Art and Vibrations - John Lennon & Yoko Ono

John & Yoko - Frost On Saturday, 24th August 1968


On the 24th August 1968, John and Yoko gave their first TV interview together on the London Weekend Television show "Frost On Saturday", the programme was broadcast live between 6:45 and 7:30pm. Frederick James penned the following article for the October 1968 edition of 'The Beatle Book Magazine'.



Above I have reproduced two typically contrasting reactions to the same TV discussion, the first finding interest and entertainment in what John and Yoko had to say and the second writing off the whole thing as a bore.
In case you missed the London Weekend Television programme in question I'd better put you in the picture before we go any further . Frost and his audience heard John and Yoko explain their opinion that the words "art", "sculpture", and so forth, ought to have a much wider meaning. As far as we are concerned a piece of sculpture is usually made of clay, wood, metal or a similarly orthodox substance. It is chipped, moulded, scraped or even burned into the shape its creative artist requires. That's sculpture. And art? Why, that can be all sorts of things provided they have been created with ingenuity, artistic skill and individuality. Paintings, drawings, works of dramatic art on stage or screen, pieces of pottery, beautifully designed dresses, LP record sleeves.
John and Yoko went much further. They told David Frost that just about everything we see, hear, feel or smell about us should be classified as art. We are each works of art in ourselves, our bodies and our minds combining to make something which should be treated in the same way that an art examiner might treat a painting or piece of sculpture. In gist, they said, the whole world is one vast gallery, one massive exhibition of art.

What's more they suggested that there should be much more public involvement in the creation of art. They thought we should not set aside the Artist as a breed apart, a specialist on his own. They liked the idea of having on exhibition pieces of art-work which everyone was welcome to add, to which reminds me of the giant "doodle-wall" which Ringo has along one side of his games-room extension at his Weybridge home. Visitors are invited to add their own contributions to the wall using anything they like from a felt pen to a decorator's paint brush.
And then there was the exhibit called "Built Around" which John and Yoko put on show at London's Arts Laboratory a few months ago. It consisted of a wood base with chunks of broken plastic and porcelain to which visitors were invited to add. They did, too - all sorts of things from biscuit wrappings and tin cans to Coke bottles an brooches!

On David Frost's show John and Yoko used a "nail board" to demonstrate. They asked people from the studio audience to hammer a nail or two into a board and say how they felt about this. Several declared that it was an invigorating experience. Frost himself was cautious, announcing that the feeling he had was as if he had hammered a nail into a board! From there the conversation progressed and John began to talk about vibrations. He thought that without a word being spoken, without a hand being shaken, without a pair of lips connecting, people sent out vibrations, tell-tale waves of emotion which could be picked up. Each "transmission" could be "received" since each and every one of us is equipped with the mental powers of a transmitter and receiver. Trouble is, announced John, too few of us use these powers. We rely on speech and facial expression for communication. We use ears, eyes and fists to show our feelings or to decide how other people around us are feeling.

Instead or, more precisely, as well - we should be sending out and taking in those emotion loaded vibrations. John asked his audience to consider the situation where some unhappy people are sitting in a room and a much happier person joins them. Without any exchange of words or physical contact, he reckoned the vibrations in the room would become more cheerful, less "hung-up". Indeed, he took a long look around the studio audience and suggested that the vibrations around him were getting warmer, getting more friendly, as the programme progressed. He could feel sympathy, acknowledgement that some of the things he was trying to get across were making their mark. John was questioned by Frost about the badge he wore. In tiny lettering it carried the words "YOU ARE HERE". "That's more than just a joke, I suppose", said Lennon. "People read it and suddenly realize it's true. Yes, I'm here, they think. So are these other people. We're all here together. And that's where the vibrations start being exchanged. Good and bad ones according to who is sending out and how they feel."

Well, I've been talking to bunches of Beatle People since that David Frost show was screened. I've been asking them whether they understood what John and Yoko were getting at and whether they went along with the ideas of communal nail - hammering, mass communications via vibrations and the theory that we're all walking, breathing works of art in our own right.
I'm afraid the reactions I got were just as varied as those expressed by the New Musical Express and Disc And Music Echo writers I've quoted at the beginning of this article.

One girl told me: "I know what John meant and I know he's right, too. But it's just like trying to get the whole world to see that war is evil. He'll never convince the people who don't want to be convinced and the world is full of those !" Another said: "I watched with my boyfriend. Neither of us could make head or tail of what John and Yoko were on about. At first I thought I was daft until my boyfriend suddenly said he didn't know what I saw in the Beatles because they talked a load of old rubbish these days."
Yet one enthusiastic young 14-year-old said: "Of course there could be more communication between parents and their children, between teachers and their pupils, between politicians and their voters. John knows that, so do millions of young people all over the world so, when the time comes, we'll teach our children in ways our parents never did teach us. They'll know all about vibrations."
And a 17-year-old boy joined in to add: "Of course, anything at all is art. If it isn't we shouldn't bother with it. You can make anything artistic from writing a little love letter to cutting up a birthday cake. But sex and love make the greatest art-form of all and I'm sure John and Yoko know that."

But one of the last people I talked to hadn't got the message at all. She was a 20 year old London girl, a brunette with a one-year-old marriage and a one month old baby daughter. "I belong to The Beatles Fan Club", she started. "I joined five years ago and I collect all their records. I loved 'Sgt. Pepper' and even 'Magical Mystery Tour', but I think John is making far too much of this art business. I think he's being influenced too much by Yoko Ono and I think they're both trying to make excuses for the fact that they don't know how to create really important works of art paintings or sculptures. That exhibition of balloons and collecting tins was just a joke and not even a good one.  I only wish John would stick to things he's good at. I don't mean just music because I think his writing is brilliant. Both his books were clever, funny and full of meaning. There's no meaning to the things he's doing with Yoko Ono a film of someone smiling isn't art. Nor can we appreciate knocking nails into a slab of wood. well, I ask you, surely John is losing his touch if he really thinks we ought to be praising him for THAT!"

Of course the team of Yoko and John has moved into record making as well. There’s an LP album, "The two virgins", associated with another of the new films they’ve made together. But when all is said and done I think we should admit that there IS a fair bit of good thinking in what John and Yoko have been trying to say. By and large we DON'T communicate enough and if we did the world might be a more peaceful place. And we DO send out invisible vibrations to those around us who care to pick them up - vibrations of love, hatred, impatience, contentment, boredom, disbelief, fear, excitement, aggression. And WE ARE HERE for those who want to join us. For Beatle People at any rate, the best vibrations of all come from the Beatles' music. Now THERE'S communication for you, communication at its best. Beatles' music flows right through most of the world's barriers of race and politics, religion and language.

David Frost, August 1968Yoko Ono, August 1968John Lennon, August 1968

Here is a transcript of the show....

Frost: And now we want to welcome two people whom you probably know, but two people who's art exhibition this year in London had a bigger impact than any other art exhibition certainly, who's philosophy about life and art fascinates a lot of people. Let's welcome now, please, Mr John Lennon and Miss Yoko Ono. (Audience applause).

Frost: Nice to see you.

John: Thank you. (To one of the other studio guests) Evening Stan.

Stan Freberg: Evening.

Frost: Who's that?

John: Stan.

Frost: That's Stan is it? Hello Stan.

Stan: Hello. I was just thinking to myself, how much more money do you suppose it could have cost for air-conditioning? (Audience laughter and applause).

Frost: The matter will be looked into. And after you've gone back to America, rejected.

John: (To Stan) I think you'll get a badge for that.

Frost: Yes, you gave me one of these badges beforehand. Now, what, this is really the basis of what you're talking about isn't it, 'You Are Here'.

John: It's that show, yeah.

Frost: Now what exactly does it mean? 'You Are Here'

John: Well, er, You - Are - Here.

Yoko: Usually people think in vicarious terms, they think 'Somebody's there', 'John Lennon's there' or somebody. But it's not that. YOU are the one who's here, and so in art - Usually art gives something that's an object and says 'This is art', you know, but instead of that, art exists in people, it's people's art, and so we don't believe in just making something and completing it and giving it to people, we like people to participate. All the pieces are unfinished and they have to be finished by people.....

Frost: Now, what have we got here? You were pointing at this as you were explaining that Yoko, tell us about this, it's what - a broken cup, right?

Yoko : It's just an example, this is supposed to be a sculpture, and it's a broken cup, an unfinished sculpture that will be just made by people just gradually re-building it into a cup.

Frost : Is the sculpture then, the broken cup? or the way people re-build it with the glue?

John : The thing is, there's no such thing as sculpture or art or anything, it's just a bit of - it's just words, you know, and actually saying everything is art. We're all art, art is just a tag, like a journalists' tag, but artists believe it. But sculpture is anything you care to name. This is sculpture - us sitting here, this is a happening, we are here, this is art, but yeah, if you gave that to a child, he wouldn't have any preconceived ideas, so you wouldn't have to say "This is sculpture" or "This is a broken cup", you'd say "There's that - there's glue, what do you do? You stick it together"

Yoko : In reply to your question I think that people say that this is just a process of things, everything is just a process.

Frost : Can you show us, we haven't got the You Are Here canvass because it's locked up in a cupboard and no-one could get at it, but can we bring on the blackboard and the other thing?

John : It's better to explain why it was on canvass first. The point was I had this idea that, like the street maps or things that say, er, where a place is, 'You Are Here', you know - on those street map things. You seen 'em?...Right, so I thought, oh that would be a good idea to have a show where you actually have the street map inside the gallery, and you went in and saw that.
So I thought - now if I did that, er - and seeing as I'd never done it before and they've all got preconceived ideas about what I am, I thought "ha ha", I'll put it on canvass and that makes it art - brackets or inverted commas - you know, I mean - it is or it isn't, however you like it. So I put it on a big white round canvass and just had You Are Here that I'd written on it, and er, the point of the show was that people who went through various things to get to the thing - to the canvass - and then they reacted to it. And some of them thought just "Oh yeah", no hang up, 'You Are Here', and they got a badge.
I had a hat saying "For the artist" which they put money in or chewing gum or anything, all sorts of rubbish and that, anything - I didn't mind, and then they took a badge. But I filmed them with a secret Candid Camera team and sometimes they'd go up and sort of, go up and take a badge and look around, and then they'd take a handful (Audience laughter) and there was all these amazing reactions, and the whole point of the show was - That was the art, that was the happening, these people reacting to it. Some people were just sort of, less hung up and sort of, accept it "oh 'You Are Here' - oh, good joke" or "So what".

Frost : And do you want people to, er, look and receive things and just look at this sort of thing, or do you want them to really get involved?

John : Well, they do participate as soon as they look at it, you see. Now, if you show it to a child - he'll either take no notice of it, because he knows he's here, or he'll just say "You Are Here" you know, it's just written on the wall or in the toilet. And the film that you're gonna show is the same thing. If you show a child a film, there's no preconceived ideas about what a film should be, but most adults have all this preconception about what everything is...

Frost : ...Yes. Can we show in that illustration, show the film now - without saying anything in advance about it?

John : Yes, sure, sure...

Frost : Let's just watch a bit of this film, and then let's see what your (audience) reactions are too it.

(A clip from 'Smile' is shown to the studio audience)

Frost : Now, it's still going on isn't it.

John : Well it goes on for an hour. (Audience laughter) But the point is, er, it's her film but I'll explain what I think about it. The point is that it's a portrait! You know, and if Renoir or any of those people had just made a portrait of somebody's face that never moves and just hangs on the wall, you accept it, 'cus it's er,  people are used to that. But this is a portrait on film...

Yoko : (interrupting) But not only that but...

John : (To Yoko) ..Ok, let me just say that bit...

Yoko : ...Oh, Ok.

John : So there's three minutes of film that was taken and spaced out to last an hour - very slow motion. So in an hour, in three minutes a lot happens to somebody's face, anybody's face. A lot of amazing things happen, there's a lot of movement that you never realise goes on, and in this you've got three minutes under a microscope to examine anybody's face, your own - you can't be bothered sitting there for an hour looking at your own face - and amazing things happen, your whole head changes shape, your nose is moving, every part of you is moving all the time which is known, you're not aware of this in every day life. But in that film you can see it, and when we showed it to her daughter (Kyoko) she just said "Oh look, his nose is moving".

Yoko : "John has a funny nose"...

John : ....Show it to somebody else and they'll think "A film about a face for an hour? Oh yeah, Sure, sure" Like that.

Yoko : But it's not just the face, as John said, it's moving, and it's just that wavelength coming into you, it's like a vibration...

Frost : What do you want, I mean - now, we only saw one minute there of a 90 minute film, right? Er, but but, what do you want our reaction to be?

Yoko : Well, I don't expect any particular reaction, except that I was thinking as a portrait, well, if you have a portrait in your house or something that you always will think that it's there - and it's in your mind so to speak, and one day you see the portrait again and it suddenly winks at you - and it sort of, gives you a message, this film goes on like that, but at one point, John just sort of smiles - and that's the vibration.

Frost : What vibration? What do you mean by vibration?

Yoko : A message, just smiling is a nicer message than scorning or something...

John : A vibration is... If somebody happy, if we're sitting in your house or something, and we're feeling depressed, and somebody who doesn't feel depressed can come in and cheer us up, just by his vibration - or, his attitude...

Yoko : ...Presence!

John : ...whatever. His presence...

Yoko : ...Aura!

John : ...If you say words, something happens, it just doesn't drop onto the floor or something, it's like radio waves, whatever I'm saying now - goes on, ad-infinitum, wherever it goes because it's a wave form or a pattern, you know - it sets up a vibration. So everything you do or think, does this too! It doesn't just end here, it's like throwing a stone into water - something happens, and every time you speak, the vibration you set up with your voice -  goes on, 'till it wears out or whatever, and if you make a sound - if you hit a gong and listen to it - it goes (makes sound of a gong fading) but it doesn't end when you can't hear it anymore, it carries on, a vibration is something that we could have between us. There's vibrations in here...

Frost : Can you get a vibration from these 200 people here...

John : Well there is one, there is a vibration now. It's not... you'd have to be super sensitive to read the whole thing, I suppose, but you can tell it's not aggressive vibration, It's not over..

Yoko : ...antagonistic or anything...

John : ...antagonistic, it's interested but still, er, we're still a bit freaky 'cus it's us two on TV, so there's that vibration, but there's a calm vibration here, and a hot one. (Audience laughter - it was a hot Summer evening) But, you know, it's sort of - there is a vibration, there's an atmosphere, and vibration is just a word that you think "Arghhh, hippies!", you know, "That's what they talk about", but vibration is just - vibration.

Frost : (Interrupting Yoko) And you mean in fact, that as they're interested and a bit puzzled, you're saying, our 200 here, but I mean, the vibration would change as you convinced them.

Yoko : Not only that, but if they participate, in other words - as long as you participate in a thing - you start to experience it for yourself.

Frost : Well let's get them to participate because you've got a piece of wood here, now tell us about the piece of wood and the nails.

John : (To Yoko) Well you tell them about it and I'll hang it up.

Yoko: Well it's a painting called 'Hammer A Nail In' and I just hate the idea of painters just making painting with colour balance and the right texture etc. etc. But this is just a painting that people come and hammer a nail in - wherever they want to. And that makes the shape of the painting.

Frost : I see, and what do we want the people to feel as they do it?

Yoko : Well, they just have to find out for themselves, as an experience, and I think basically the artists roll in society is extremely important in the sense that, well, now people are talking about revolution and things like that, basically I don't believe in revolution, because they say - "Well revolution - if nothing happens, then we have to use violence too" and all that, and the thing is - if we just go on making all these rituals and folk art and participating in that, instead of...

Frost : Violence.

Yoko : Instead of Violence, Yes.

Frost : What you mean is, let them, as it were, bang a nail in rather than blow up a city or...

Yoko : Let me say that it's so theraputical, whatever, it doesn't matter.

Frost : John, would you like to get someone from the audience?

John : Right, anybody like to come along? Ok, Oh hi - I know you.

Frost : And can we have someone else as well? To try this?

John : The thing is, if you gave it to a child, what would he do? He'd just do it, you don't have to go through the ritual of saying this is a painting, this is a hammer, this is a nail.
(In comic voice) Would the first contestant like to hammer a nail.

(Audience member hammers a nail into the board)

Frost : What feeling did you get as you were doing that?

Man : What feeling? A feeling of satisfaction.

John : That's it then.

Frost : You're a successful example, right you move over there.

John : (In comic voice) Roll up, roll up, hammer a nail in, everyone a winner.

(2nd man hammers nail in)

Frost : Now what feeling did you get out of that?

2nd Man : It was unbelievable. (Laughter from audience) It really was.

Frost : I think this audience has been loaded tonight (More laughter), Was it?

2nd Man : Absolutely, I can't explain it really.

Frost : But you just hammered in a nail! That's all you did.

2nd Man : Well that was it. It's just hammering a nail.

(John has a go)

Frost : Is it good?

John : Yes it is, try it.

Frost : Alright, thank you very much.

John : (Comic voice) Now from Alabama, Mr D.Frost is gonna blow one.

Frost : Does it have to be a new nail or...

John : Oh yes, you don't want to use anybody's old nail (Audience laughter) you don't know where it's been do you.
He's hammering it in now, 3rd stroke, beautiful stroke, beautiful. How did you feel?

Frost : I know this is a terrible condemnation of you, but I just felt like a man hammering in a nail.

(audience laughter and applause, John holds Frost's arm aloft and shouts "Winner")

John : (Returning to chair with Frost) I felt like one hammering it in on TV.

Frost : That's more accurate, yes. Well caught.

John : (Standing up again) I'll just put the hat out for a collection......I'm having a bit of a tax problem.

Frost : The first people presumably responded as they ought to have responded to, and I was just a prosaic Barry Bucknell**. But....

Yoko : Either way is fine, you know.

Frost : But the thing is, to what, get people involved and get them to do things?

John : Well , ask her, 'cus that's her bit really.

Frost : (To Yoko) I'll ask you 'cus it's your bit.

Yoko : Well, that particular one was mine, but you see, for instance, this piece here is called 'Build around it', this is by John (Collecting piece of wood that looks like a broken cupboard door). You see that's why I was saying that I have learned a lot from John because, I was doing all these instruction pieces, to make people get involved in it and everything.
And then he suddenly one day said, "Why don't you use this as a piece and call it 'Build around it'" and it's also an instruction piece to let people do something to it, but the idea is that most art, you know, people, more sort of - artists, are interested in destructive things to destroy the establishment, etc. And we never thought of something like, just keeping this - as is, and building around it, the concept was so beautiful.
And so I said "Well, that's your piece, so why don't we do a group show" and I was just going to do a one man show then, so I asked John to participate in that.

Frost : Well in fact, because this is interesting, the thing with the nails for instance, it was banging the nail in - that the two of you found that you agreed on art and so on.

John : Yeah well, I went to, well that's her version. She was having a show at this gallery and I knew the fellow that ran it so it wasn't - it's a bit embarrassing being a Beatle anyway, going into a shop, never mind going to a gallery, because they either all leap on you thinking "he's another mug, like a Texan, he'll buy anything" and I had a bit of a hang up about art too, having been to art school, and disliked the attitude of the so called artists, you know, so anyway, I finally got to this show, and er, she had all these things on like hammer / nail things and that clock there you listen to with a stethoscope, all the things. And at first I reacted like a mug you know, like the ones that were saying "We don't get a badge" you know, so I thought "Ha ha - you don't fool me with all this junk" you know, so then there was this ladder and a thing on the ceiling, so I climbed the ladder and on the ceiling it said 'Yes', you see, so I thought, I agreed then, it's ok - you know, I mean it's like those jokes "While you're looking up here you're dribbling down your trousers" (Big laugh from audience)
I mean, it's all sort of connected, people get a buzz out of that in the toilet, but if you put it on in a room, it upsets them a bit, because they've got preconceived ideas about where those messages should be. But it said 'Yes'. And if it had said 'No' I would have carried on with my preconceived ideas about art and artists, that they're all sort of "Yeah yeah, sure, sure". But it said 'Yes' and that was enough and then she came up and said - she didn't know who I was - and [she] was saying "Do you like to hammer a nail in? it's five shillings", So I said, I didn't have any money either, so I said "I'll hammer an imaginary nail in and give you an imaginary five shillings" Which she agreed with and she accepted that, on the same basis that I accepted her work , you know, and (In camp voice) that was how we met actually.

Frost: But I mean, the thing is, and this comes back to the basic thing of what you're doing really - Was it as much fun, to you, to bang in an imaginary nail and pay an imaginary five shillings as it would have been if both had been real?

John: Yes, because as a child I did a lot of imaginary bits, you know. It depends on the individual, I enjoyed then knocking the nail in, I enjoy knocking nails in walls to hang pictures up, but I also enjoy thinking 'I'm gonna do that' but I actually won't do it, I enjoy imagining doing things just as much. Don't you? I mean you imagine a meal, you imagine sex, you imagine a holiday, and it's nearly as good as the actual thing.

Frost: No, in all cases the real thing is much better in all the one's you mention (Audience laughter)....

John: My memories of holidays, even on a holiday that wasn't so good, I remember the good bit. It's just like that. And if you imagine it, it's all good.

Yoko: Sometimes you imagine things that are much nicer, I mean when you go actually in a park the green is not that green etc.

Frost: But I mean, if imaginary things are as good as real things, are you saying... Give us an imaginary song.

John: (Makes gesture as if he's imagining a song)

Frost: Wonderful. But if imaginary things are as good as real things then do things....

John: No I didn't say that.

Frost: Things not almost as good. Do things therefore not matter at all. Is it all in the mind?

John: Well, I don't know, that's what they keep saying, that's what George's cartoon kept saying in Yellow Submarine, "It's all in the mind, groovy", and all that, but it probably is all in the mind, but I don't know.

Yoko: Well both are nice, you have to have somebody keep reminding you that you have a mind.

John: You're only awake when you realise you're awake and when you're dreaming, it is just as real, whatever happens is just as real, you know - whether you actually do die in a dream or fulfil whatever you're doing in a dream, it's, there's nobody to tell me it isn't as real as this now, because how do you know?

Frost: If you had to summarise, we've alas got a minute to go, how could you summarise what you want to get across to our people. Have the vibrations changed?

John: Er, a little yes. I think maybe it's got confusing with this because we're not all that good, we're not all that articulate and it's nerve wracking being on TV and trying to explain yourself. We try and explain ourselves in what we do, like I do it mainly through music and she does it through her art, like that, and it's hard to put words to it.

Yoko: Well we're not trying to explain, John. We're just trying to communicate. And communication itself is art and art is communication. And so that, erm, (Hey Jude starts playing to wrap the show up) people are getting so intelligent that you don't have to explain too much, all you have to do is just touch eachother, just shake hands, and so this is a way of touching eachother.

As the credits roll, Frost and John encourage the audience to join in with the Hey Jude coda, which they do, and John can clearly be heard singing along too.

** Barry Bucknell, to whom David Frost refers in this interview, was a British television personality who had his own DIY show "Bucknell's House" in the 1960s.

Television Appearances

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