Hey guys, I originally got the idea for this essay from the Cerva Trova topic over at t11. So I decided to gather up all the opinions over there that I agreed with, and some of my own, and create an essay about it. It's extremely long, and I bet very few will make it through the whole thing. To those who do, thank you! You have no idea how many hours I have spent working on this. It took almost 2 hours to type alone, and I'm a pretty fast typer. Enjoy!
Magic as an Art: What is Wrong With it Today?
“What many older magicians fail to realize is that the young people are truly the future of magic.”
I thought this quote from Chris Kenner, while still being a truly great quote, also fits in with the subject of this essay. First off, I’ve been hearing a lot of magicians lately… younger magicians, mind you, that view magic as a failing art. The question is… why? Is it really dwindling down into a mere past-time? Or is it all in our heads? We’re going to discuss these subjects, some in more depth than others, in this essay, and I predict that it will grow to be quite lengthy… so let’s begin!
Exposure. The one word that sends many new magicians running. The double-edged sword, as it is often referred to as. On the one hand, exposure helps new, or often “poor” magicians get into the art. But, on the other hand, it rips off many creators, and supposedly ruins many magicians’ performances. This may be true in some very rare instances, but I find it hard to believe. Think long and hard… way back to the last time a spectator called you out on an effect, saying, “I saw how to do that on YouTube!” or, “I’m going to go home and look up how to do that online!” Odds are I now have many of you desperately groping for a memory that just isn’t there. To be honest with you, most people have lives other than the internet and figuring out magic tricks (except for a select few… and you know who you are). In other words, the majority of the people don’t even know such things as exposure videos even exist. The few people that do know about them and watch them are, in fact, magicians themselves. We have had our guard up for so long that, like every “organization” there comes a time when a handful of people think they can change things for the better, and take drastic measures to do so. We are, quite literally in fact, destroying ourselves from the inside.
Something else that ties into excessive exposure quite nicely is excessive secrecy. The truth is, we’re too afraid of letting out a few secrets every once in a while to help out the new generation of magicians, that it encourages these new magicians to get out of the art as quickly as possible.
Many older magicians are, like I hinted earlier, guarding an empty safe. Something inside of them doesn’t want them to help new magicians, to teach them a few cool things… to refuse to be mentors. What they fail to realize is that these new magicians whom they are unwilling to help are the future of magic. They are the next David Copperfields, Harry Houdinis, and Lee Ashers! So please, to all you older magicians: help us to be the best we can be! To better ourselves and to better the future of our art!
Magic these days has, although it doesn’t really seem like it, become very mainstream compared to what it used to be like. Nearly every effect you see performed these days can be learned by quite literally anybody with access to the internet… or possibly just a local library. This means not only more exposure, but more magicians. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the majority of those new magicians won’t really care about furthering the art, and won’t care if they don’t practice their effects enough and therefore mess them up. So essentially, by making magic so mainstream and easily accessible, we are brining in more bad magicians and lowering the overall opinion of magic. Remember the good ‘ol days when you had to find a magician that was willing to mentor you and really care to learn the art of magic?
A little comparison that would like to bring up now is the magician vs. the musician. On hand, we have the musician, who practices their music over and over so they can play it for people. When they do play for an audience, the spectators can clearly see how they are doing it. However, as magicians, we strive to do exactly the opposite. We practice, locked up in our rooms for countless hours, so that the audience cannot see how we are doing what we are doing. The audience has no idea how much work we put into our art, and they probably never will. You can’t tell me that that prospect isn’t even a little bit frustrating.
Now take into account the bad artists from each field. When an audience sees a bad magician perform, it forever tarnishes their opinion of magic, and they probably won’t ever want to see a magi perform again. However, if the same exact audience sees a bad musician, although they will probably lose all respect for that particular person (as a musician), their overall opinion of music will not bear a noticeable change. For example:
“You’re sitting at Applebee’s waiting to be served, when all of a sudden an older man in need of a haircut, with dirty fingernails, an old purplish suit, and one of those extremely annoying flashing LED nametags announcing himself as the house magician… Henry. Henry pulls out an old, dirty set of sponge balls, and in the midst of his performance, drops one in your soup. At this point you are truly disgusted, and kindly ask him to leave.”
Now granted, this situation is a little extreme, but perfectly plausible. If this had happened to me while I was a laymen, I probably would lose all respect for magic, and I would not be where I am today. However, if a nicely groomed, well-mannered young man approached my table and performed some very professional-presented magic for me, I would more than likely be impressed with what I saw, and I would be very interested in seeing magic again.
Do you see how one performance can completely ruin the image of magic n the eyes of a spectator? Now, apply the same situation to music. A few friends are walking down the street when they see an aspiring guitarist/singer sitting on a corner. They ask him for a performance, only to find that he completely blows at what he claims he does for a living. The girls pitifully throw a couple of bucks in his tip jar, and quickly walk away.
In the above scenario, do you think that the girls will ever want to listen to music again? Or watch a musician perform again? Of course not, that would be absurd! So why is it just the opposite in magic? Why should one artist be able to have the power to completely ruin magic in the eyes of the public? I don’t really think there is an answer to these questions, but I think one possible solution is that music is more popular… there are more artists in the field of music. Thus, the good out-weigh the bad. However, it is, once again, completely the opposite in magic. There are many more bad artists in our art than good artists… which, although “glorifying” the good, does not end in an overall good view of our art. It shows that the majority of magicians aren’t willing to put enough time into the art they supposedly love to at least perform respectably.
So, now that we’ve established that one bad performance or performer can completely destroy a spectator’s view of magic, let’s delve in why for a little bit. Why that statement is true, why performers don’t care that that statement is true, and many other questions that I hope to answer.
Why can one bad performance ruin a spectator’s view on magic? Although it’s a complex question, I believe it has a simple answer. The truth is, apart from the David Blaine specials and a couple episodes of Criss Angel: Mindfreak, most people will not experience magic in their lifetime. Therefore, they will often remember your performance, which you often cast aside as un-important, for the rest of their lives. Your performance will be what they always base their opinion of magic on. So practice, rehearse (yes, there is a difference)… for the future of magic, make your performances the best they can be!
We’ve all played the devil’s advocate for exposure before, pretending as if it’s helping “poor” magicians and brining new magicians into our art. But is it really? I don’t think it is. Personally, I think that exposure in itself gives magic a horrible image. An image that says we’re too cheap and don’t care about our art enough to respect the creators and pay our dues when dues are due.
And of course, then there is the opinion that exposure is a good thing because it is motivation for creation. I think that this opinion is the dumbest thing I have ever heard regarding exposure. There are many ways to motivate creativity in people, but ruining the material they have already created is definitely not one of them.
Earlier I mentioned the good ol’ days, when to get into magic, you had to seek out somebody already advanced in the art, that was also willing to mentor you. I truly believe that those days were when magic was at its best. Once you found a mentor, he/she would take you under his wing; train you in the art of magic. And you didn’t even think about performing for an actual audience until your mentor told you that you were ready to do so.
These days, what with magic being a much more mainstream and expose art, it is much easier to into. The idea of a mentor is often laughed at and then disregarded. New magicians usually think they have a natural gift for the art… and while a few do… most don’t… and therefore don’t put in the necessary practice for a new sleight or effect. When they finally give up, and people see this, people get the idea that magic is not an art, but a mere past-time… a hobby… a view that is becoming more and more popular these days.
Think about it. When you walk into a sore, and wind up in the toys and games … what else do you see? Magic? I thought so. I’m not saying that magic is quite popular enough to have its own section of Target (although that would be awesome!), but I don’t thin that it should be put in with the toys and games. Maybe the serious hobbies, such as arts and crafts, modeling, etc… but I don’t believe that our art is something to be messed with and played like a game. In fact… maybe magic shouldn’t even be in the store at all. Nobody actually buys magic from Target or Wal-Mart, except for the cute little kids looking for cool tricks to show their little buddies at recess.
Let’s pretend for a second that you’re a layman. You don’t know anything about the art, expect that you want to start wowing people as soon as you possibly can. Your first thought is the internet, so you run to your computer and type “magic tricks” into Google. The first site that pops up is “Ellusionist”. You enter the site and are immediately sucked in by their cool site design and great advertising. You end up spending more money than you care to tell people. However, when the package arrives and you rip it open, you are greatly disappointed when you realize that you could have spent the same amount of money on books rather than one-effect DVDs and Instant Downloads and received enough magic material to last you the rest of your life.
In my honest opinion, sites like Ellusionist are slowly but surely cheapening and ruining our art. At their head is Brad Christian, whose mediocre at best card handling skills make him think he is the god of all magicians… when in reality he is just a business man looking to take the money of dumb teenagers who think that magic will make them “cool” and “popular”. Although magic may do these things for a successful performer, magic was meant to entertain the audience, not to be used for personal gain.
I mentioned in my last hypothetical situation that for the same price as a bunch of “custom playing cards” and one-effect DVDs, you could get a lifetime’s supply in magic in books. I feel that our art is trying to keep with technology and marketing to younger people by releasing DVDs and Instant Downloads. I also feel that, although a good thing in rare circumstances, these technological advances in the teaching of our art are overall bad things for our art.
Of course, we as magicians are always complaining about kids on YouTube exposing our beloved effects, but they are also the exact crowd we market to by releasing DVDs and Instant Downloads. The younger magicians don’t want to practice, and truly care about our art, sot hey buy the DVDs with one effect, advertised as being “simple”, “sleight-less”, and “able to be mastered in seconds.” Naturally, the teenagers are attracted by this alleged “instant popularity”. My opinion is, although I think DVDs can be great learning resources, that magicians should stay away from them, and learn from books. Although I know this won’t happen, because magic companies are mainly and foremost about money; their main customers being teenagers, they are obviously going to try to market mainly to them. If Ellusionist and Theory11 started selling more books than DVDs and Instant Downloads, I’m absolutely they would be closed within one year.
To be honest, I don’t think very many of the online magic stores are very dedicated to the art. What I mean by this is that they are mostly in it for the money… they are businessmen, and do not care about our art. If they truly cared about the future of this great art, they would still advertise to the new magicians, yet, but they should be marketing the products where true magic is… books. While writing this, another great quote comes to mind:
“If you want to hide an effect from a magician, put it in a book.”
If I happened upon an online magic store that sold only books… no DVDs or Instant Downloads, I would have more respect for that company than words could possibly begin to describe. This would tell me that the website is not only marketing to more mature people that are willing to put a lot of time into magic by learning from books, but also that they really, really care about the art, not just money. How would I know this? Books may be where the wealth of information is, but they are certainly not where the wealth is. Very few buy books these days, making them one of the most least-profitable magic resources sold today. So new magicians… buy a lot of books and you’ll be set for life!
It also seems that these days many magicians set the bar too high for themselves and are leaning towards quantity over quality, instead of vice versa… the way it should be. However, I have noticed that this trend is starting to change as magic creators begin to put out higher quality magic, and do so less often. Although more released material means a wider selection for new magicians to choose form, it also means that there is more bad material out there floating around with the good. So you tell me… is more material a good thing?
Now let’s say on an off chance that you have taken mine, and many working professionals’ advice, and spend your hard-earned money on some good, high quality books. Of course, as soon as you got them, you quickly scanned through the pages, found a few tricks that you liked, practiced for 15 minutes, and hit the streets! Of course, you bomb all four performances you attempt. Naturally, you wonder what could have possibly gone wrong. I can tell you, and I wasn’t even there. You didn’t practice nearly as much as you should have! Anybody besides me think it’s time for more quotes?
“An amateur practices until he can get it right… a profession practices until he can’t get it wrong.”
“Nothing I do can’t be done with a 10 year-old…with 15 years of practice.”
-Harry Blackstone, Jr.
I feel practice, obviously apart from the actual performance, is the single most important aspect of our art. Without our practice… we are nothing. Although we may seem like miracle workers to our audiences, each sleight, each effect, requires more practice than they could ever know. And the sad truth is, most magicians neglect practice more than they would like to admit. And they are disappointed when their performances bomb. Please guys, if you truly want to be the great magician we all know you are striving be… you must practice!
I know that there have been a lot of hypothetical situation in this essay, but I feel they help me get my point across, and do it rather well. So let’s continue on with this one. Once again, we’re assuming that you have listened to my advice, bought books, and practiced effects out of those book until your hands bled… then practiced some more. You’re ready… or at least you think we are. You are forgetting one thing; your audience. If you think back to close to the beginning of this essay (I know that’s a long ways back!) you will remember that I talked about how spectators don’t usually see magic, therefore your performance may be the last time in their lives that they get to witness magic, so make them the best they can be. Yes, this paragraph does tie into my essay, although very distantly. In order to make your performances good, try to remember this: respect and connect with your audience.
Respecting your audience is something I consider to be common sense, and I feel that I may even be insulting your intelligence by telling you this. But, being a magician and constantly representing our art, you should respect anyone you meet… spectator or not… heck, even if you’re not a magician. This means mind your manners, act intelligent, and don’t insult them… all the stuff you should be doing anyway. Once again… common sense, people!
Connecting with your audience is a bit harder, and not something I consider to be common sense, or common knowledge for most people. It is something that is done on an emotional level, and although it may seem difficult on the surface, it is really quite simple in practice. Connecting with your audience is something that I really can’t define very well, except for “making your audience like you; bonding with them.” There are many ways of doing this, and you’ll have to experiment a little bit with it, but I can give you some ideas. First, to be an entertaining and fun magician, you have to be a person that’s fun to be around. A fun person is going to be easier to like than a boring, quiet person (no offense to all you boring, quiet magicians out there!). Second, throw some jokes in there, be funny and entertaining, and really bond with your audience… making your performance a fun and easy experiment to remember. Is this sounding a bit redundant to you, too?
If you do these two things, and follow all the other rules of performing laid down by previous masters of the art, your audience will be left with a memorable experience that is fun to recall, and an overall respect for our art.
I know that we just got done discussing respect, but it’s time to go there again. I feel that a major problem with magic is that laymen do not respect it as an art. Many people discard it as fake, dumb, or a past-time or hobby. But, if they have seen even one bad magic performance, who can blame them?
Another thing that I don’t get is magicians being labeled as “losers” or “social outcasts” solely because they are magicians. I think one way we can help prevent this is to get to know people as ourselves, before performing magic for them. Magic used to be the first thing I did when I met someone new, and now I’m sure this was such a good thing. So, when I joined the Cross Country team earlier this ear, I decided to meet the other members as a person first, rather than as a magician, and they liked me. About two months into practices, I finally decided to whip out the cards. The first effect I performed was the Invisible Deck… and it absolutely killed. So a piece of advice to you teenagers out there… if you want to increase your reactions, meet new people first as a person, then as a magician.
Now that we have criticized our spectator for not respecting magic as an art, maybe it’s time to turn the Mirror of Respect inwards… towards ourselves. We’re always blaming other people… even other magicians, but what are we ourselves doing about the lack of respect of magic?
We’ve talked about exposure, practicing, what to learn your material from, performing, and countless other subjects, but we haven’t talked about the artists, the magicians, being possible culprits for the lack of respect of magic. Is it as much our faults as laymen’s?
The definition of an artist is somebody who creates, evolves, and betters themselves. For the most part, I think most of us are doing two of these things: evolving and bettering ourselves. And if you ask me, we’re doing a great job of it. However, there’s one thing that a lot of us don’t do… create. I for one hardly ever create effects… it’s just not what I’m good at; no natural talent for it at all. I am in now way trying to make excuses for myself… it’s just one of those things that I’m not good at.
Originality is another thing that I think should define an artist. As we start off, I think it’s great to buy material to use, as long as we have original performances of that material. However, as we grow in our art, I think we should expect more from our peers; we should expect at least a little original material from each other, with increasingly better performances as we continue performing. However, a growing trend these days is to perform non-original material with an even less-original performance. Think this is helping our art be respected more? Nope.
Earlier in my essay I made a comparison between a musician and a magician; art vs. art. Well, believe it or not, we’re going to hit briefly on other arts vs. magic again. Many other arts, including film and music, are greatly celebrated as performance arts. They have huge, televised award ceremonies for great performers of their art, where the winners receive trophies, honor, and get to tell the whole world, in a speech, how important their art is. In know it won’t happen, but don’t you guys think that it would be awesome if we magicians had our own award ceremonies? I certainly do…
And the last thing I want to talk about is something I find ridiculous, but I’ll talk about it briefly nonetheless. Some people believe that there is nothing wrong with our art. That it’s all in our head… that we’re trying to give the appearance of a struggling artist trying to make his way in the world. But I think I have disproved all these ridiculous ideas with the thing I’ve mentioned in this essay. Sorry for those guys that are of those opinions!
Well, this essay is drawing to a close (I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, “finally!”) and to be honest, I’m thankful. I’ve spent countless hours on this piece of literature, used a lot of paper and ink, and many Tylenols to ease the headaches it has given me. I have seriously put all my free time over the past few weeks over the past few weeks, and I hope you appreciate the work that went into it… it was definitely worth it. Congratulations if you made it through the whole thing, and thank you!
Last edited by adjones on Tue Nov 20, 2007 10:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.