Norman Sjoman on Art: a Revelation that should bring Astonishment and Enlightenment

Posted by Aimee Coles on 21/09/2021 at 12:17


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To mark the launch of Abstract Art Canada, we heard from its founders, artists David Brooks and Jim Ulrich. Now we’d like to introduce artist Norman Sjoman. A student of Sanskrit and Yoga, Norman has written books, articles and catalogues on Yoga and Art.


I have always been interested in artistic expression even as a child.  I grew up in rural Canada where there was no art. There were scarcely any books except comic books and the Simpson’s and Eaton’s catalogues. Subsequently, I was stimulated and educated by the music of the Sixties. Bob Dylan was at the forefront as an icon for many young people like me.


Choosing to study Sanskrit, I began my studies in Sweden. However, I was initially unaware that it was an Indian language. Eventually though, I moved to India to continue my Sanskrit education and it was there that I began restoring traditional Mysore paintings (Traditional Paintings of Karnataka) alongside my studies. Falling in love with India, I remained immersed there in its traditional culture for more than 25 years.


Abstract art and spirituality

Dimensional Shift I liked the format of the Mysore paintings – a story configuration or a figure framed. Each painting was primarily a sacred icon with figuration, decoration and abstraction; similar to that seen in tantric artwork.  According to Maurice Tuchman in his work The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, abstract work has origins in spirituality. We have seen this most commonly through the Theosophical Society, which inspired many abstract artists.

I believe that figurative or representational work is, in essence, abstract. As an artist, I am fitting a multidimensional scenario into a two-dimensional space. Similarly, early Chinese artists brought diverse elements together to give a multidimensional richness to a work of art.


A temporary experience of enlightenment


Rudra BarredI am fascinated by the Indian aesthetic theories all of which deal with revelation.  According to the aesthetic theory of dhvani which is translated as ‘suggestion’ or ‘revelation’, a piece of art should leave you in some form of astonishment. It should allow you to escape the confines of your own mind for a moment – a temporary experience of enlightenment. Art brings this about by stimulating your emotions until they universalize or transcend your mind.  Those emotions are aroused by a whole sense of things – colour, balance, a runaway line – all of which combine to turn the work into something else independent of them which concludes in the experience or revelation, awe or astonishment.


There are theories, however, that art is a representation of the confines of our own mind in the space-time continuum.  To evade that, we are faced with the problem of making something out of nothing – a nothing that is a projection of that same space-time. Feel reassured that serious meditators face the same problem.


Creativity is the vital component

Blue LightHowever we choose to view it, creativity seems to be the vital component producing that aesthetic experience or rapture.  The word creativity itself is loaded in western culture from biblical mythology – but it is etymologically sourced to the Sanskrit root ‘kr’ which means to make or do.


Coming full circle now and returning to North America. There was a rumour that the indigenous people of Canada would find themselves through their art, and that does seem to hold true.


A work of art can last for hundreds of years and is treasured or worshipped beyond the life of its maker. It becomes a record of the soul of its maker and those who become its custodian.


Musician and author Antonio Michael Downing, was born in Trinidad but raised from age 11 in rural Ontario. In his memoir, Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming, he gave us his slant on creativity, describing it as “that desperate act of survival … Nature’s only gift.”


What more needs to be said?



In addition to his works found in private collections around the world, a selection of Norman’s art is for sale here at Abstract Art Canada.


At Abstract Art Canada we sell original paintings by established and new artists. All our artists are global citizens originally from or with a connection to Canada.


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