Pseudo-intellectuals, Haters & Yoga Police… This One’s For You. Then Go Suck It.

Via elephant journal
on Apr 19, 2012
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People who are deeply devoted to their practice, not only restructure their minds, their bodies change as well.

When we look at Michelangelo’s David, do we get upset if our abs don’t look as good as his?

In reference to various, anonymous individuals who have complained about my subject matter being “too bendy and too pretty,” I offer one of the more articulate and eloquent comments I’ve ever seen inspired by my work. Perhaps, a more intellectual way of saying the same thing in my title above.

“Because one cannot legislate the human soul, art has always been about breaking down walls. Because no dogma can limit the human imagination, art has always been a threat to orthodoxy. Censorship is the blunt instrument of the small minded who insist that art should conform to their politically correct strictures. But art that does this has lost the capacity to communicate the numinous, the transcendent, the authentic, essential inspiration at the heart of the impulse to be in the rapture of creative expression. In its place we are left with propaganda—sanitized, inoffensive, de-sexed, non-threatening, bland propaganda.

Like many, I find much to critique in the commercialized media image of yoga as an acrobatic pecking order ruled over by mainly skinny women with mad gymnastic skills, and in the oft unexamined equating of this image with an embodied enlightenment  to which the rest of us should aspire. However, when this critique has as its underpinning a reference to supposed yogic scriptures, quoting of yamas and niyamas, and claims that art which celebrates  the human form, the female form, beauty, grace, athletic ability, and the wonders of nature is somehow anti-spiritual or un-yogic, I think we are in trouble.

When I look at Sturman’s work I see an unbridled, inspired desire to capture the moment, the synergy of nature, athleticism, energy and states of grace. When I hear some the harsh attacks it occasionally evokes I find myself thinking about the history of censorship, religious orthodoxy, the demand that Eve be depicted wearing a fig leaf or that paintings be destroyed that don’t depict the Savior in the church sanctioned way.

But great art should be provocative, it should break down walls, it should invite us into revelation. Great art does not reinforce our safe conventions, politically correct notions, or pet beliefs—it sets fire to them and shows us something else in the light of the flames.”     ~ Julian Walker


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55 Responses to “Pseudo-intellectuals, Haters & Yoga Police… This One’s For You. Then Go Suck It.”

  1. Dearbhla says:

    Yes! Bravo and encore.

  2. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Will this era be known as the one that fetishized yoga postures?

    I see the future and this art is in a time capsule and not the Louvre, unfortunately …

  3. The flexible and svelte body as a metaphor that depicts visually that which cannot be described of the inner body is what I, personally, have perceived within the artist's images. Will I ever have, or even aspire towards, the image – as a physical model of my body – the bodies that Robert Sturman chooses as the vehicle of his passionate communication? Of course not, anymore than I would ever desire to hold my body in the tortuously (but for some, blissful) contorted poses that are depicted by those yoga postures shown in his images.
    What I do walk away with, from being exposed to his artful scenes, is the recognition that there are those whose dedication to their practice can bring forth an exalted inspiration to master their, and consequently our own, inner selves.
    My own dedication is not yoga, but is another practice that sees the potential within each being, and seeks to model that purity of expression that others might be inspired to push on beyond perceived limits, to excel to the greatest capability that is possible for that individual.
    Robert Sturman's work is such a model, to my eyes.

  4. Candice Garrett says:

    I've met Robert and he's a nice guy. He believes in what he does, he's humble and he's kind. I think his work expresses so much light of the practitioner. It's a perfect way to capture yoga that is not at all lurid or demeaning, or sensationalistic, which is so often the case. He's not selling a brand or product, he's just showing what he sees. It's beautiful.

  5. Robert says:

    ahhh Vision Quest (2). I've been observing you police EJ for months and have been waiting for you to jump on my page – you were in the top 3 of who this was for. I'll be in New York next week and would love to set up a shoot with you, on the house. Perhaps, we could learn something from each other. I'm always up for learning from those who take the time to consistently tell others that they are doing life inappropriately. Balls in your court, VQ2 – I'm still learning. Are you?

  6. Aron Stein says:

    Fantastic approach to criticism Robert. Well done as always.

  7. yogijulian says:

    nicely said.

  8. yogasamurai says:

    More art the better, no question, but just a few "caveats" —

    Art, just like prose or poetry, is also subject to legitimate critique? If nothing else, we ask if it is technically good art, or not? And then we might also inquire as to its social context, and meanings, and what it might say, or not say, about "us."

    I have to laugh because sometimes people think that art is or should be more immune from critique than say, an essay, an article, or an op-ed. I have written technically well crafted articles that people hated – and trashed me for, because of what I said, or because of what they thought I was saying. Is art immune from this dynamic? I think not, but ideally, there are some reasonable boundaries.

    Third, I don't think anyone's censoring Robert or he's in danger of it. He's practically got the run of EJ to post anything he wants? That's great, certainly for him, as it means more exposure. The other side is, it probably means more criticism, too. You probably have to take it in stride, and just be content to count your blessings that you have so much exposure to begin with?

    Yes, it can suck – royally.

    Finally, some people think that the primary motivation for criticizing yoga or anything in or about yoga is jealousy? Hmmm, I don't buy it. I myself have criticized certain dynamics and individuals in yoga because I really and truly think that they are dangerous and destructive of the human spirit – and so do many others – even if the people involved clearly don't think so . Jimmy Swaggart didn't think so, either. And neither does John Friend or his most ardent apologists.

    So my attitude around such people is, you say you're not a pathological narcissist or an emotional vampire, just a sexy, over-eager butterfly, fine, but honey, I don't want or need it, and I'm not recommending anyone else fall for your BS, either. That ain't "jealousy" – it's self-preservation, and a desire to live free of denial.

    Harsh, right? But if the alternative is, "Take me to My Guru," include me out. I choose to use my noodle and my intuition and to express myself. I am glad that Robert does, too. He does it exceedingly well. That doesn't mean I will refrain from commenting upon his work, either — if I think it might serve any useful purpose.

    Or, possibly, if I am just feeling more ornery than usual that day (I know, don't tell me, more yoga).


  9. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  10. imitation shirt says:

    Funny, this supposed article starts with David and ends with a quote saying it isn't what great art should be but then no one expects thoughtfulness from supposed writers. I like art that goes beyond the bounds of its medium and time and I don't see that in Sturman.

  11. yogijulian says:

    fair comment. i agree that everything should be open to critique.

    you may have noticed that i shared my own appreciation for a critique that indeed involves social context, meaning etc – but pointed out the problem i see with political correctness and a critique based in notions of purity and what yoga supposedly is or isn't , and how this for me starts to head in the direction of a censorious attitude.

    artists create, and they have to follow their inspirations and passions. i don't have to agree with the artist's point of view – but in a free society i should always support their right to expression.

    personally i think we all should feel free to critique, but i find the tendency often present to critique anything on EJ from a place of faux religious piety or a claim on what the "pure tradition" is supposedly about a bit pretentious and petty.

    i also found some of the way people responded to the feelings many people were trying to express and work through regarding the john friend scandal to carry some of this tone of censoriousness – as if being angry was "unyogic."

    i am making a case for the importance of free speech and free creative expression as pillars of what keeps spirituality and society healthy and open – and this includes anyone's right to critique!

  12. Tanya Lee Markul says:

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

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  13. pranalisa says:

    I find his work beautiful. art is subjective. that's my subjective opinion. so what. love it, keep looking at it. if you don't, then say what you want and/or move on.

  14. pranalisa says:

    ps…it does amaze me to see the energy people spend judging this kind of stuff. i think one's reaction is more of a reflection of the viewer than the artist's work.

  15. karlsaliter says:

    Robert's work does nothing for me.
    I find hot juicy subject uninteresting in photography as a rule,
    and usually skip his article/ essays. I loved the title on this one.

    Having said that, if you think this work lacks depth and would be well-served by exploring chubby men in happy baby, or leftist construction workers smoking cigars in headstand, you may be right on the money. So here's what you do: go get a camera, and make your own work.

    Anything posted on Elephant is open to critique.
    Usually, the harshest critiques are from the most frustrated readers.

  16. Vision_Quest2 says:

    karl, it's like the yoga community at large: the privileged skinny women or the convicts and rape victims (not to minimize the plight of the incarcerated or victimized), however, the inflexible, beer-bellied working-class, grunt householder is a nonentity in this commercial, temporal yoga world.

    I say this as someone for whom some postures hurt my neck. I mark off the days on my calendar when I puposefully avoid some of them.

    Where is the actual struggle as metaphor?

    Or is it that artistic and creative sports photography is a closed shop to Robert, and this serves as a substitute

    the harshest critiques are from the most frustrated writers as well as readers.

    I have to get off this blog and back to my own.

  17. Beautiful, Robert (and Julian).

    What I don't understand is that while it's become unacceptable to criticize anyone who doesn't meet societal norms of beauty (whatever those are anymore…) it's fine to bash people who do? I've written a great deal on self-acceptance and the wide spectrum of human beauty, and my experiences giving massage definitely affect that perspective as I see so many different types of bodies.

    If we are saying "yes" to asymmetry, unusual beauty and people outside the "norm," it doesn't mean we have to ignore or discount beauty that is more traditional or popular. A swan is beautiful, a lion is beautiful, an elephant is beautiful, a penguin is beautiful and a giraffe is beautiful. None of them are the same. We don't look at beauty in nature and disregard one because it isn't the same as the other. We need to stop doing it with human beings.

    Criticism is a wonderful thing and I'm glad we have a forum for that here. The underlying sentiment concerns me.

  18. Vision_Quest2 says:

    No thanks. I've been occasionally photographed before (by professionals). You would have me in parvritta uttkatasana and drape me in gauze, and do soft-focus because you probably can't stand the sight of a postmenopausal belly and under-chin wattle to my face. But an interesting concept that might inspire me to take my online belly dancing lessons more seriously.

  19. Robert says:

    I enjoy constructive criticism from intelligent people who do not like my work. There’s another kind that I find extremely immature and annoying. I don’t expect anyone to agree with or support my work and I’ve grown to look forward to the comments of a mindful critic. I find it refreshing to hear it articulated with eloquence and style (and often leaving the door open with a shred of positivity)

  20. JBCali says:

    would love to see Robert celebrate the "unusual" yogi, the wheelchair bound, the large body, ALL ARE BEAUTIFUL

  21. Robert says:

    How bout those spending the rest of their lives in prison? (link included) When I become passionately inspired by something else, I will follow that vision without hesitation.

  22. Steven says:

    Certainly, you will not be the first art critic to express such an opinion. Our greatest artists, scientists, and visionaries have had similiar (unfortunate) detractors.

  23. yogijulian says:

    i agree with this kate. very interesting observation.

    my point is that we should be careful about critiquing art from the place of wanting it to express the message we think is politically/spiritually correct. by definition this is propaganda.

    many of the more pious critics would do well to explore the history of censorship from pre-enlightenment europe through the nazi and communist notions of "decadent art.." looking also at the "cultural revolutions" in china and cuba is very bracing too in terms of the problems of trying to force art to serve prescribed ideology.

  24. yogijulian says:

    fair enough. what is interesting to me though is that his work in the last year has alternated between the extremes of the pretty anglo woman in sheer clothing on the malibu cliffs to the heavy set african american convict behind bars under institutional lights…

  25. John says:

    There are criteria for art or at least the art that ends up in museums. Unless you are ready to proclaim that a velvet Elvis is as great asPablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, then stick with the subjective route. I'm not questioning if these photos are art, I'm questioning if they are great art.

    PS I personally like them.

  26. yogijulian says:

    yea i am with you on your point.

    not sure if that is what is being debated but opened myself up to it by using the phrase "great art."

    criteria and censorship of course are different things and the critique robert is responding to has more to do with religious dogma or political correctness than standards of art!

  27. Hanna says:

    I have to wonder how many people commenting on what is art have as many hours spent studying in a course like a 200 hr yoga teaching program. Seems like most comments on art on this thread are the same as critiques of yoga by people who never practiced yoga.

  28. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Five years regular yoga practice in the house, right here …
    Spent $1,000 U.S.D. on yoga studio lessons. Not counting privates and done over a 3 year period.
    This was 8 limbed yoga, in the vinyasa style. Have my own, longer-than-class-length home yoga practice.
    And I had been introduced to yin yoga 40 years ago.

    I appreciate that yoga is a personal practice.

    Yoga had traditionally been marketed to my age group. The cohort that is today's Baby Boomers.

    Yes, I am still slowly adjusting to the fact that yoga has been, er, "modernized" … this too shall pass ….

  29. Vision_Quest2 says:

    When I see one of these photos, I do not get inspired. Not out of envy, but because there is nowhere I need to "go" in my practice.

    Zap! I've already arrived.

    I've been arriving all along. And I don't need the preciousness of involvement with a live yoga studio or a live teacher …

    I'm on the outside of the electronic kula, looking in.

    Nitey nite …!

  30. yogini says:

    Elephant often has great articles but the title of this one is infantile and vulgar. A review of Saucha would be helpful before publishing such classlessness in the name of art and yoga, neither of which entertain such language when it is of high quality.

  31. donald says:

    his pictures are pretty….he's a good photographer technically and must be stoked to be able to be surrounded by beauty whether it's people or places…suggesting his photography breaks down walls etc seems inaccurate and an exaggeration…it's a free universe – photograph what you like…look at it or dont…like it or dont….frankly for me it's nice to see some postures in an optimized form…do i need to look like that? do i think this is art? do i care? doesnt matter …however, for EY then to suggest those who maybe have issues with sturman and his work to "go suck it" seems to be in total contradiction to what the julian walker quote suggests to begin with…youre hating on the "haters"….i think sturman can defend himself with EY pandering…that's all

  32. __MikeG__ says:

    If someone sees a piece of art through the lens of "yoga purity", whatever that is, should their critique be devalued because someone else sees the art through a different lens? Isn't it censorship to devalue an opinion because they have a different world view from yours?

  33. Vision_Quest2 says:

    No, it's not a form of censorship. Not even mob rule. it's just groupthink … the stuff of George Orwell. Enjoy the morning.

  34. __MikeG__ says:

    That was funny.

  35. __MikeG__ says:

    Wow, great combination of snide comment "EJ police" and call for learning together. Would have been a better reply if you chosen to not include the snide comment.

  36. __MikeG__ says:

    So, only persons who share the world view of the artist can make valid critiques? When people with different world views make unfavorable critiques it doesn't matter because those people are just a bunch of haters. And who gives a fuck about what a hater thinks anyway?

    What is a "hater"? According to this post a hater is a person whose view of the world violates the rules the author of this post just made up.

  37. yogijulian says:

    ah classic! pious sutra-referencing censoriousness in open play. 🙂

  38. yogijulian says:

    not at all.

    i assume mike that you acknowledge a difference between critique and censorship?

    my position in what i wrote above is one defending free speech and celebrating the liberation of art from religious censorship.

    the "hater" angle is robert's and i cannot speak to that…

    the proliferation of yoga in america is part of a move beyond old world religious narrowness, moralism, and official strictures regarding blasphemy, sacrilege in art, science, worldview etc…..

    i am suggesting here that critiques that echo this old world censorious attitude dressed up in postmodern yoga robes actually are a step backward and should be seen for what they are. i also think that when we demand that art conform with our standards of political correctness we are in dangerous territory.

    it is important too not to get confused by a kind of relativist tendency to now say "well isn't it censorious to criticize a certain kind of critique!?" 🙂

  39. and complete with relevant yet anonymous screen name!

  40. I love your work, Robert. Simple. Can you, though, put a fence around it and "dare" anyone to look at it without mentioning yoga, when you "use" yoga to create your art? Sure you can 🙂 But you have an obvious intelligence and a savvy edge: surely amongst a yoga community you would expect some backlash for making demands like that, no? And is that negative? I thought art always copped a load of backlash and consequently that's what led it down the path of edgy, unique, talked-about. Like Mike G said, it doesn't make one a "hater" just because they disagree, no matter how vehemently. But boy, are those who disagree with someone bashed by those who think their words are kind but which are as nasty as barbed wire wrapped in silk: they might look harmless but they're meaner than anyone. Perfect example is "yogini's" comment: it was not rude, it was an opinion and instead of just randomly unleashing her ego or mind, she offers a yogic observance as a point of reference. But the responses are a revelation in club-room superior ugliness.

    I didn't really notice the title, just saw your work and came here; it's about all I read on EJ these days, as the dominating mood of it lately has been a real turn-off….to see it here on one of your pages, Robert, is unfortunate. I'll stick to your website, I think 🙂 Thanks for your beautiful art….

  41. Funny how the EJ police are different for everyone; I see a couple here, but one of them wasn't VisionQuest. Nor you Mikey old mate 🙂

  42. It was 🙂 Robert, since the spot is blank, I'll take her shoot :))) Can you come to India?? 🙂

  43. Love it, Karl 🙂 You, as usual, rock 🙂

  44. __MikeG__ says:

    Sorry, Julian while I fully agree with your call to move beyond old world provincialism I cannot overcome my aversion to what I see as devaluing a persons contribution because they do not conform to new world, old world or middle aged with a slight paunch world values. And I am not one of those new age yoga clowns who mistakenly believe in the "no judgement" fallacy. I am a different kind of clown altogether. The "you guys suck and you all are haters and none of your opinions are worthy of consideration" tone of this article leaves me cold.

    Good observation on going down the rabbit hole of critiquing the critique of the critique. Maybe you would agree that at a certain point this path merges back into itself and becomes a fools journey. Then we lose sight of the point of all of this, whether the art in question is good or bad.

  45. Black Dirt Goddess says:

    The most beautiful aspect of Art is that it speaks without words and therefore, never needs to be rescued.
    titles, names, and prescribed notions destroy the virgin mystery that we ~ as the viewer~ yearn to experience…..and so there is an art to viewing art and i want to hang out in the places where THAT is a practiced.. om om om

  46. yogijulian says:

    i hear you mike.

    as i have said i think the major tone you are commenting upon is robert's expression of frustration, so i will leave that to him if he cares to respond.

    i think you get where my comments are coming from and we understand eachother.

    point taken.

  47. Cyn says:

    I am surprised to see an artist so thinned skinned. He seems to have a following so am perplexed why he seems so bent out of shape by the comments here. Elephant is NOT the best venue for people serious about art. They are trained in yoga not art. These are two different worlds.

  48. Robert says:

    Interesting dialogue to say the least. It's far from a matter of taking things personally — constructive, intelligent criticism is refreshing and inspiring. For me, this is an exploration of becoming acquainted with a certain uglier, angrier side of the audience. I'm more enthusiastic than ever to keep my creative life, no matter what, open to anyone who wants to take a moment to receive it. I'm not sure if "hater" is in the dictionary but my definition is someone who just hates everything and irresponsibly voices it, as if they are trying to work out some childhood issue. I expect more from people and because this is my page, I may occasionally tell all the disrespectful folks out there (not ones who do not like my work – but those who can't control their plain old nasty aggressiveness) to simply "go suck it." It helps me laugh it off, move on and offer a thousand new heartfelt works of art. Seems fair enough to me.

  49. bobcat says:

    This game of saying that someone's comment is more egotistic than others is cute and it keeps you in the game. It is just as easy to admit that we have no need to say anything but for the fact that the ego wants to. None of what I say is necessary yet my words give me a great opportunity to have my ego destroyed by someone's comment. What a gift!