Turner's The Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
Imagine a beautiful old masterpiece painting, a vast landscape. When you look at it from a distance you get a sense of the overall image but step closer and you can see how fine the detail right down to the individual stroke of the brush. You know that this piece of art was not painted in one sitting but instead was created over a really long time. Nor is it the work of just one artist, in fact numerous talented artists have worked on it - just like the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel weren’t only painted by Michaelangelo - and, over the years, these artists have been steadily working on the landscape, adding more and more detail to the canvas, until it has become the exquisite masterpiece that you have set your eyes upon.
Now imagine that in recent years new artists have come into the fold. They are not of the original school of art, they have different styles & different aesthetics. Many of them are not particularily skilled or even adequately trained. These artists care little for the original masterpiece, they have no regard for style or tone, yet they continue to add it. They dip their brushes in pots of paint and daub away. And so now parts of the painting are starting to look radically different - clunky, slap dash, incongruous. When you stand back and look at the work of art now it appears a confusion of ideas, with the original landscape barely visible.
The reason that I offer this visualisation is it represents how I feel about where yoga is today. That the exquisite and divine tableau of yoga, forged over time by the most devoted and learned of yogis, is now a free for all and that just about anyone and everyone is picking up a brush and slapping on a bit of paint. And now this landscape of yoga is looking a bit of a hot mess.
The thing is - I think somewhere along the line we got it wrong. In this metaphor we aren’t the artists, we simply don’t have their skill. Were we to consider picking up a brush we would in effect be elevating ourselves to the level of the gods and great sages who originally created it. Instead we leave the canvas as it is and we step into the role that we are really here to do - because in this metaphor, we are the gallery attendants.
We open the doors, we welcome people in, we watch from the corner silently as they view this masterpiece for the first time, we stand beside them and help to educate their eyes to see what isn’t always apparent, we offer stories that bring it life, we give context and insights, we talk them through the history of the piece, we encourage them to look at it from all angles and, as its gatekeepers, we protect this masterpiece from harm so that it can be enjoyed long after our time looking after it is done.
A small section of the Sistine Chapel