My Double Life (or…Doing the Yoga of Art).

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My Hummingbird Sky installation Nov 2011

“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.

My Pink Victorine installation Nov 2011

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.

MoMA Sculpture Garden Garudasana

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.

In front of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (the best painting ever)

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.

Puja with Dakshina Moorthi - July 2011

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.

Inner Landscape #6

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.

Hummingbird Sky Bakasana, Nov 2011

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Susanna Harwood Rubin

Susanna is passionately committed to finding beauty in everyday life. She is a yoga teacher-writer-visual artist, which means that she rarely stops moving except to meditate. She is ERYT-500, has been teaching for over 12 years, and travels regularly to South India to delve into the traditions of Rajanaka Yoga that inspire her work. Her spiritual home is the great Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram. She teaches internationally, but is based in New York. Find her weekly classes at Twisted Trunk Yoga and Abhaya Yoga . Susanna's artwork is represented in collections such as the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Berkeley Museum, and the Addison Gallery of American Art. She lectured and wrote for MoMA for years, including co-writing the book "Looking at Matisse and Picasso," and she will still happily talk about Picasso for hours if you ask her. Susanna currently writes on yoga, writing, art, and life for a number of publications, including The Huffington Post , Mantra Yoga+Health , Rebelle Society , and YOGANONYMOUS . She gives talks on yoga, Hindu myth, and philosophy, and created the popular Writing Your Practice workshops and telecourses for yogis, applying yoga philosophy and myth to the practice of writing. Overall, she is amazed at the richness of her life. Find her on Twitter , Facebook , & Instagram


30 Responses to “My Double Life (or…Doing the Yoga of Art).”

  1. Andy says:

    "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."

    Boom – a-greed.

    • yep – I hesitated to say it, but while I was being honest… That said there is a lot of highly intelligent & aesthetically sophisticated yoga-inspired work as well, such as some of the other artists' work in the show I mention above. It's a real mix! Thank you for commenting!

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  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Love this.

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  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  5. primo says:

    Babe ;offering the best of yourself When you offer that ,life is Beautiful Thank you

  6. Marie Wingate says:

    Thank you for putting this into words. I am a clay artist & am training to be a yoga teacher. People think that I am giving up clay to just teach yoga but for me, both must exist for both to exist. As you said, yoga identifies our best selves but removes the trappings of the ego. Yoga has emancipated the artist in me, free to just create without attachment & this is reflected in my work & my attitude.

    • Thank you for sharing that Marie. It is funny how the art world gets so perplexed at the thought of an artist choosing a lifestyle that doesn't fit a particular notion of how to live, particularly when you consider the universe of choices that we have for inspiration & motivation. The art world is liberal in many ways, but conservative in others.

      It also raises the question of where we are making art from & what we are making art for…Not easily answered, but is our work driven simply by the art market or can it have another motivation & purpose? This is not to say that the market is what drives artists, because it is not. If the market was the sole driving force, I would have just been practical & earned an MBA instead of my MFA. This is also not to say that I have a specific purpose or reason when I begin an artwork, but knowing the territory from which one's work is emerging is a powerful thing. Usually it is an impulse, a form, a word, phrase, or color that triggers something for me. ..or music. But now it is also asana, meditation & philosophy that draws me into my center & opens up that doorway into my inner storehouse of images & ideas.

      My best work comes from a place of subterranean knowing, not surface knowing, which is why my work is better now than it was a few years ago, when I could verbally deconstruct exactly what my work was about & analyze it to pieces. Letting go of some of the surface art theory & art history knowing has brought me back to a place of deeper creativity that I would never have recovered without yoga.

  7. Katherine says:

    I am currently studying yoga therapy, and I have been a mosaic and ceramic artist for most of my adult life. Before yoga, I was incredibly concerned with self-promotion of my art, that was a huge part of my healing process from loss. Through yoga, I have realized that being a gallery artist is not really my calling, but rather to give my students and clients the tools they need along with the creative outlet they crave to heal themselves from the inside out. Looking back, I almost felt like I was hiding something, but now I feel like every time I share yoga or art techniques, I am giving a gift.

    • Katherine, It is beautiful that you have developed such a strong sense of the roles yoga & art play in your life & thank you so much for sharing it. The perspective shift that yoga gives us is so profound, yet difficult to explain to people who aren't engaged in a practice…yet the more deeply engaged we are, the less we care about external standards, because certain surface concerns fall away. It's great – isn't it?

  8. I am a dancer and feel exactly the same about how my practice of yoga has effected my creative choices. It was very nice to read your article and relate from an 'artists' point of view. I could say so much more but the point is I know exactly what you mean and loved reading it!

  9. Thank you Emily, and your thoughts are always welcomed!

  10. Andy says:

    Do you ever think yoga melts the neuroses that inspire your creativity?

    • Andy – That's a pretty interesting question! I think that, personally, my work is coming from a really grounded place of curiosity & exploration at this point in my life. Yoga has given me back that state of wonder that I had when I was a child, then obscured somewhere during adolescence & then, finally recovered. I guess that the difference now is that I have gone through really difficult & challenging life experiences, so my work now comes from a place of deeper complexity and has been nurtured by the dismal, neurotic, and/or depressing moments in my life as much as it emerges from the joy and wonderment and humor that equally shaped me. I think that having gone through difficulty enriches people's creativity because it expands their worlds, but ultimately, we can create from any state.

      It's interesting that you pose this question, because for Writing Your Practice, the writing course that I am teaching for yogis, we just discussed the Rasas (the "flavors" of experience) last week, so we were talking about where we create from – from the comic to the compassionate, from the gruesome to peace. We were talking about which rasas we accessed more & less frequently – really interesting to contemplate.

  11. always says:

    listed below are several listings in order to web sites which i hook up to since all of us believe they will be worth visiting.

  12. Valeie Carruthers says:

    Your achievement, Susanna, is that through your Yoga practice you are able to say YES! to the full range of possibilities in which your art can flourish. Having been involved with the New York art world for a period of about 25 years, I can only agree that despite its liberal appearances, it can be a very alienating place where artists can get typecast by their styles of work. Break away into more deeply felt places and you run the risk of being excommunicated by the powers that be (such as art dealers or collectors). One of the most beautiful things you wrote in your article was this: "I'm so deeply in love with my yoga practice that I don't really care what people think about it any more."

    • Thank you so much for your comment – so well said. I agree – saying YES to the particular combination of things that we are is the key to a deeper creativity… and then saying it again and again as we shift & develop in our lives. The funny thing is that not caring as much about being judged in the art world has actually caused the art world to be even more interested in & curious about my work. I've inadvertently been playing hard-to-get. Human nature is a funny thing.

  13. The two modalities of yoga and art you have conjoined make you so special to all of us, your students and audience. Since yoga is the art of the self, they belong in the same world! Such an honest and open piece.

  14. Kristin – Thank you so much for your extremely generous comment. You made my Thanksgiving's eve 🙂

  15. Shig says:

    Sussana, you have packed your life in this small piece of art. Nothing more to say. It's a weighty one. I think of the sanskrit notion of guru, which literally means "weighty one". It's a beautiful and inspiring saga.

  16. […] My Double Life (or…Doing the Yoga of Art). […]

  17. Beautifully expressed. Thank you for your willingness to walk in both worlds with full honesty and obvious delight. 🙂

  18. […] Strong stuff from an artist, wouldn’t you say? People cringe at this thought, and vegans are forever taking hits for caring […]

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