Shadows Bright as Glass: Art and the Brain
We invite you to come out for a conversation about the relationship between the brain and creativity, between art and the formation of a sense of who we are as human beings. This is Jon Sarkin’s riveting personal story; it is also more generally a story about science and art as researched and told by the acclaimed journalist Amy Nutt. It is too strange and remarkable to summarize in very short form. Please read on:
Jon Sarkin was playing golf when, without warning, his life changed forever. As he bent down, something massive happened inside his head; part of his brain seemed to unhinge, to split apart and float away. Inexplicably, a tiny blood vessel deep inside the folds of his gray matter suddenly shifted ever so slightly, rubbing up against his acoustic nerve. Any noise now caused him excruciating pain.
After months of seeking treatment to no avail, Sarkin resorted to radical brain surgery, and suffered a major stroke during recovery. He awoke a different man. Before the stroke, he was a calm chiropractor, a happily married husband and father of a newborn son. Now he was transformed into a volatile and wildly exuberant obsessive, seized by a manic desire to create art and devoting virtually all his waking hours to drawing, painting, and writing poems. He had become detached from his wife and child and unable to return to his normal working life. His sense of self had been shattered, his intellect drastically altered. His art became a quest for the right expressions to unlock the secrets of how to live this strange new life. All the while, he remembered his former self.
In a beautifully crafted narrative, Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Ellis Nutt interweaves Sarkin’s story with a tour of the history and latest findings of neuroscience and evolution, which illuminate how the brain produces the richness of human experience and thereby makes us who we are. Nutt brings to life pivotal moments of discovery in neuroscience, from the rebirth of a young girl hanged in 1650 to the first autopsy of an autistic savant’s brain, and the extraordinary stories of people whose personalities and cognitive abilities were dramatically altered by brain trauma.
Probing recent revelations about the workings of creativity in the brain and the role of art in human intelligence, Nutt reveals how Sarkin’s need to create mirrors the earliest function of art in the brain.
For Jon Sarkin, making art became a means of reassembling from the shard of his former self a new man who could rejoin his family and fashion a viable life. He is now an acclaimed artist who exhibits at some of the country’s most prestigious venues. Amy Ellis Nutt has been a writer at the Newark Star-Ledger for thirteen years. She has won numerous national awards for her writing and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for her series about Jon Sarkin. She is a Pulitzer Prize winner this year r for her piece, “The Wreck of Lady Mary.”
The event at Labyrinth is co-sponsored by and organized in conjunction with ArtJam, a fundraiser to benefit HomeFront. ArtJam is an art exhibit and sale featuring national and local artists — including Jon Sarkin’s work! — alongside HomeFront’s ArtSpace participants. It will open May 26 from 6-9PM and run through June 12 in Princeton’s Palmer Square at 19 Hulfish Street. ArtSpace, a therapeutic art program, is one of HomeFront’s many programs bringing education, employment, and permanent housing to homeless families. For more information contact Ruthann Traylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.