Magic is cool and it doesn’t make sense to me that other people should feel any other way about it. Some things are objectively cool. Skateboarding is objectively cool. Handstands are objectively cool. Pizza making is objectively cool. The other side of the pillow is objectively cool. But, abstracting a little, I think the root of these things (the pillow excluded) comes down to talent. Talent is objectively cool. Seeing someone be good at something and enjoy being good at it is very cool. In my opinion, if you’re doing it right your work should persuade people that it’s worthwhile and cool simply by the act of doing it. You care for what you’re doing to such a degree that it becomes cool.
The closest thing I see to people in magic expounding this at the moment are the folks in the cardistry community. And cardistry isn’t magic (and boy, doesn’t the cardistry community make a big deal about saying so!)
The problem with magic comes when other people (our audiences) mistake amazement for the performer being really good at something. This leads us to create flawed versions of ourselves where we don’t feel the need to learn how to socialise properly, since we’ve always gotten our social fix by being “the magician”.
In cardistry hard work and attention to detail is hailed as the highest and most noble endeavour, and we aspire to it. In magic hard work and attention to detail is shunned and tutted at with the notion that we should “just use a duplicate” or buy a new gimmick to do the work for us.
This mentality is rife within the magic world, and its essence is simply a rationalisation for not trying to improve. We’re endlessly told to take the easy road instead of actually thinking about our craft and putting in some work. That’s why the market for magic is so extraordinarily large. We are sold the shiny, new “Next Big Thing” in place of carrying out all the work that we should be, all the work that the cardists will be putting in.
But the work isn’t bad! Maybe what I’ve said leading up to this point has put it in a negative light. The work is really where we find our calling. It’s where we lose track of time and become totally, blissfully engulfed in a state of learning and improvement. These are good things.
Magic has the unfortunate quality that tempts us to eschew proficiency in favour of the reactions that we get. Very quickly after starting to perform magic, the reaction that you hope to elicit becomes the end goal. Many magicians say
“I only do magic that my audiences like”;
“My sole aim is to please my audience”;
“as long as the audience is having fun, that’s all I care about”
And that’s fine up to a point. The trouble comes when we’ve been interested in magic for seven or eight or ten years. Some friends have mentioned to me about how an odd, peculiarly undefinable dissatisfaction can seep in. What’s wrong here? Is it our interest in magic in general that’s dwindling? Is it our tricks? Should I learn better tricks? Moves? Do I really need to know all these moves? Performance? Am I a likeable person?
I’ve absolutely been a victim of this on multiple occasions, however I’ve also been pulled out of it each time it’s arisen. And I reckon I can place what’s helped me get there. I wager that being satisfied with magic at a higher level is reliant more than anything on removing the audience from the pedestal we’ve all put them on, and focusing more on our own enjoyment of the things we’re performing.
It is a given that your magic will be fooling. That goes without saying. If the stuff you are performing is not fooling, it’s not magic. But once we’ve satisfied the single fundamental prerequisite of a magic trick, I wholeheartedly believe that we should be doing magic for ourselves.
Beginner magic is just that - the single fundamental prerequisite - and nothing more. Beginner magic satisfies the conditions for a magic trick, and that’s it. It ticks the box of “Was it fooling?” but leaves a lot to be desired at a deeper level. Even the act of reaching for this deeper level, though, just the mere attempt to do something purely for its own (or your own) sake - just because it’s fun, maybe - is satisfying for the performer and audience. Tamariz talks about how an audience can sense when you enjoy what you’re performing, and it makes your performance better, and in my opinion magic, at its core, comes down to two people connecting. The enjoyment that you’re experiencing in doing magic you like resonates with the audience member so much more vibrantly than whatever you’re performing. The trick becomes somewhat immaterial. Something more important has been uncovered and allowed to shine through.
I’m suggesting that the majority of magic that we see being done only satisfies that single fundamental condition - it’s fooling for laypeople - but maybe there are far more boxes that we should consider ticking that we currently don’t even register exist. The Enjoyment box seems like a good start.
This is a call to action for people who want to be satisfied in what they do. I am here to say that is a totally possible and a totally admirable and a totally worthwhile goal. The answer? Do difficult card tricks.
This article is an excerpt from Mainspring