Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My collaboration with Yoko Ono

Oh Yoko.
Let's not discuss what we think about the former Mrs. Lennon. Keep reading and you'll see why I cannot discuss it.

Ono has spent much of her "artistic" career after her husband's death performing art events or happenings demonstrating her conceptual artistry. I tend to treat purely conceptual art the same way I treat golf. I acknowledge its existence and understand that some people are really great at it, but I do not spend any significant amount of time thinking about it. I have nothing against it, but in the same way that golf cannot hold a candle to baseball or football....conceptual/performance based art cannot compete with sculpture or drawing for my attention. I have enough to think about already.

Still, I'll watch the replay of the amazing golf shot. Or the one where the guy throws his driver in the water. Golf is not my thing, but I do appreciate when someone does something excellent within it. And when someone does something noteworthy in conceptual or performance based art I’ll take a look at that too.

I've sat through videos and written descriptions of Ono's performances in the plethora of Art History courses tucked away in my noggin but it was not until I ran across this one by accident that I became impressed.

In 1996 Ono wrote "100 Acorns" which she turned into a blog in 2008. Each day for 100 days, Ms. Ono published a post of conceptual instructions for performance pieces. Some of these were as simple as asking readers to imagine something or to watch a sunset, but this one....this one just jumped at me.

"Cleaning Piece III" instructs readers:

"Try to say nothing negative about anybody
a) for three days
b) for forty-five days
c) for three months

See what happens to your life."

Like many great ideas, I have absolutely no idea how I found these instructions from Ono. I have never been a fan and certainly would not go out of my way to find information about her. I did not go looking for this and yet there she was with this challenge, offering it to me by way of the computer.

I'm not a negative person. I'm pretty cheerful, in fact. I consider myself a realist philosophically, but surely I'm an optimistic realist, since I always try to focus on positive things. Heck, there's even one of my former professors who openly mocks me for smiling too much and being happy most of the time. So when I read these instructions I was fearless.

The instructions came to me about a month before Ash Wednesday and I immediately began to consider this challenge for Lent. Ok, stay with me here, I know this gets into the subject of religion and kind, southern folk are supposed to know better than to bring up religion in proper conversation. But the fact is, I am a kind, southern folk, and way back when I was born having some sort of religious faith was expected. I was and am Baptist and while we could have an animated talk about that for hours, right now let's just focus on one aspect of that fact: I never got to observe Lent. Christmas was great and Easter was great, but for my people, the only thing we did between those events was eat covered dish lunches and give really long invitations.

I tend to hang out with more contemporary thinking Baptists and even more non-denominational people so in the last several years the idea of observing Lent has come up more and more often. A couple of years ago after my son took up the habit of repeating the funny words that daddy said, I decided it would be a good time to think about changing some things. I understood how giving up things related to Lent, but as a Baptist I sort of had an obligation to not do things the way everyone else does them (it’s how we are), so I decided to try my own version of Lent. Instead of giving up something like meat or chocolate for a period of time and then lunging back into it on Easter, I wanted to give up something that I probably shouldn't be partaking of anyway and use Lent as sort of a training wheel period of making myself a better person.

That first year I gave up cursing. It did not go well. No, I’m not a foul-mouthed sailor, but I do try to make steel do things it doesn’t normally do, which often leads to heated verbal exchanges with the steel. To make it interesting I charged myself $1.00 for each slip and it was an expensive Lent. Last year I gave up soft drinks and to my knowledge I did not break that rule a single time. As a result of those two attempts, I can say that I curse much less than before and IBC root beer or a glass bottle Coke are the only carbonated beverages that get my attention.

Since there was progress and even improvement with both attempts I thought carefully about Ono's challenge. Of course I thought this would be a breeze for such a positive person. That is, until I started paying attention to how many negative things came out of my mouth on a daily basis. To call my level of negativity surprising would be a sweet understatement. I drive a lot. I say a lot of things to other drivers and not all of those things are kind. I notice stupidity and I apparently have a tendency to point it out and mock it. Suddenly I realized I was about 10 years from standing on my front porch yelling at kids to get off my lawn. No one wants to be that guy, so my mind was made up.

My wife laughed at me when I told her my plan. She said there was no way. My friend Molly laughed too and said, "This will be your Everest!" Someone suggested I’d be better off taking a vow of silence.

So for Lent this year I guess in a weird sort of way, I'm collaborating with Yoko Ono on a piece of conceptual art. I'm giving up saying negative things about people for the 40+ day period. I hope that I'll reach a heightened state of awareness and observation and that I'll be able to significantly cut down on the quantity of negative comments on a more permanent basis, but we'll start with this and see how it goes.

*Note to current students: While I am prohibited from saying anything negative about YOU personally, I am still permitted to say negative things about your projects. No soup for you!

Yoko Ono’s “100 Acorns” blog is http://100acorns.blogspot.com

This particular instruction may be found at: http://100acorns.blogspot.com/2008/08/cleaning-piece-iii.html


Cameron Bunce said...

I was beginning to wonder how this would impact your teaching methods...
but the last bit -may- get you out

for a while I really liked her instruction sets, like grapefruit and this one

I think I still do
they betray the "conceptual" side in their printed nature

Austin S. Turner said...

Favorite line from this post: Suddenly I realized I was about 10 years from standing on my front porch yelling at kids to get off my lawn. No one wants to be that guy, so my mind was made up.

brett said...
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