Examine the spirals above. Pretty, aren't they? But they aren’t spinning; I promise.
Because I believe that optical illusions are intimately linked with magic – both of which are rooted in illusion itself – I also believe that contemplating optical illusions can teach us something about the nature of magic itself.
One of the classic effects in magic is the optical illusion ring; one of the classic books in optical illusion is the Magic Eye series. Optical illusions are illusions for our eyes. Magic, on the other hand, expands that domain to create illusions for our full spectrum of sense-perception. How is magic capable of expanding the possibilities of illusion in this way?
Because there is a single element at work that is not present in optical illusions like the one you see above: magic relies on the human performance.
I’ll suggest that there is not, nor has there ever been, a trick in existence without a performer behind it. You alone raise the bar from mere optical illusions to illusions in the art of magic. What about the gimmicks in your drawer and the books on your shelves? Hand them to your nearest spectator and they will personally attest to the fact that there is no magic without a magician.
I’ll further suggest that the degree to which you are able to deliver a high quality performance determines how high that bar is raised. I believe there is no known limit, and I’m personally encouraged by this idea to create an increasingly authentic experience of magic for each spectator I come across.
Although optical illusions are a highly streamlined form of the illusions we perform, we can learn from their simplicity a thing or two about the nature of magic itself.
Because it is a well designed illusion, no amount of rationalization will stop your eyes from seeing those snakes spinning . Likewise, if we deliver high-caliber effects to the best of our ability to perform, no amount of rationalization after the effect has subsided will keep your spectators from feeling that sense of magic.
The more you look at the snakes, the more they spin. And the more spectators recall your performance, the more they react. If you can design your performance as efficiently as this optical illusion, you will convince and astound every spectator you come across.
The key lies in your ability to perform. So study and practice performance! Get into books like Beyond Secrets and Strong Magic rather than ones that just endlessly match up different sleights into tricks. Ideally, find a book that has both. Get onto the streets and away from the mirror for a change. Trust that you've practiced mechanics enough not to embarass youself, and then start practice-performing in front of spectators (who will give you more authentic feedback anyway).
Don’t fall into the limitation of only mastering mechanics, or your reactions will be equally superficial. Move beyond the optical illusions of your repertoire and refine your presentation to reach deeply into the sense-perception of your spectators.
Merry Christmas Eve!
-- Dan Skahen