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Personal Narrative

My path to becoming an acupuncturist has been circuitous – maybe more like a bloodhound on the scent of something, or perhaps something seeking me out, rather than a clear, illuminated, straightforward path. After attending The Philadelphia College of Art (1974 BFA) and The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University (1976 MFA). I became a successful ceramic artist and teacher, exhibiting and lecturing internationally, and from 1986 to 1992 I was the head of the ceramics department  at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. At that point I assumed that I would spend the rest of my career and life working with clay.

While at Cranbrook change began to assert itself. The ceramic sculpture I was making at the time was quite large and my method of working involved control and deliberateness. For instance, I went through elaborate strategies to prevent the clay from cracking by slow drying it under plastic for three to four months. Much of my time in the studio became about subduing and controlling many of the innate qualities of the material. But anyone who has worked with clay knows that it has a mind of its own. Cracks happen, things fall apart, preconceptions go unmet. What I had habitually thought of as defects were becoming quite insistent – to the point where they finally got my attention. Listening to them, I started to ask, could I enlist these forces and collaborate with them? I went back into the studio and proceeded in a manner opposite to my established practice…. I made a form and
left it uncovered by the open window to dry, allowing the forces of rapid shrinkage to produce geologic cracks… I fired the work in such a way so that the evidence of flame and heat played an active role in the life of the piece. Literal forces of nature - heat, expansion, contraction, oxidation, and reduction - were all asserting 

themselves and creating a literal rupture in the work. Little did I know that these changes in my studio practice were “coming attractions” for the rupture that was to come in my life.

About a year later a surprising malaise overtook me in a way that I had never experienced. I felt totally “out of gas.” I managed to maintain my teaching obligations, but psychically I felt as though my present was dying within me and that my future was totally unknown. During the months that I felt stuck in this place, I discovered a word for what I was feeling: “liminality.” It comes from the image of a doorway or threshold, and describes a kind of “in-betweenness.” There I was, metaphorically standing between two rooms, but not in either, not in the room of the past, so to speak, where I came from, and not yet in the room of the future, where I had not yet taken a step. I knew that something had to change but could not see what that meant or what form it would take.

During this time I developed a chronic eye inflammation commonly known as “blepheritis.” Being forced to think about my eyes was certainly fertile ground for a metaphor about seeing and perceiving the need for change. At the same time, a long standing, chronic problem with ulcerative colitis resurfaced. Many years later in my acupuncture work, I came across an essay titled, “Self Discovery and Self Healing,” by John Upledger, the founder of cranial-sacral therapy, that spoke directly to the importance of listening to symptoms and what they have to say:
     "A friend and general surgeon with more than thirty years experience once       confided in me that, in retrospect, he felt the majority of surgical procedures he had performed might be classified as excisions of the “vocal apparatuses” of the inner selves of his patients. He meant that by removing certain organs or tissues, he was eliminating the bodily voices that were attempting to communicate the presence of deeper emotional and spiritual problems in need of attention." (1)

I stood in the doorway for many months, unable to move forward. One day something surprising came out of my mouth: “I want to be a doctor.” It felt like a first step, but the disruptive implications of such a statement were enormous. It felt impossible to become a doctor at age 40. What about my family? Cranbrook? My students? Money? My upcoming exhibitions? My resumé?” But once the words were spoken it felt like there was no going back. The choice before me was becoming clear. Tread water in the same place and let life become a kind of wax museum version of itself, or pay attention to the voice that was making itself known, and take it seriously.

I think the impulse that was making itself known was an impulse to help people in a way I did not feel my ceramic work was capable of doing. I actually had no interest in being a doctor in the western-medical sense, and as fate would have it, as I was researching treatment for my own health problems, some good friends directed me to a master acupuncturist, Professor J.R. Worsley, from England. I arranged to get treated by J.R. who had recently started an acupuncture school in the U.S. The results were profound. My long standing ulcerative colitis, which was quite serious by the time I received treatment from Professor Worsley, was gone and has never returned. I arranged to observe others being treated and talked to other acupuncturists and began to feel that I had found what I was looking for. Acupuncture was calling me to step through the door and to create a new life.

Graham Marks, Five Element Acupuncture, New York CityAs I write this I have now been practicing acupuncture for nearly 20 years. I am aware of the danger of writing such a narrative: events can be made to sound tidy and logical. They weren’t, and it is only through hindsight that I can start to find connections between some aspects of my life that at the time felt quite disparate, and at times frightening. The more I learned about acupuncture many things started to fall into place. The natural forces that are so much a part of ceramics and that had come to the foreground of my studio work in such an insistent and active way, are the foundation of acupuncture, a system of healing that is based on the universal patterns of nature. What I have learned as a practitioner of this ancient art is that acupuncture involves a collaboration with these forces, not unlike the one in the studio. In looking back I can also say that the process of being an artist is not that different from the process one experiences as an acupuncture patient or as a practitioner of acupuncture. There are clearly forces at work that are larger than us. We have the choice to ignore them or listen to them. The best moments in the studio were when something would manifest that led me to ask, where did that come from? It was not foreseen and beyond calculation. These are also the profound moments in the treatment room. Something manifests that is clearly beyond the individual. Energy moves, balance is restored, and the patient may ask, “where did that come from?”

In 1992 I made the leap and left my teaching position and started my formal three year course of study of Five-Element Acupuncture with Professor Worsley. At the time it felt like a radical and abrupt shift. But it was one that I couldn’t ignore and had to trust. In retrospect I can say that the shift really wasn’t radical at all, but rather a direct evolution. My work needed to change; I just never imagined that the change meant that my studio and the objects I made would totally discorporate and re-appear transformed, as corporeal beings called patients.

In a poem entitled “ Prospective Immigrants Please Note” Adrianne Rich speaks to the first step through the door.

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

But much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door. (2)


1.John Upledger, “Self Discovery and Self Healing,” In Healers On Healing, Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield, eds. (New York: St. Martins, 1989 p.68)
2.Adrienne Rich, “Prospective Immigrants Please Note,” In Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967)

The choice before me was becoming clear. Tread water in the same place and let life become a kind of wax museum version of itself, or pay attention to the voice that was making itself known, and take it seriously.

Interview with Graham Marks on his transition from Ceramic Artist to Acupuncturist







                Graham Marks, M.Ac, L.Ac
                928 Broadway Suite 801
                New York, New York 10010