At any given time, Sarkin may have 50 different works in progress. "My latest project is this: I'm working on this poster with all these colors. I use words a lot in my art. This one says, 'Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,' That's Kierkegaard. I was at a friend of mine's house and saw that on the wall, and I thought, 'Is that cool?' I also like flipping things around to see how they would sound. Lately I've been thinking about, 'Dizziness is the anxiety of freedom.' You like that? How about, 'Freedom is the dizziness of anxiety'?" In Sarkin's studio, the famous quote from Love Story gets a slightly cynical twist: "I made this thing that says, 'Being sorry means never having to say you're in love,'" he says, delighted. Even Shakespeare gets rewritten: "To be or to be. That is the no-brainer." Lesser-known bards and
Dr. Martha Farah, a Penn psychology professor who specializes in cognitive neuroscience, says it is possible that Sarkin's artistic abilities could have been enhanced by his stroke. Although she's not familiar with his specific circumstances, she says, Sarkin's comments about losing his internal censor and interpreting things people say in a very concrete way "are very common occurrences after frontal lobe damage." But what she finds most intriguing is a description of the recurring motifs in Sarkins's art. To her they sound like an unusual example of perseveration. Perseveration has been observed in patients with frontal lobe damage performing simple motor tasks, Farah says. "Like if they're pushing some buttons on a machine and then they need to turn a dial, these patients will often continue pushing ... They kind of can't stop themselves from carrying on with what they started. We also see it in more abstract situations like conversations. Whatever topic the conversation begins with, they'll tend to keep coming back to it and won't let it drop. Perseveration cuts across all different realms of behavior, but I've never heard of anyone who was an artist experiencing perseveration of a subject or theme for their art...In general, most of the effects of frontal lobe damage really are disabling for people in their work life and in their social relationships," Farah says. "It sounds like this man either has truly found this perseveration is helping him as an artist or is doing a good job of trying to look at things in a positive light and find some artistic benefit in what must be a difficult change in life."
Sarkin saw the movie Shine recently and felt in some ways he was watching his own story, "the story of a guy who has artistic yearnings, however, he undergoes some transformative event [that] changes everything about the way he relates to his art. It's very intriguing to me how you bring something to the table, and then the table is altered dramatically, and then the thing you bring to the table is altered dramatically, as well." The aftermath of his stroke would be unbearable, and his art would be impossible, he says, were it not for family support, especially from his wife, who has stuck by him through every exasperating incident, who "handles our finances and all the driving and all the stuff it takes to deal with a family." Sarkin says, "Because my feet are grounded in the earth by my wife, I'm allowed to have my head in the clouds."
Despite his artistic success since his trauma, Sarkin says, "I would give anything in the world not to have had a head stroke. But I did. And as my Mom says, 'When your life gives you a lemon, you make lemonade.' You have to use that. Promise?'"
Sarkin's e-mail address is bltflsh@ cove.com. He also has a Web site where several of his works are on display.
Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette | Last modified Mon, Jun 9, 1997