Artist and poet Jon Sarkin ’71 visited with art and creative writing classes during the week of April 14-18, 2008, and shared ideas with students to unlock their creativity. Sarkin knows something about releasing one’s creativity. After a life-changing stroke, he has pursued art obsessively, gaining insights into the creative process along the way.
Before his stroke, Jon Sarkin was a successful chiropractor. In his free time, he satisfied his life-long artistic impulse with doodles and handmade invitations. But at the age of 35, he suddenly developed tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, and needed surgery. During recovery from his surgery, Sarkin suffered a stroke, and, to save his life, doctors had to remove the left half of his cerebellum, which governs balance and coordination.
The trauma changed his life. Lost was his physical balance and gained was a stronger artistic drive. Soon, he left his chiropractic practice and discovered success as an artist, making a first sale to The New Yorker. Since then, his work has been shown in various galleries. Sarkin also writes poetry; examples of his written work can be found at his Web site, www.jsarkin.com [updated 5/09].
While visiting with students in Art Fundamentals, Sarkin talked about his artwork, which draws from both art history and contemporary inspirations such as the comic artwork by Robert Crumb. Pingry fine arts teacher and Department Chair Miles Boyd, who sat in with the class, said that the kids enjoyed Sarkin’s free-flowing presentation. “Kids respond to the genuine, unedited, uninhibited flow of energy he brings to the school,” he said.
Earlier, Sarkin shared several techniques with creative writing students for sparking their creativity. For example, he suggested students type a few pages of The Great Gatsby, feeling the rhythm of the prose before transitioning to their own writing. Sarkin likened this to musicians running through their scales prior to playing. He also finds it useful to memorize passages from great literature. “It becomes part of your DNA,” he said, and it is a source of inspiration.
Mr. Boyd said that this is the fourth year Sarkin has visited Pingry—and each year proves to be different. He describes Sarkin as “a walking encyclopedia of literature and art” and admires that Sarkin “comes here to give.” In addition to giving his time, Sarkin spends the week creating artwork that he donates to Pingry.
Mr. Boyd also said that in talking with Sarkin he has learned that Sarkin is fundamentally the same driven, creative person he was as a student—the same person making connections between art, language, and sound. “He was always like this,” Boyd said. “[His stroke] just allowed him to go completely with it.”