In the early 80’s, I didn’t just think that art was for rich people, I knew it was for rich people. My father was a museum director and even though we lived here in Riverside, the idea was supported by what I saw on a daily basis. So if I had moved to New York things might have gone better in respect to being a painter. My creative inclinations were unconsciously punk. All I needed was a punk scene. It didn’t happen for me. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and I didn’t find it. Eventually, through a combination of what I like to view as karmic errors, I ended up in Beverly Hills, surrounded by rich people and of the many creative experiments I explored, the most punk thing I could come up with at that point was to go with what my environment offered and make paintings for rich people willing to sign a contract with me, promising to work with me on the painting. They had to collaborate. They found out that the process was challenging, but most of them enjoyed it even when the creative exploration dug into whatever it dug into–like their racial prejudice, or my problem with their decorative taste, or whatever else found its way on to the table. My punkness came out with me fighting fire with fire, but I never got over my issues with turning art into a commodity, and eventually I quit painting. Now, thanks to documentation like the video embedded in this post, there’s proof of how some punk artists found each other in kinship and made art together and sold their t-shirts together in ways that somehow made it okay. They were lucky. I was lucky too–in a different way. I found yoga before it was for rich people. Those early years were great. The way we were reminds me of the “beautiful losers.” But what about now? What do we do about yoga now that it’s such a part of “fair market capitalism”? I don’t know. My reaction has been strange. Right when it seems like the stupidest thing I could possibly do–right when being such a righteously anti-commodity guy would enable me to look at what’s happening in respect to the societal impression of yoga these days and say “I told you so”– I have made t-shirts with punk-style yoga art and I’m going to sell them.
They’re really Yoga Das t-shirts. I wanted to sell them at cost. Lisa said no way. Lisa’s been the lead singer of what I consider to be the best punk rock band in the world for over 20 years so I listen to her. But I also did tell her that I was going to tell everyone that the price is her idea and that eventually I would give the shirts away. I’ll face the music with her for this public disclosure of all that on Thursday at practice. Part of my punk practice is not being afraid of Lisa. So far so good.
Of course, punk art and punk music have a long history together. I love what Yoga Das has going. I want us to be more punk, but music does what it does. We just keep coming up with beautiful tunes together. Oh, well. There’s still hope that we’re evolving backwards and we’ll get worse in a good way. That’s not the same as devolving. Evolving backwards in a good way is what I think yoga is doing now. It can never be what it was, but now that it has hit bottom, it can start back up. Personally, I’m fine with it being on the bottom. I knew the whole time that this commodification thing was happening that there would be a bottoming out, and not just because of the usual pattern of trendy things bottoming out, but because yoga has been heading toward a total bottoming out for its entire existence. It’s all part of yoga becoming something fully inclusive and accessible. So let yoga get kicked around a bit. The reason I couldn’t find my punk art friends 30 years ago was because I wasn’t willing to get kicked around on the bottom. I don’t know if I am now either. I don’t know about any of this.
My friend CK’s opinion is expressed in the following block quote, taken from two of his (believe it or not) casually composed emails:
While I was reading the Polanyi book [The Great Transformation] I mentioned at [CK’s] blog, regarding the essential, definitional requirements for the initial development and general operation of free market capitalism, I thought a lot about yoga and art world difficulties in our time. There were different also quite completely vexing contradictions to deal with prior to free market capitalism (f.m.c.), as we easily forget, but, that noted, one of the fundamental characteristics of f.m.c. is that land (nature), labor (human beings), and productive organization (society, politics), must all be treated as though they are commodities, at the theoretical and eventually real loss of precisely what makes them not-commodities, what makes them “priceless” and not merely “things,” much less “things made for sale.” Absent some kind of control of fmc’s inherent tendencies, nature must be destroyed, human beings must be destroyed, society must fall apart, under fmc. But it seems to me that attempting to force the alternative originates in the same economism, only in reverse, and has tended to complete rather than resist the process of destruction. So don’t let your hatred of commodification turn into the channel that commodification seizes upon to complete its destruction of your pricelessness.
[So, you] see what I mean about [your old book] Yogic Love is you had a winning attitude – you made the commodification funny. You were having fun with it. What you didn’t achieve is a way to continue to have fun with it but also respect the practice itself – the yoga of buying/selling/trading/shipping etc. I’m not saying it’s easy to jump over the economic shadow, the market can annihilate anything it comes into contact with, and is inexorable and tireless, but you can still embrace something both immeasurably larger and liberatively different from it, that contains and completely bypasses it, and that laughs at it, masters it and hardly cares or comes to hardly care about having done so.
I respect CK’s perspective because he’s actually the world champ at punk-self-sabotage. Though he’s quite open about the fact that he could use the money, he always figures out a way to make the things he writes and creates not sell and then is all punk about telling everyone else to be cool with selling. I see through him. (Oh, and I just remembered. CK! Laura noticed in our bank statement that you didn’t cash a $300 check from me back in like December or something). And it doesn’t matter anyway. To me, what creates punkness is that we like what our friend’s make. In the film, one of the “beautiful losers” says something like, “Art school made me hate everything. Now I think all my friend’s work is rad.” That’s the way to live.