Wednesday 21 September 2011
"Norfolk" by Susie Mallett, 9th September 2011
This time about art, stroke and social history, and about living
I gave myself a task, four books to read in four weeks. It was a huge task that somehow I knew I would not complete but at last after three weeks and lots of other tasks completed and not completed I have finished the first one:
Shadows Bright as Glass, The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph, by Amy Ellis Nutt.
On the cover you can read that Jon Sarkin, after suffering a massive brain injury, became an acclaimed artist with an entirely new outlook on life, but not before embarking on a very long journey in search of his self, to find a new way into his life.
Very often as I am reading, or watching or listening to things, I think “AP (András Petö) would have approved of this”. Of course that is not something that I know for sure but it is my way of realising that what I am absorbing at that moment has for me a strong link to conductive upbringing and relates to what I have read by AP himself.
As I began this book I knew immediately that I would learn a lot from it and that I would want to recommend it on my blog, but even so I did not write as many notes as I was reading as perhaps I should have done. I have written most of this from memory and readers of my blog will need to read the book to fill in the gaps.
It is worth doing I can assure you.
I ordered this book when I was in the UK in June when I saw it advertised in one of my favourite magazines, New Scientist. The book did not arrive before I departed from the green and pleasant land so I have been waiting in anticipation for my autumn holiday and a jolly good read!
I have certainly not been disappointed, in fact it is even better than I expected. The story is not only that of Jon Sarkin, the chiropractor-come artist, and the injuries that occurred in his brain during a stroke, and the consequent changes to his life, his body and his soul, but it is also a history book, a neurology book, a social-history book and much more.
One of the first things that I thought about as I read the first few chapters was to question something yet again that I often see written about AP. Many people state that he and his ideas were ahead of his time. But was he? I have also thought that he was with the times and reading this book reinforces this for me.
Still an enigma
AP was a doctor, interested in the personality, and the body and soul. He was interested in disability, and ability and healing processes. There were many doctors and neurologists practising before and after his time who were delving into the mysteries of the brain, the relationships between the physical body and the soul and where the personality fits in. Some of them are mentioned by Amy Ellis Nutt in this book.
She talks about the “attempts by neuroscientists to piece together the magical parts of consciousness”, and about the search for the how and even the why we have a sense of self that arises from the complex perceptions experienced through the brain and its myriad of functions. She concludes, like all the neurologists did who I heard talking at BrainWeek in Germany at the beginning of this year, that it is all still an enigma.
So as I read I confirmed to myself that AP was with his time just as all the others were with theirs. Some ideas were laughed at and the doctors and scientist ostracised, other ideas gave rise to claims that only later were proved to be ridiculous. Some ideas are still held after many decades, mainly because the neuroscientists conclude it is still mostly all an enigma and nothing has been proved to the contrary.
Back to the book
As I read I was at times enthralled and at others disappointed. What I thought was going to be a book about art, the artist and recovery from stroke, became at the same time a lesson on neurology and a history of the exploration of the function of the brain, with many interesting case studies, from the Roman Galen, from Vesalius, Descartes, Willis, Broca, Sherrington, (one of Dr Mária Hári’s favourites), and many more. There are even mentions of methods that AP refer to in his own books, such as leaching, mentioned in Amy Ellis Nutt’s book as a method to reduce blood pressure at the temples.
The more I read the less disappointed I became and the more enthralled.
I must admit what I missed at first, actual photographs of Jon Sarkin’s works of art, became less and less important as the graphic descriptions of them became better and better. In fact I had visualized them so well that when, one day this week I received a newspaper article from the Daily Telegraph newspaper from a friend where his work was illustrated, I was not surprised. It was just as I imagined it to be. Perhaps this is because it reminds me of the art that I have produced on the notice board in each of my flats since I left home. Layers of the day-to-day life pinned on top of each other. Postcards, lists, badges, postage stamps, cartoons, comments and drawings from me or my friends, have all appeared there.
Photographed always before the next move but never sealed with varnish and kept, these “works of art” have disappeared. My most recent notice board is a huge canvas, it was hung on the wall when I moved in as a blank screen as there was nowhere else to store it. Slowly this big, blank whiteness has become covered with aspects of my city life, and reading this book has inspired me to preserve it as a “work of art” the next time I move!
I recommend this book not only to budding artists for its artistic inspiration but to anyone who works with clients who have neurological damage and symptoms as described in this book. The many insights that reading this can give into the struggles, the conflicts, the life-changing experiences to our client’s lives and personalities could be invaluable.
Reading this story about Jon Sarkin, together with the research of Amy Ellis Nutt that assists in the development of this interesting account, has reassured me that I am on the right track in my work with my clients. To increase my understanding I talk to them about if and how there have been changes to their personalities. We discuss their search for their new self and my role in that self. And we realize that carers, partners and other family members are also searching for someone they recognize form earlier or to get to know the new personality.
It is important for us all to be reassured, to believe we are on the right track and to be encouraged in our development. Whether this encouragement comes from our colleagues, from our mentors, from our clients or from books like this one, it does not matter. What matters is that we are encouraged to carry on with confidence in what we are doing.
I have learnt so much that can only improve my practice, especially, but not only, in my stroke groups. I have always talked to my clients about those hidden symptoms, the details of life that have changed but that no one can visually see. Reading about Jon Sarkin and the snippets of neurological history, not only revealed to me many more of these hidden symptoms, it also describes in minute detail how, dislodged from himself, Jon Sarkin had to find a way back in. This is so fascinating to read from the point of view of the stroke victim himself and from his family and friends.
Finding the artist in me
At the beginning of this article I quoted from the cover of the book:
The author Amy Ellis Nutt “delves into the emotional and physical implications of such a shift, examining the relationship between brain and the soul…. A mind-bending and inspiring book.”
This was the carrot that I read that enticed me to buy this book and it has certainly inspired me, not only for my work as a conductor but perhaps even more so as an artist. It has inspired me to let my creativity flow, no-longer to tell myself that I paint too much or write too much and that instead I should be out meeting people, riding my bike or doing the housework. I will paint to my heart’s content from now on!
Of course I will continue to ride my bike to keep the old body and soul in balance, and I am sure AP would have approved of this!
Shadows Bright as Glass, The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph by Amy Ellis Nutt
ISBN 5781 4391 4310-0, Free Press, Simon and Schuster, Inc.
Daily Telegraph – Monday, August 1, 2011, Curious case of an accidental artist by Robbie Collins
Susie Mallett on BrainWeek –