Interview with Robert Markison
Full Text
March 12, 1997

r is robert markison, the loquatious doctor.

j is me, justin, sufferer of hand woe and faithful student to many.

a is amy, my intrepid girlfriend and occasionally photographer.

becky typed this up for me, for money.


j - right, now when you, i mean, this is like, that's quite a stream. have you read to inform yourself on that or is that...?

r - oh, i'm constantly reading. if you don't read a book or two a day or at least a book every other day, you're in trouble. you know that. you want to be reading all the time, i've read up anthropology, sociology, history, politics...

j - what did you major in in college?

r - well, i majored initially, started with english and then went to anthropology and then went to architecture and then went to biology and then finished up, and you know...

j - in four years?

r - right. and then, well, finished in three and half. i cut a half year off so i could go to europe and look at art. and then cut a year off med school, doing med school in three years instead of four without vacations so that i could have a year to think after that. and then went through six years of surgery residency then hand surgery training.

j - oh, so you, when did you know you wanted to do hand stuff?

r - well, as soon as it became obvious that the most broadly represented body part on the brain surface is the hand. i realized that the psycho-physcial aspect of being and broadly mapped and linked hand to brain was really where we are and why we are. cause we are human, manus hand, manual. and so basically wanted to be clear that i could work effectively on a mechanism that is broadly mapped on the brain because i'm interested and aware of the psychological feelings aspect of the patient's being and health and illness. and i'm comfortable working on mechanism because i practice high craft in so many areas from metal smithing to coppering to...

j - you didn't, you didn't pick that stuff up till after you were already in hand focus

r - well, i, no, i've been doing this for a lifetime - art and craft- equally, art, music, and craft for a lifetime.

j - it's just reflected on your resume in terms of your apprenticeships to these masters or what have you


r - right, right. i did it as a child, my mother was a goldsmith and a seamstress in addition to teaching elementary school.

j - where did you grow up?

r - in washington d.c. and in maryland. and so my mother was very patient, absolutely so, and trusted her art and her capacity to give it to us and she's talked about the fundamental beauty and wonder of using raw materials intelligently and never getting into overconsumption of things.

j - it almost sounds like quakerism or something, i mean, is there a...?

r - it's human origins, there weren't any malls for the cave man

art + science = ...

a - how does the knowledge of art and science inform each other?

r - well, you see, art is really understanding. art is toning your eyesight and understanding space, ok? - teaching your eyes to see and understanding space.

a - ok

r - science is really understanding a rational overlay on time and space - trying to explain, at least quantify, at least reproduce what you've seen, heard, and felt. so that's where the science comes in, so that you can archive the experience of the eyes and ears and other senses. and music has been important because the exploration of music has really been a pure study of time. teaching the ears to listen and studying time through music. teaching the eyes to see and studying space through art. so once you understand the time - space continiuum across music and art then you can understand the human frame of disease: dis-ease, which is a person ill at ease, meaning stress, meaning not fitting into self or world or having disarray internally - which is decay of space over time. all dis-ease is decay of space over time. so once you understand space as best you can, which is two and three dimensional art, and understand time as best you can, which in its pure abstract form is music, then you can very easily have the time/spacial framework to understand a fellow human who's troubled and teach that person, since doctor means teacher in medieval french, medieval latin, and middle english, teacher, teach a person to understand their trouble and hopefully to get out of it. And so that, my job really is to use the very positive frames of musical time and artistic space to get a patient to, at the very best, coexist with trouble, but more likely get out of trouble. I can balance the negative decay time frame and spacial disarray of medicine with my positive musical time and artistic space anytime and if i...

j - personally?

r - yes, but also for the patient cause i'm treating somewhat international population of very creative people right now and these are people at the pinnacles of whatever it is, whether they're symphony conductors, musicians, tailors, jewelers,...

j - all have hand problems

r - all with overuse from too much too often or too many and then they have these problems or acute injury. and the reason i was at sf general for nine years as you see from the resume, i was trained in thorasic abdominal pediatric vascular endocrine hand and micro and so i did it all. so if a kid's hit by a drunk driver and needs his liver put back together, spleen repaired, intenstines fixed, bones wired, i did that and it was really tight time frames in trauma care which was life death and disability --in your face, seven days a week, nine years - after training. and that was wonderful because i could really see the whole aspect of being from the least little baby with a congenial pediatric blockage of the stomach to an old man hit by a bus and dead, not retrievable. so seeing that, in spades, gave me terrific hope that people, if they're awake and alert do well and if they're not, they don't. and since most people sleepwalk through part of life and or into illness, it's a matter of gently awakening people to the enormous creative potential that we have each day.

j - so, is craft your meditation or is there some kind of extra meditation you do, i mean you talk about awakeness, that's exactly what people who meditate talk about, right?

r - that's right and it's a part of it, really a fraction of meditation which is really to have a creative fire that's burning brightly all the time.

j - see that's what i got off on the computer is that i felt like, with the device, with the keyboard, that the computer of today, and if i could afford it, the computer that i would have would allow me to make music and to make pictures, and to...without having to buy art supplies, i would have this one tool that would allow me to forge all these things in dialogue with thousands of people out in the world and the history of arts could be part of my images and this kind of giddy...

r - right

j - you know, and that's why, but, i don't know, so what

r - so you need real world linkages for that kind of function and you have to retreat from the digital quisinart and go back into the fundamental, hands-on, how its done, step by step, of putting together your life, from the ground up. that's why the metaphor of shoemaking is so important to me because i'm building my ease with comfort from the ground up, cause that's why my interface, the shoe, between me and the ground

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