John Lennon proclaims “society only likes dead artists” in a handwritten letter from 1971
John Lennon was never afraid to say what was really on his mind and occasionally would say something rather controversial just for the sake of it. But more often than not there would be a real poignancy in the former Beatle’s message.
In a handwritten letter from 1971, Lennon proclaimed that “society only likes dead artists” which is, of course, hyperbolic but there is more than an ounce of truth in the statement.
On September 27th, 1971, a fortnight prior to the opening of a highly-anticipated exhibit by Yoko Ono at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, the area’s local newspaper ‘The Post-Standard’ ran a hostile opinion piece by an anonymous journalist which was entitled ‘Art or Hokum?‘.
The journalist in question wrote a fiery article in which they questioned the museum’s motives when agreeing to the show suggesting that they were only hosting Yoko Ono for her connection to Lennon.
One passage from the article read: “We wonder, however, whether the Everson is presenting her “first one-man museum show” because it is great art, or whether the exhibition was merely the means of bringing to the Everson a man whose former group he once described as “more popular than Christ,” they mused.
“If the latter is the case, the Everson will add greatly to its normal attendance, but at a tremendous loss of good taste and of respect in the art world.” Clearly a dangling carrot for Lennon to rip away.
Unfortunately, for the journalist, this piece didn’t pass John Lennon by and he’s a man who often resisted the urge to bite his tongue and this occasion was certainly no different. His letter was later published in the very same newspaper that published the original article on October 7th and the former Beatles man didn’t hold back in his retort.
Read Lennon’s powerful response below.
Dear whoever wrote that Hokum about ART,
I’d forgotten about people like you! Well well – you still exist, of course, in other small towns across the world…
I was wondering – what on earth has what the husband of the artist said, four or five years ago, got to do with the current ‘This is not here’ show at Everson Museum by Yoko Ono? -brought here by a man this town should be proud of – Jim Harithas – i mean did people really discuss Picasso’s – wifes – gossip. I’d also like to know since when this nameless ghost at the Post-Standard represented the so called art world? Yoko and i are pretty close to a few artists, (we are artists!) and as artists, we can tell you that the ‘art world’ is not in the 19th century, and one thing artists down the centuries have been up against is bourgois mealy mouthed gossip from the ‘grey people’ (or Blue Meanies!) Society only likes dead artists. I’m afraid Yoko and myself cannot oblige,
John & Yoko
P.S. Why don’t you come and see the art – i’m sure the man you think i insulted would turn the other cheek and come.
P.P.S. You forgot to mention the other man from the former group (George Harrison) who is was a highly religious – fervent disciple of Christ? Hare Krishna et al.