“So you’re not going to make art any more? You’re just going to do yoga?”
I said something out loud about myself the other night that surprised me. It wasn’t that I was unaware of its truth, but the fact that I articulated it is as precisely and as forcefully as I did was somewhat arresting. I was perched on a stool at an art opening just in front of an installation of mine that ran along the side of a wall. I had been included in an exhibition called Studio Salon – With Eastern Eyes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Four of us had work in the exhibition and I was speaking with another one of the artists who, like me, had spent time in India and who combined her life as an artist with her life as a yogi. This was clearly reflected in our work and we immediately found that we had volumes to talk about.
We were discussing the art world and I was remarking upon the ways in which my relationship to it had changed since I had become a yoga teacher. I said, At this point, my artwork serves my yoga. I paused and looked at those words hovering in the space between us, startled that I had said them out loud. And then the funniest thing happened – some taut internal sensation gave way, and I felt utterly happy.
What I had said was some sort of art world treason. Most people in the art world don’t even want to hear that you have a day job. You are supposed to do whatever it takes to make your work and the work is the point. But any job you hold is supposed to be disposable, as opposed to a career or a lifestyle choice. Artists work as art movers, as waiters, as temps. There’s a good reason for this since all of these jobs involve marketable skills, but minimal commitment. You can take off for a residency or an exhibition in another city, knowing that you can find a new position when you return. Your job is supposed to serve your work.
Art is something like a religion involving sacrifice and single-mindedness. This works for many artists, and it functioned well for me for many years. But at a certain point in time, in the midst of my deepening involvement in yoga, this way of being and thinking ceased to sit comfortably for me, and somewhere in there a significant shift happened.
I have spent years trying to keep my yoga life and my art world life separate. I have told myself the story that the art world doesn’t want to have anything to do with my yoga life for a long time, and that I somehow wouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist anymore if I revealed the depths of my commitment to yoga. The link to the yoga part of my website is slightly hidden in my belief that the yogis will happily dig through the artwork to find it, but that it’s probably best if the art world doesn’t see it.
And frankly, there are good reasons why I’ve nurtured this separation (or dodged the connection), namely because this assumption of mine has proven art world conversation after art world conversation to be accurate, and also because there’s a lot of terrible yoga-driven art out there. I have huge issues with the rainbow-y aesthetic and low-end psychedelia of much of the art I see in the yoga world. It makes me cringe.
I spent years lecturing and writing for the Museum of Modern Art, and unabashedly still worship at the altar of Picasso. I made highly cerebral and conceptual work for years until yoga smoothed its brittle edges and filled it with both color and a greater physicality. I continue to be a tough critic of art that I see in Chelsea Galleries and can analyze in seconds what concepts artists are exploring, while being wildly over-opinionated about whether or not it seems to be working.
For the most part, the art world seems to find it interesting and vaguely provocative that I can organize my body parts into interesting shapes and patterns, and certain people ask my advice about beginning a yoga practice, but a number of my friends continue to be perplexed about the extent of my involvement in it. I was asked just a couple of years ago by a good friend, So you’re not going to make art any more? You’re just going to do yoga? I was taken aback and scrambled uncomfortably to explain that no, this was not the case AT ALL. But now if someone said that to me, I would just shrug it off, because beneath the question is a belief system that is simply different from mine. How do you debate in two different languages? Additionally, I’m so deeply in love with my yoga practice that I simply don’t care what people think about it anymore.
So how does my artwork serve my yoga? First of all, what needs saying is that yoga for me is far more than a physical practice. In addition to asana, my philosophical studies, meditation, pranayama, mantra, and mudra practices are huge parts of my daily life. The ideas that I explore and encounter in my studies of Hindu Tantra are mind-bendingly complex and can be applied to every conceivable aspect of my life. They are fascinating. And moving. And beautiful. And aesthetically ecstatic.
It is from this place of delighted inquiry and close attention that I make art now. This is how the art serves the yoga. The yoga is the thing that connects every aspect of my life – every breath, every gesture, every moment, every creative impulse, every line inscribed on paper, every delineated form. When I create from this place, I offer my best self. Everything that I am making right now is emerging from a fullness that was not previously realized or acknowledged, but now constitutes my center. And for that reason, I am making the best work of my life.
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