Within magic books, individual tricks, online magic forums, Facebook, and magic clubs around the world magic is called an art . . . like music, acting, painting, literature, and sculpture. Which begs the question. Do magic stores sell art, or art supplies?
I think most people will agree, in general, a painting is art and a paintbrush is an art supply.
Likewise, if a magician purchases a thumbtip without instructions—an art supply—and performs with it a new and exciting illusion of their own creation, either by some new technique or innovated narrative, the magician and his audience may legitimately call it art. Other magicians may even agree with their conclusion.
However, if I purchase a magic trick that includes a gimmick—the art supply—and a DVD complete with step-by-step instructions, blocking, cadence, script, etc, is my performance—providing I furnish no creative input—art? Or am I performing an impression of art? Granted, this is a question of the ideal plane. It would be difficult, nigh impossible to recreate something exactly, 100%, especially when that something is as subjective as a magic performance.
If what I purchased is an art supply, presumably it would be used to make art. However, if what I purchased is already art, is my reproduction considered art?
Before we continue, I want to be clear. The reason I am introducing this topic isn’t to single out people who are not creating their own magic. I have purchased items from a magic shop and added them verbatim to my show. My agenda here is to ensure, as performers, we are getting the most out of the magic we purchase by acknowledging the differences of intent when making a purchase.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary…
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
Lets set aside whether magic can be an art form. I think most magicians agree magic is a performance art. But who is the artist? Is it the creator of the effect or is it the performer? Is it both?
I think it can be both.
The definition above requires creative skill AND imagination. It doesn’t say that either have to come from the person performing the art. We magicians can play the part of actor, bringing very little to the interpretation of an effect, and the illusion may still be considered art to the audience. As they say, “art is in the eye of the beholder.”
In the past, when I produced a magic trick, I included a full script. A word-for-word performance, including blocking. I was under the impression a plethora of material added value to the product. What I didn’t realize, was this deprived the magician of creating their own, original art without my interference. That may not be a bad thing. It just might not have been the buyer’s original intent.
Slowly, over the years, I have reduced what I have put into my products. Basically, I have stopped selling art, and started selling art supplies. If I include a script with a well-developed character, I am denying the magician who purchased my trick the opportunity to do that for themselves. As I write the plays mentioned in other episodes, I do not include any notes to the actor how they should interpret their character. It’s up to them, the artist. Whereas, I have seen famous magicians tell viewers of their instructional DVD’s exactly how a magician should look and act.
When magic videos and DVD’s were first released, magic creators exposed their full show in vivid detail, perhaps without thinking what this means for their customers. A book by one of those early adopters might have been an art supply. The video version, on the other hand, is the actual performance. The creative skill AND imagination is there for anyone to see, finished.
Then demo videos came along, and they seemed like such a natural progression. However, these little clips were mindworms. The magician could never unsee how they are supposed to perform the trick. These videos create fans, but do fans create art?
You will notice that none of my demo videos show an actual performance of my work. I feel a demo video isn’t a performance video—at least for me—it’s a demonstration under the strictest definition of the term. I pitch the trick in a way that I feel explains what the product is, but stops short of exposing the art. It’s my intention, as far as my magic is concerned, to provide art supplies. To encourage art at the next level.
Again, I’m not saying my way is the correct way. I just feel that it is the best way for me to present my products. Other magic producers do what they feel is right for them. Neither version is inherently superior to the other in my opinion.
I took the concept further in Chain Game. Not only is there no script, there isn’t a start-to-finish trick. On the DVD, I teach how to use the props, I mention part of my reason for having the props, which could be used as foundation for live performance, but I don’t reveal my interpretation of Chain Game—the plot, the narrative.
In some ways, it’s the hardest thing I’ve done artistically. I lost sleep over it. I lost time over it. I reshot the DVD over and over, then edited it repeatedly, before forcing myself to go back to my original test footage, shot outside impromptu on a cold day. My fingers were sore from the chill—I think that’s obvious in the video—and I’m casual. Dressed in a hoodie and a t-shirt.
Do magic stores sell art or do they sell art supplies? They ought to sell both in my opinion. They really don’t have a choice. Even finished art can be taken to a whole new level.
To some magicians art is bringing a magic creator’s vision to life, just as a modern actor resurrects Shakespeare. I don’t feel that a magician who performs their own, original magic is automatically superior to a magician who performs magic off-the-shelf, no more than do I think a house built with a handsaw is better than a house built with power tools, or vice-versa.
There are songwriters who cannot sing, and singers who cannot write. Both may be artists.
Magic shops ought to sell art supplies also, and the market should recognize the value in what, on the surface appears to be an unfinished product in some ways. When in reality, that item might have been difficult to produce—mentally and materially. At some point, the product itself becomes part of the art.
Over the past couple of years, I have gone back to work in live theatre—acting, directing, stage management. Amid rehearsals of The Shadow Box, a crew member posted a link to the movie on our private Facebook page. I knew I wouldn’t watch it. So I was safe. However, as co-director, I was terrified others would watch it, and then our vision for the play would be impossible.
Same goes when you watch an instructional video. By watching it, is your chance to create new, imaginative art stolen from you? You may feel encouraged by the performance, but it may too have robbed you of artistic license.
When a customer asks my suggestion for a product, I first evaluate whether this customer is asking me for art, ready to go, or an art supply; something the magician can use to create art. This is an incredible struggle day-to-day, as a magician, a magic dealer, a magic creator, and as an artist.
I would love to hear from you. If nothing else, it’s therapeutic for me. What’s the difference in art and art supply? Do magic shops have any obligation to separate them, or is it up to the buyer to decide? Let me know in the comments, or call in and record your take.