Artists Who Make Instructions for Others to Make Their Art

Tomorrow is Yoko Ono’s 79th birthday. Can you believe it? Nearly 50 years ago, John Lennon visited London’s Indica Gallery and climbed a tall, white ladder, grabbed a magnifying glass that was dangling from a thread and read the tiny Ono Ceiling Painting… on the ceiling. It said, simply, “YES.” Moved, he demanded to see the artist. And that’s how they met. Or not. It’s one of those rock ‘n’ roll myths.

Ono’s written messages are a large part of her body of work, as are “Instructional Paintings.” You might say this delegates her to the group of artists who don’t “make” their own work — instead, “Instructional Paintings” are pieces of work that are fully formed in the artist’s mind, placing the creation on the spectator. Here are some of the artists who do just that — create instructions for manifesting or completing their artworks.

Yoko Ono

Despite your personal feelings about Yoko and whether or not she “broke up the band” or whatnot, you have to admit that many of her instruction paintings are kind of delightful. This one, for example. And it’s probably nice when a museum wall with Yoko Ono scribbles on it tells you that you’re beautiful or a Voice Piece for Soprano instructs you to cathartically “Scream. 1. against the wind 2. against the wall 3. against the sky” through a complimentary microphone and loud speaker, even if many a MoMA visitor grumbled about how distracting that was. Yeah, she’s still got it.