Posts tagged philosophy
Magic and Search for Meaning

I’ll be honest, folks. I’ve been staying pretty occupied setting up for Spectokular amongst all the weekly/daily magic shenanigans that by the time Thursday rolled around, I was unprepared with a blog post… However, J.R. of years gone by had no shortage of meta-magic-blog-posts, so today I present you with a meditation (and challenge) on Magic, written from a Magic Convention, years ago. It’s left with a big blank at the end, all up for you to decide how to resolve it.

— J.R.

August 2014



As I sat in the audience at a magic convention, I heard the lecturer state that magic should come second, and the entertainment is always first. I looked at my tag, and it did indeed say I was at a magic convention, not an entertainment convention.

I've become so internally conflicted lately, in regards to magic. What should it be? What do people expect? Do I care what people expect? Is the best always going to follow what preceded in a nice line of one thing leading to another? What is "success"?

Is magic supposed to be a display of sleight of hand? Is it supposed to be heavy handed? Light hearted? Is it supposed to leave with something more than just a good time? What is the most important part of magic, the show or the show after the show? Is a successful performer one who is decorated amongst their peers, or their audience, or their critics, or their pocketbooks? What is success in magic? How is success determined in entertainment in general? Where does magic fall in the scope of entertainment?

Here's a new act for you then. Here's an act that pleases everyone. It is entertaining for those who think of magic lightly. It is easy to understand for those who prefer simplicity. It is complex enough to wow the knucklebusters in the audience. And it leaves you with that magical moment, something special and different…

Beauty in Magic & Theatre

Dear Reader —

We’re back after ALTÆR, a public thank you for joining us on that journey… With reflection on performances in general, I give to you this meditation on beauty within art…

We like to view beautiful things.

Because beauty so rarely exists.

Everyday life is ugly, there are struggles we all face. When we watch theatre, when we watch magic, we want to partake in a hyper-curated beautiful reality, we want to see a world in which we do not live. This is why the archetype of the magician has persisted throughout the ages. They are the harbinger of the fantastic. While there may be elements within our falsely constructed fantasy that connect us to daily life, we in no way want to see something that is everyday life.

There may be “ugly” art, but there is no doubt some way in which this art is has the qualities of beauty. Perhaps these ugly beauties exemplify something within us that is painful, visceral and vile, something heartbreaking or moving, however make no mistake that these too are beautiful moments, even though they may superficially harbor pain for us.

Therefore, only put things before an audience in which you have defined the beauty you will share. What are you showing them that gives them a new perspective, what are you giving them that shares some of the beauty from your life? For it is only when we do this, that, in return, you will receive the greatest response of all from them: you will receive their beauty back to you.

-- J.R.

In Defense of the 21 Card Trick

     As a disclaimer, I should note that not only did I never learn the 21 Card Trick, I can’t actually even remember ever seeing it performed.

     A couple of weeks ago I was jamming with a few magician friends (almost all card and coin guys), and one of them had brought a friend who had just started practising magic. As I chatted with him I asked him what he was working on and he told me about some moves. I asked what kind of magic he wanted to perform and he said he wasn’t sure. I asked him if he had any effects he was working on that he wanted to show me, and he said he didn’t actually know any tricks, just the moves he had mentioned earlier. Now, let me be clear, for someone who had been practicing for only a few months, he had made incredible progress. He was working on advanced sleights, and he was performing them well. The friend who had brought him and another very talented magician had been mentoring him (and these are some of the most technically gifted guys I’ve ever met, both with published material). Yet somehow in his search to learn he had skipped all the magic, and moved right on to the technical behind the scenes stuff.

     Now this happened for a couple of different reasons: his mentors were also serious cardists, both performed predominantly for instagram, that group was pretty filled with move-monkeys, etc. I know that each of those could use a whole post on their relation to magic and performance (and maybe one of these days I’ll write them…), but the thing that jumped out at me most was that, since he had stepped straight into learning moves (even useful ones like controls, changes, additions, etc) he had missed something that I think we undervalue, and that is the performative experience one gets from doing self-working effects.

     I think just about every magician I know learned some self-working card trick very early on. The 21 Card Trick is the classic punching bag, but there are many. I think mine was naming the top cards from three cut piles using the one-ahead principle. While these effects are rarely the greatest (though I have been getting back into self-workers and man are there some good ones), since they are essentially move-less they allow you to focus entirely on presentation, which is as important a lesson as 100 pointers about where your second finger goes for a certain palm. While we look back on those performances as cringe-worthy, painful, and embarrassing (and I’m sure they were), we forget that they forced us to immediately begin learning how to make people care about the effect (since it would not have flashy visuals to pull them in), and how to invest each part with some meaning (since there was often a lot of procedure), and how to dress up a simple effect with perhaps the least practised but most useful magic sleight there is: acting.

-- Z.Y.

"What is Magic?": A Conversation (via text) Between H.B. and J.R.

Fingers feeling stiff, but much better now this week. Thankfully. Enjoy a text conversation from earlier this year between two magicians.

    Q: what is magic?
    What do you mean by that? What is artful in the context of deception? Why is deception artful? What makes certain deceptions magic and other ones lying?
    (Also there's antifaro stuff on the new ellusionist thing)
    Deception isn’t inherently artful. Deception is artful when it is done without direct personal/emotional/material subversion or gain by the practitioner, and done, instead, for “art”. It’s all about the framing of the experience. This is what makes certain gambling demonstrations “magic” in my opinion, and actual gambling deception “not magic”.
    What is an example of a gambling demo that is not magic? And what is an example of one that is?
    Sorry to grill you... The Tony Chang thing got me thinking, which is nice... You've a bit more experience so I'm picking your brain
    Actual cheating at the card table isn’t magic. However, telling someone you’re going to cheat is, and which classifies it as demonstration of skill, Fitzkee talks a bit upon in Trick Brain
    Ok... I accept that and am filing away the reading rec... What does magic intend?
    Intends to disrupt
    What do you mean by that? I'm also extremely impressed with how quickly these answers are coming
    Well, the topic comes up fairly often actually. But it exists in order to create a disruption in people’s perception. It exists to find these natural gaps in the mind and make them just a little bit bigger. Sometimes you can fit a finger in, sometimes your foot, and sometimes you can stand in it. A wave of astonishment, to paraphrase Paul Harris [found in opening essay of Art of Astonishment, V1]. And sometimes the magician themselves can even splash around for a moment or two.

-- J.R. + H.B.


Movement vs. Amazement
"If people have even a little understanding, it is better to move them than to amaze them." - Andres Segovia

Special moments aren’t made in the what, they’re made in the how. When it comes to magic, I frequently hear fellow practitioners claiming that people see a deck of cards come out, and a person will say “Oh, I’ve seen that one before.” A clamoring of agreement comes from the room. “Yeah, hate it when that happens.” etc. Card-workers also dislike that spectators don’t remember the specific effects that are occurring, and instead link the effects to the general category of “card tricks”.

Here’s my opinion: it’s because, while these various tricks may be wildly different for those of us who have an extraordinary amount of understanding, to those who only have a little understanding, all these card tricks are indeed the same. There’s an ounce of truth when the spectators announce “Oh, I’ve seen that before.” because they essentially have seen the same exact plot before. Whether their card is found in your wallet, between two others, or from a face-up/face-down shuffle, it’s all generally the same effect.

I was reading JAMM #08, by The Jerx, today, and was again reminded of this notion when he spoke about a modern dance metaphor of watching a magic effect. For those who understand modern dance or perhaps perform it themselves, they will be able to watch two seemingly similar performances and find a wide range of differences, all the different dance moves, etc. For an outsider to that circle of knowledge, it’s all modern dance.

To take another idea away from Magic Live 2017, Josh Jay shared the results of a study which examined various magic plots, and generally, card effects were the least memorable to the average audience. However, once the card effect distinctly morphed into a completely new plot (such as card through window, or Cyril’s fantastic Card Into Aquarium), then recall of that event shot through the roof. This is because the plot is now so far removed from whatever card effect your audience has previously seen.

To some degree, we’re on a constant race of innovation, to make magic more exciting and unique for our audiences. We’re in a wild time, especially with the leaps of technological methodology for magic expanding at an alarming rate. So, let’s show more than card tricks to our audience -- Let’s move them.

-- J.R.