The Amateur Pro

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Jerry Harrell » 08/31/03 04:50 AM

Some years ago I was attending a photographers convention and one of the guest speakers was a seasoned pro from National Geographic. Following a spectacular slide presentation, there was an informal Q&A session that brought forth a remark I have remembered ever since.

An audience member asked the veteran lensman what he considered the main difference between an amateur and a professional photographer. The speaker smiled and said simply, "The number of pictures he takes, verses the number of pictures he shows you."

His point of course was that a professional might shoot hundreds of pictures to get one that he will use, whereas the amateur with fire off 36 shots on a roll and want to show you every one.

The same might be said for magicians. The working pro might know hundreds of tricks and have only two dozen that he will perform for his audience, whereas the amateur may learn and perform many times that number. (The obvious exception to this was Michael Skinner.)

Conversely, the pro will perform those same two dozen tricks hundreds or thousands of times and polish them to perfection, while the amateur might discard a trick after three performances and never pick it up again.

Newcomers to our art are always hungry for more and more tricks, more methods, more secrets. To become better performers they might take a tip from the pros and find a few effects that really fit their personalities, and polish those to perfection.
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Postby Jeff Eline » 08/31/03 07:34 AM

I would agree for the most part. The only thing I would add is that the seasoned, serious amateur hold a very important role in the whole scheme of things.

Because the luxury an amateur has in toying around with techniques and ideas, he/she will often be the ones to push the boundry and find new and innovative ideas.

The performer, understandably, has to hone and refine the few ideas needed to make a living and usually doesn't have the time to tinker like an amateur does.

There is certainly a long list of 'amateurs' that I believe would back up this theory.
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Postby Q. Kumber » 08/31/03 09:33 AM

There's a few things going on here. I know a couple of pro photographers and they do take hundreds of photos to get the right one. I also know one pro who spends a lot of time framing the shot and takes very few.

With amateur (non-pro) magicians they are working for the love of what they do, and money doesn't come in to it. They can't find new audiences all the time, even if, like Jeff McBride they force their routines on the Pizza delivery man. :)

The amateur can't find new audiences so he finds new things to show the same audiences. Whether or not this is a good thing or not is open to debate but it can't be denied that really terrific ideas develop this way.

Whether or not we need new ideas is also open to debate. I'm just glad that someone develops them. And like the photos you have to see hundreds before you see a really good one.
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 08/31/03 11:02 AM

I was recently kicking around Gettysburg with various samples of the far-flung family, and my brother-in-law did a very credible card trick for me. When I complimented him, he told me that his father had taught him, and he went on to explain that his dad did "all kinds of things! Like when we would go to a coffee shop, he'd take three coffee cups, and ball up three paper napkins...." and many things along those lines.

Those sort of enthusiasts don't push the envelope of the "art," but they sure make great ambassadors of the true spirit of magic.

Now, hang on just a second while I go grab my trip photos. Really - it's just two rolls, and there's a hilarious one involving an outhouse....
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Postby Q. Kumber » 08/31/03 01:59 PM

Lisa makes a very interesting point about ambassadors for magic. Some years ago we had an influx of teenage magicians wanting to join our local society. I pushed to form a junior section. Some older magicians didn't like the idea pointing out that their interest probably wouldn't last.
Now they're right. With some it's an interest that lasts for a few months, or they discover girls, or have parental pressure to study and put magic to one side. But here's the really interesting thing. Those who leave still have a dormant interest in magic.
They will support public shows, turn up for society open nights or occasionally show a trick and get someone else interested in magic. Often after they settle in a career, they will rejoin the magic society.
Of the bunch who joined the junior section of the Society of Irish Magicians, three became professionals.
Like in the parable of the sower, you never know which ones will grow and blossom.
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 09/04/03 08:34 AM

Before I drift further away from Jerry Harrell's original point, I wanted to mention that I am the daughter of a (retired) professional photographer, and it's very true that the majority of that stuff never made it past the contact sheet phase. As for my own magic, I have worked on and plotted out and put together far, far more things than I have ever presented to actual people. And I know that Michelangelo routinely destroyed his prepatory sketches and rough ideas, because he only wanted the impression of perfection to remain.

Now for the promised drifting. I don't think that becoming a pro is necessarily the mark that proves a person's passage through magic was worthwhile. I remember reading a great David Bowie quote, where he said he felt that "David Bowie" was just the aggregate of all of the people who were thinking about him at any given moment. Magic, at any given moment, consists of the people who are thinking about it. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but it needs parts to exist. So in that respect, magic club goofballs are every bit as vital to its life as the leading lights of the art. (And when I say "magic club goofballs," I invoke the well-known dictum that you are allowed to make fun of what you are.)
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