What is the relationship between The World and The Artist?

Yoko Ono, May 1971

Many people believe that in this age, art is dead. They despise the artists who show in galleries and are caught up in the traditional art world. Artists themselves are beginning to lose their confidence. They don’t know whether they are doing something that still has value in this day and age where the social problems are so vital and critical. I wondered myself about this. Why am I still an artist? And why am I not joining the violent revolutionaries? Then I realized that destruction is not my game. Violent revolutionaries are trying to destroy the establishment. That is good. But how? By killing? Killing is such an artless thing. All you need is a coke bottle in your hand and you can kill. But people who kill that way most often become the next establishment after they’ve killed the old. Because they are using the same method that the old establishment used to destroy. Violent revolutionaries’ thinking is very close to establishment-type thinking and ways of solving problems.

I like to fight the establishment by using methods that are so far removed from establishment-type thinking that the establishment doesn’t know how to fight back. For instance, they cannot stamp out the John and Yoko events Two Virgins, Bed Peace, Acorn Peace and the WAR IS OVER! poster event.

Artists are not here to destroy or to create. Creating is just as simple and artless a thing to do as destroying. Everyone on Earth has creativity. Even a housewife can create a baby. Children are just as creative as the people whom society considers artists. Creative artists are just good enough to be considered children. Artists must not create more objects, the world is full of everything it needs. I’m bored with artists who make big lumps of sculpture and occupy a big space with them and think they have done something creative and allow people nothing but to applaud the lump. That is sheer narcissism. Why don’t they at least let people touch them? Money and space are wasted on such projects when there are people starving and people who don’t have enough space to sleep or breathe.

The job of an artist is not to destroy but to change the value of things. And by doing that, artists can change the world into a Utopia where there is total freedom for everybody. That can be achieved only when there is total communication in the world, Total communication equals peace. That is our aim. That is what artists can do for the world! In order to change the value of things, you’ve got to know about life and the situation of the world. You have to be more than a child. That is the difference between a child’s work and an artist’s work. That is the difference between an artist’s work and a murderer’s work. We are artists. Artist is just a frame of mind. Anybody can be an artist. It doesn’t involve having a talent. It involves only having a certain frame of mind, an attitude, determination, and imagination that springs naturally out of the necessity of the situation.

Examples of today’s living artists:

There was a temple in Japan called the Golden Temple. A man loved it very much as it was, and he couldn’t stand the thought of anything happening to it. He felt the only way he could stop anything from happening to it was to burn it down, and he did. Now, the image of the temple was able to stay forever in his mind as a perfect form.

There was a man who made a counterfeit one thousand yen. It circulated with no trouble at all. The man travelled to another city and circulated another counterfeit one thousand yen. If he had made lots of counterfeit money he could have been discovered right away. But he wasn’t interested in making lots of money. He wanted to have fun and play a subtle game. The police went wild and announced that if anybody found a counterfeit one thousand yen they would get two thousand yen as a reward if they came to the police station. This man changed the value of money by his actions.

In this very same sense, we have artists today whose works move beyond the gallery space and help change the world: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner, for instance, and many others. They radiate something that is sensitive and artistic in a very renaissance sense, when the majority of so-called artists these days are hardcore businessmen. Message is the medium. There are only two classes left in our society. The class who communicates and the class who doesn’t. Tomorrow I hope there will be just one. Total communication equals peace.

Men can destroy/Women can create/Artists revalue.

Yoko Ono, Cannes Film Festival, May, 1971

Published in This Is Not Here, exhibition catalogue (Syracuse: Everson Museum of Art, 1971)
Reprinted In Museum of Modern [F]art (New York, 1971)

Photo of John & Yoko at Cannes Film Festival, 15 May 1971, by Claude Azoulay.