been a magic charm — but she wasn’t interested. It takes willpower to overpower the will to power. To be accepted, to be thought nice, is traditionally woman’s power. That is something Ono doesn’t need.

To continue reading, go to NYTimes.com!

Reaching Out with No Hands

John Lennon once described her as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Many people are aware of her art, and her music has always split crowds, from her caterwauling earliest work to her later dance numbers, but how many people have looked at Yoko Ono’s decades-spanning career and varied work in total and asked the simple question, “Is it any good?”

From her earliest work with the Fluxus group and especially her relationship with John Cage, through her enigmatic pop happenings (where she met John Lennon), her experimental films, cryptic books, conceptual art, and her long recording career that has vacillated between avant-garde noise and proto-new wave, earning the admiration of other artists while generally confusing the public at large who often sees her only in the role of the widow Lennon,Reaching Out with No Hands is the first serious, critical, wide-ranging look at Yoko Ono the artist and musician.

A must-read for art and music fans interested in going beyond the stereotyped observations of Yoko as a Lennon hanger-on or inconsequential avant noisemaker.

Yoko Ono’s Birthday

To celebrate Yoko Ono’s 80th Birthday we have shared an excerpt from Lisa Carver’s new book, Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono. Please enjoy!!!

This book is not about Yoko Ono. It’s about what she isn’t. What she doesn’t do, and what she will not be. Yoko Ono is not pretty, she is not easy, her paintings aren’t recognizable, her voice is not melodious, her films are without plot, and her Happenings make no sense. One of her paintings you are told to sleep on. One of her paintings you are told to burn. One of her paintings isn’t a painting at all—it’s you climbing into an outdoor bathtub and looking at the sky. Most of her stuff is not even there. This is why I love her. This is why we need her. We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward. We need more impossible in our culture. Go out and capture moonlight on water in a bucket, she commands. Her art is instructions for tasks impossible to complete.

We already have a billion lovely things and a million amazing artists who have honed their talent and have lorded it above us. People who have achieved the highest of the possible. People wearing their role as artist or writer or filmmaker or spokesperson as a suit of armor or an invisibility cloak or an intimidatingly, unacquirably tasteful outfit. Even other artists can’t figure Yoko out or accept her as legit, nor can she obey the club rules. Her stuff is all wrong. Grow a weed and admire it. “Listen” to a two-minute song of recorded silence, music lovers. And you, the most imperialist and arms-profiteering superpower in the history of the world, give peace a chance.

When you tell someone to do the undoable, you’re really only showing them how impossible it ever was that anyone wanted us to use our lifetime to follow orders, to accept what is agreed is reasonable. We already have a million people telling us what to do and what to believe. Yoko is telling us, “You don’t have to.” She proposes the idea that all we thought had to be done didn’t have to, doesn’t have to. And maybe some exploitative things we did to maintain order, our position on the job and in the family, were not necessary and normal after all. Life might not be arranged along one certain pyramid of hierarchical order.

Reaching Out with No Hands: Reconsidering Yoko Ono

John Lennon once described her as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Many people are aware of her art, and her music has always split crowds, from her caterwauling earliest work to her later dance numbers, but how many people have looked at Yoko Ono’s decades-spanning career and varied work in total and asked the simple question, “Is it any good?”

From her earliest work with the Fluxus group and especially her relationship with John Cage, through her enigmatic pop happenings (where she met John Lennon), her experimental films, cryptic books, conceptual art, and her long recording career that has vacillated between avant-garde noise and proto-new wave, earning the admiration of other artists while generally confusing the public at large who often sees her only in the role of the widow Lennon, Reaching Out with No Hands is the first serious, critical, wide-ranging look at Yoko Ono the artist and musician.

A must-read for art and music fans interested in going beyond the stereotyped observations of Yoko as a Lennon hanger-on or inconsequential avant noisemaker.

Reconsidering Yoko Ono

LISA CARVER HPIM3601The following is an excerpt of Reaching Out With No Hands by Lisa Carver, as posted on SOMETHING ELSE Reviews. Please visit their site for the full excerpt.

In the Indica Gallery in London in 1966, Yoko had an apple for sale for £200. That’s US $3,000 in today’s dollars. This is the apple John Lennon walked in and bit, when he didn’t know Yoko Ono, and apparently he didn’t see the price tag or didn’t respect that this apple was an art piece.

John Lennon could buy anything — a pet monkey, a plane, a posse. When money is limitless, all things lose meaning –when they can’t be dreamt of and saved for, and maybe not gotten. How refreshing it must have been to see value inverted. If what is free (to be plucked easily off trees seeming to line every path) can be made beyond the common man’s ability to acquire, than what is beyond the common man’s ability to acquire must be free. How amazing, this apple!

How nice for Yoko that someone would mistake her art piece for the real thing, and bite it. All of her art was turning the real thing into art pieces so people would put on their special important expensive viewing eyes and just maybe they would see it, what had been there all along. They could have seen the real thing all the time, everywhere, but forgot to.

All Yoko Ono ever wanted was for people to bite what they thought could not be bitten, see what they thought could not be seen, know what they thought could not be known.

She was, it seems, Satan.

But there was a mistake in telling the story. Satan was the good guy. God didn’t want us to bite the apple of knowledge because then we’d know we were Him, and the patriarchy, the whole order of things, would turn to dust.

Keep reading this excerpt on SOMETHING ELSE Reviews.

Reaching Out With No Hands

Many people are aware of Yoko Ono’s art, and her music has always split crowds, from her caterwauling earliest work to her later dance numbers, but how many people have looked at Yoko Ono’s decades-spanning career and varied work in total and asked the simple question, “Is it any good?” A must-read for art and music fans interested in going beyond the stereotyped observations of Yoko as a Lennon hanger-on or inconsequential avant noisemaker.