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Yoko Ono: The Life and Personal Struggles Behind the Art

Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Yoko Ono is the world’s most famous unknown artist — most notably because of her third husband. She fell in love with one of the world’s most famous men: John Lennon, a member of The Beatles, a British band. Ono is largely regarded as the reason for the disbanding of the legendary band.

Ono’s reputation has been overshadowed by the life and fame of Lennon, but from her childhood to her career, to her life after fame, Ono has lived an incredible life. Not only is Yoko Ono a renowned artist and creator, but she is also one of the growing numbers of people who can call themselves a Third-Culture Kid (TCK).

Third-Culture Childhood

Yoko Ono
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As detailed by The Art Story, Yoko Ono had a tumultuous childhood. She was born in Japan to conservative aristocrats. She suffered from neglect as a child by her mother who resented her children, and her father, an international banker. Ono credits her lonely childhood for her creativity and musicality. 

Yoko Ono met her father at age 2 when she journeyed to San Fransisco, Calif., where he was living. They later moved to Long Island, New York. There, she was bullied for her Japanese roots as a result of the increasing tension between the two nations. Her family moved back to Tokyo but fled to the Japanese countryside after the U.S bombed Tokyo in 1945.

After the War ended and Yoko graduated from university, she moved back to the United States. This tumultuous childhood is what has allowed Yoko Ono to claim the coveted title of being a Third-Culture Kid (TCK).

Artistic Expression and Pacifism

Vector graphic of Yoko Ono's head
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Noun Project

“Give peace a chance and let’s hope that one day we will all live in peace”

Yoko Ono in her song with the Plastic Ono Band

Living through World War II and seeing the constant violence led Ono to become a pacifist. As noted by KatariMag, Yoko Ono’s memories of going through the fields looking for food while millions died around her guides her beliefs. Her pacifism heavily guided her through her artistic career. In college, Ono wrote Haikus, simple calls to action like Smell Pieces, and she composed music with her various husbands.

The Collector details Ono’s life as a conceptual artist, she creates art to inform the public not to be admired. She draws on her personal experiences as a TCK, world events and her values and beliefs of pacifism and peace. Ono is most famously known for her Bed-ins with Lennon, which served as their protest against the Vietnam War. Her religious beliefs also guide her as detailed in Yoko Ono: An Experimental TCK.

Marriages

Image of Yoko Ono and John Lennon during one of their bed-ins
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

She married three times in her life, The Art Story notes. First to Toschi Ichiyanagi, a Juilliard student who shared her passion for experimental music in 1955. In 1961, she divorced Ichiyanagi and married Tony Cox, an American jazz musician with whom she had a daughter. After meeting John Lennon at an art exhibition, Ono divorced Cox, lost custody of her daughter and married Lennon. Cox refused to grant Ono visitation rights and he fled to Los Angeles, where he joined a cult. Yoko Ono and her daughter found each other when she was 22 but they still are estranged. 

“Dear Kyoko, All these years there has not been one day I have not missed you. You are always in my heart. However, I will not make any attempt to find you now as I wish to respect your privacy. I wish you all the best in the world. If you ever wish to get in touch with me, know that I love you deeply and would be very happy to hear from you. But you should not feel guilty if you choose not to reach me. You have my respect, love, and support forever. Love, Mommy”

An open letter from Yoko Ono to her daughter Kyoto

Career Struggles

As a result of her personal drama, The Culture Trip notes how much Ono’s career struggled as a result of her marriage to Lennon. She feared she was becoming too mainstream and was losing her work ethic so she took some time apart from Lennon. The pair reunited after she found out she was pregnant and later birthed her son, Sean Lennon. Yoko Ono and Lennon formed a record label: Lenono. Ono ran the business side of the label. Ono quit working when Mark David Chapman shot and killed Lennon outside of their home in New York. After his death, Ono went into seclusion until she remerged in the late 1980s. She has continued to pursue experimental music and “fight” for peace. “Yes, I’m a Witch,” her album from 2007 reflects her spirit, values, and life. 

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