The digital ramblings of an analog conjurer
July 14, 2016 REAL MAGIC
This is a slightly edited version of the original ‘Real Magic’ essay which was first published in This is Not a Box. I could say an awful lot more on this subject, but this essay is just a simple introduction to a much larger conceptual framework (including the concept of ‘The Empty Space’ which was also published in This is Not a Box and here in The Shift). Enjoy.
A new paradigm for conjuring
What do you say when someone seriously asks you how you made something appear or disappear? How you read someone’s mind? If magic is real? Is it just a trick? How you do what you do? Are you stuck for something to say? Do you hide behind false explanations that you think sound more impressive or respectable? Perhaps there are new ways of thinking about these questions that you haven’t considered; a paradigm shift which allows you to recalibrate and reimagine what you are doing by embracing reality and honesty.
In my opinion the first hint of a ‘real’ magician was Chan Canasta. Chan was apparently telling people what he was doing, cultivating an atmosphere of honesty and openness which was deeply compelling. Chan would state that any questions could be asked about his methods and he would explain everything; this was a very powerful theatrical device which immediately made Chan’s performance riveting, regardless of how simple the following effects or how little he actually revealed. Chan would reference what he did as a mixture of abilities or aptitudes including psychology and training which he was devoted to – he didn’t do tricks, he did experiments. Chan was a master of staging, misdirection and psychological control. He performed ‘real magic’; he was honest, deceptive and brilliant.
I’m suggesting an even deeper commitment, not just presentation or ‘patter’ but a comprehensive understanding and identification with the real nature of magic and allowing it to inform your work. Real Magic is defined by the following four assumptions:
1) Understanding that magic is real; it is a dimension of subjective experience.
2) The performance of magic is comprised of real skills and real abilities.
3) Openness, honesty and truth are expressed and nonsense is rejected.
4) Develop language which is congruent with these assumptions.
Embracing these assumptions can inform your magic in new and interesting ways, without losing any deceptive or entertainment value. You will feel a deeper connection to the art and your place in it. If asked, most magicians would probably say that magic doesn’t exist; therefore most of what they are doing might feel like they are faking having powers to create something that isn’t real. Well, I am saying that magic does exist; it exists within the mind of the observer and you make it happen through a variety of real skills. Magic doesn’t exist by suspending the laws of physics; it exists as a dimension of experience under the guidance of a skilled practitioner.
Magic is a rational system which bends or breaks reality for observers; it creates artistic solutions to otherwise impossible problems. This doesn’t happen while fragmented across time and space – like a film – but live; it is immediate and deliberate. You can create false expectations or hallucinations through words, body language and choreography; you can influence, alter and predict how someone will think or act, you can make things appear, disappear or transform. You are able to move unseen between the gaps of someone’s awareness and invisibly alter their perception of reality. You don’t have to pretend to have ‘magic powers’, you actually have them! Embrace reality.
This is what makes magic so incredible: humans have developed a performance art which uses rational principles and real skills to create the experience of something magical, something impossible. A magician is someone who can exploit the fundamental principles of the way human beings relate to and understand the world, for artistic purposes; by using human creativity, ingenuity and skill it’s possible to deceive the most powerful ‘thinking machine’ ever created, causing it to question reality! This is profound because it is real! These real skills converge in many different ways to produce what we call magic (Fig. 1). This fact is more interesting and more beautiful than pretending to have magic powers.
By studying the Model of Magic (Fig. 1), it is possible to create multiple ‘high-level’ ways of thinking about what you are doing. By taking one word from each portion of the model you can make statements about magic which are completely true without revealing anything about methodology. For example, Magic could be described as:
• Creativity, attention and movement.
• Expression, perception and dexterity.
• Presentation, expectation and coordination.
• Showmanship, emotion and practice.
• Composition, intelligence and skill.
• Choreography, rapport and timing.
• Style, time and balance.
These combinations could also be used to describe a coin vanish or a simple card trick. I am not attempting to define what magic is or isn’t, I simply hope that looking at magic in this way will reinvigorate your perspective on the richness that runs through magic at a fundamental level; a plethora of real skills, abilities and principles that can be combined with endless variety. Taking a closer look at the ingredients of magic may recalibrate how you identify with it. Maybe this will open up possibilities for you as a performer, creating new relationships between yourself and an audience, allowing you to inject honesty and openness into your work while avoiding nonsense or pseudo-science.
Reality is what makes magic so wonderful to me. The trick is the tip of the iceberg. It’s the only bit that ever gets seen so don’t pretend it’s the only bit that exists; everything beneath the surface is far more interesting. Take pride in your work and acknowledge reality. You are manipulating experience by using the principles of deception for artistic means; you really are creating magic with real skill. This is a fact. This isn’t a package of pseudo-intellectual hokum designed to make you sound intelligent or new pseudo-poetry to spew in order to make you sound philosophical. This is magic, plain and simple. Therefore developing a better way to think, relate and talk about it, can only be a good thing.
The next time someone asks how you do what you do, tell them. Walk the line between the immersive and the ‘meta’; a way to hide in plain sight, a way to reveal a real magician performing real magic.