Remembering John Lennon as Visual Artist, Filmmaker, and Social Activist

John Lennon, Imagine All the People (c. 1970)

"If art were to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life, and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness."
John Lennon (1968)

If John Lennon were alive today, he would have turned 70 years old this weekend and the world of music would no doubt be a different place. But what about the world of art and film? I have long been fascinated by Lennon’s interest and involvement with the world of art (his partnership with Yoko Ono was marked with a deep respect for her avant-garde artistic vision and sensibility) and I often discuss with students Lennon’s drawings and work in experimental film as part of the broader milieu of the alternative and counter-culture movements of the 1960’s to early 70’s. 

A caricature drawn by John Lennon
while in art school
People sometimes overlook the fact that Lennon had attended art school in Liverpool during a number of the formative years of his early musical career from 1957-1960. It was there and around Liverpool’s most bohemian neighbourhood that he was introduced to the social circle of painters, sculptors, poets and musicians who were experimenting with new ways of representing the shifting world around them. And while Lennon mostly rejected the strict art school curriculum of the Liverpool College of Art, it is significant that he developed his intersecting interests in drawing, visual representation, and music within the context of rebellion and subversion of the status quo. Lennon would go on to use his early drawings to illustrate a number of his albums (i.e. Walls and Bridges) and help inspire elements of the animated 1968 musical film The Yellow Submarine. Four years later in 1972, Lennon would also co-produce and direct with Yoko Ono the experimental film Imagine that features a part surreal and part documentary interpretation of the music from Lennon’s album of the same name. Watching the clip I have embedded below (which features the title song Imagine Lennon is perhaps best known for), it is clear that Lennon’s artistic vision was as important to him as the musical talent for which he will always be best remembered.

For a closer look at more of John Lennon's art works, see and on Saturday, October 9th, Yoko Ono will relight Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland in his memory. You can join the ceremony by  Tweeting your wishes or visiting where the lighting will take place live at 8pm in Reykjavík and 1pm PST on the West Coast.

Further Reading:

Daniels, Stephen. "Suburban pastoral: Strawberry Fields forever and Sixties memory." Cultural Geographies 13.1 (2006): 28-54.

Inglis, Ian. "The Continuing Story of John Lennon." Critical Studies in Media Communication 22.5 (2005): 451-455.

Kruse II, Robert. "Contemporary Geographies of John Lennon." Critical Studies in Media Communication22.5 (2005): 456-461.