July 2017 Chatter

Posted at 30/06/17 - 05:00 PM

I have been heavily involved in magic pretty much all of my life, and yet there is one aspect of it all that I have always struggled to come to terms with. And that is, the ‘argument’ over whether magic should be seen as an art.

I can see that some performers make their magic appear artistic, combining skill and ingenuity with grace and well thought out movement, and I’m sure many lay people would consider magicians to be artful, in a secretive, devious sort of way. But does that make what we do art?

Actually, I think as with most things there is no one simple answer. For instance, some of the greatest magic that I have ever seen, magic that has lifted my spirits and moved me emotionally, I would like to think is art at its finest.

Art surely transcends the ordinary and has the power, whether it be through music, painting, sculpture, or indeed performance magic, to touch those who see it at a deep, perhaps even spiritual level. But in the same way that not all music, acting, or painting has the necessary power, so it follows that only a very small proportion of magic will do too.

Those magicians who want their audiences to see their performances as art, tend to sneer at those entertainers who, and I would certainly class myself in this group, want to use their skills simply to entertain.

Commercial magic is a dirty concept to those who think magic should operate on a higher level, yet I would argue that the huge pleasure and excitement that a skilled strolling magician can create in his audiences, is every bit as important.
In a way it’s the same as trying to compare Shakespeare with Alan Ayckbourn. Most people would consider Shakespeare to be arguably our greatest ever playwright, and the cleverness and complexity of his language is revered and considered art. Alan Ayckbourn writes hugely enjoyable, lightweight plays that have been enjoyed for decades by millions of theatre goers, but I doubt that any of those people would consider Ayckbourn to be in the same artistic bracket as the Bard.

Yet both levels of work are, in my view, equally valid, as they appeal to people in different ways. Personally, I appreciate and have attended many plays by both the playwrights, and for me they deliver two completely different experiences, and to try to compare them is like trying to compare apples with pears.

Magic is equally diverse and I think it is wrong for commercial magicians to denigrate the higher ideals of those looking to make magic an art, but it is equally ridiculous for those others to assume that commercial magicians have no value.

I have seen it written that if as a performer your only aim is to create in your spectators a guffaw of laughter, or a knee jerk exclamation of amazement or surprise, that you are selling yourself and magic short. You are viewed as being a magic mercenary who cannot appreciate the finer aspects that magic has to offer.

I would disagree wholeheartedly with this view. Good performers understand their audiences and can tailor their offerings accordingly, irrespective of whether that’s magic for the masses or the minority.

Author: Mark Leveridge

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