The ART of Magic

“What instrument do you play?’

This is the question I most often get when I tell someone I’m a magician. The thought never even enters their minds that I could have possibly said “magician,” and their natural response is to immediately go the musical route, sharing with me the fact that their son plays the French horn or that they were a first chair flute player, but “never pursued it much after graduating high school.” They are usually halfway into wistfully recounting their youthful aspirations about becoming the next Ian Anderson before I have
the chance to interrupt them to inform them that they have misheard me, and that I am actually a mAGICian.

The look of confusion is oddly satisfying.

Wrapping their minds around the concept of someone doing card tricks for a living, for some reason, becomes a much more difficult task than the concept of becoming a professional musician. As if musicians don’t face the same, challenges as other entertainers. As if playing old Eagles and Tom Petty cover tunes in a seedy bar for free beer and whatever tips can be scrounged up in their formative years is somehow more admirable than a magician in…well, being a magician. And if it’s a question of skills, all right, yes, I don’t know an A note from a treble clef, but most clarinet or sax players can’t execute a simple double undercut or a deceptive Elmsley Count, either. And if you don’t know what those are, that is exactly my point.

Yes, I’m a magician. Yes, I do it for a living and have for over two decades. And while the mental image one, if you’ll pardon the expression, conjures up when they hear the word “magician” may be something less respectable than when thinking of a musician (this “image thing” being a battle I have fought most of my life), the skill set needed and the practice involved is certainly comparable.

Despite the resurgence of interest magic is enjoying these days, it still has an image problem, due primarily to all the bad magic that is out there. And where magic has the disadvantage as compared to other art forms is in the tendency to be unfairly judged. If one goes to a show and hears a singer who sings off-key or witnesses a dancer who gives a less than polished performance, one doesn’t walk away from the experience swearing off all singing and dancing for the rest of his or her life. Chances are that person will again attend another singer’s or dancer’s performance at a later date and be rewarded by doing so. Their image of dance and song is not tarnished irreparably; instead it is just chalked up to that particular performer having an “off night.” Not so with magic. When one sees a terrible magic performance, the tendency is to immediately ostracize the performer and categorize magic as cheesy or stupid.

Having said that, please don’t misunderstand me. Believe me, I agree that there are some people out there calling themselves “magicians” who should be ostracized and never
allowed to ever again pick up a deck of cards or set foot on another stage, but they are the minority.

Magic is an art form. Beautiful performances can be rendered just as fine paintings or
intricate sculptures are brought into being. Moods can be established and genuine emotions can be brought forth. Emotions that can span from appreciation – such as understanding the technique used or just the mere acknowledgement of the work, love, and commitment that went into bringing the piece to life – to personal – where the piece in question evokes an honest, and sometimes uncontrollable emotional response.

David Copperfield’s performance piece “Snow” does that. The first time I saw
him perform this live in a theatre, it honestly brought tears to my eyes. I, to this day, can’t pinpoint exactly what chord it struck with me. Perhaps it was the memory of a childhood long since passed, although I did not grow up around snow. Perhaps, it was the unspoken yearning of wanting that childhood back, or, because I was a father at the time, perhaps it spoke to the child-like wonder of experiencing something for the first time and what it’s like to experience it again with your child; this time seeing it through his or her eyes. Maybe it was a mixture of all of these things. Whatever it was, I wasn’t the only one wrestling with these emotions. As I looked around, I saw many adults – both men and women – experiencing the same feeling and experiencing the same moist eyes as snow began to fall not just onstage, but throughout the entire theatre! I encourage you to take a look at this wonderful performance if you haven’t already seen it.

Just as there are many styles of paintings, so it is with magic. And just as there were and are, pioneers of the different styles or movements in the world of art, again, so it is in magic. As way of an example, just as the artists of the cubist movement had Picasso and Braque to thank, every magician you have seen who produces doves or playing cards at his fingertips is standing on the shoulders of Channing Pollock. Much of what contemporary magicians of this type present to modern-day audiences was either influenced or taken directly from Pollock. Watching old film footage of Pollock perform his act may prompt one to say, “Yeah, I’ve seen this all before,” but you have to remember that Pollock was the first to do it, and is still considered one of the best years after he has passed on. It is the true artists in any field, however, who will expand upon that influence to create new, unique art. A good example of this from the magic world is Korean magician Yu Ho-Jin. I first saw Ho-Jin perform in 2008 in Louisville, KY and his performance was artistic excellence and absolutely breathtaking. It still is.

Any field of art has its past masters. Just as the world of fine art has names like Van Gogh, Magritte, Pollock (Jackson, not Channing), and Warhol, the world of magic has CardiniVernon, Kaps, and Slydini. Not to mention the pioneers who blazed the trail before them: Maskelyne, Devant, Herrmann, Kellar, the list goes on and on.

Yes, I am a mAGICian, and while the music we create with our
instruments may not be melodic in the traditional sense, it can still move you – like any art can move you – if you just give it the chance.

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