Originality vs. Novelty

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Kardova » 05/06/11 10:03 AM

Over the past 2-3 weeks I have been following the genii forum threads with some consistency and this topic has entered my consciousness and consideration. I would like to hear some of your thoughts on this as my own are still a bit unclear and it is my hope that some dialogue on this issue may shed some light about the premium that magicians and the general public place on such definitions in defining the value/worth of a performer and/or a particular piece/effect.

Issues of taste, "offensiveness," abstractions, and at the expense of, come to mind when I read about Penn & Teller, Chris Angel, Swiss Comedy Magicians, Houdini Interpretive Art, and the need to refresh and interject something novel or original to the Multiplying Bottle Trick or any classic/public domain trick out there for that matter (i.e. Triumph).

Maybe some definitions of terms may help in getting a better understanding and offer dictionary definitions of the terms in question below to get the ball rolling.

Originality
1. the quality or condition of being original
2. the ability to be inventive or creative

Novelty
1. the quality of being novel; newness; freshness
2. something new, fresh, or unusual; change; innovation
3. a small, often cheap, cleverly made article, usually for play or adornment: usually used in pl.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/06/11 10:14 AM

Perhaps a better dictionary and some background in art history would save much in the way of typing?
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Postby Sophia Feltro » 05/07/11 04:54 PM

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Postby Edwin Corrie » 05/09/11 03:45 AM

Novelty and "inventiveness" or "non-obviousness" are two of the main criteria for determining whether an invention is patentable. Something can be "novel" in the sense that it has never been done before in that exact same way, but "not inventive" in the sense that it is an obvious development of what has gone before (the prior art). Maybe no one has ever actually made a telephone in the shape of a pineapple before, but it's still a telephone and it's obvious that you can make it in whatever shape you want. And if it's considered obvious you won't get a patent for it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inventive_step

We often hear the same sort of argument about tricks and presentations. Some are obvious modifications of existing ideas (e.g. use one particular sleight instead of another, but still achieving the same effect), while others are genuine departures from or improvements on what everyone else is doing (i.e. they are original).
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Postby Tom Stone » 05/09/11 04:20 AM

There's little point in talking about patents in this context, since patents are for scientific and/or industrial innovations. Artistic expressions falls under copyright.
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Postby Edwin Corrie » 05/09/11 06:04 AM

I know that routines and presentations can't be patented (although I do wonder how application US2008/207343 managed to get through), but the concept of minor variations versus truly innovative ideas does seem to be relevant. Substituting a side steal for a pass is not innovative, but coming up with a whole new plot for a card trick is.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/09/11 07:40 AM

K*

For the most part around here original means "did not bother to ask or do research" while novel means "we can sell that as a product if you give it a funky name and make a video".

If you want to step into the larger community of fine arts (theater, music...) or the technical crafts (design, engineering...) be prepared for a radical shift in perspective.

Have you noticed how few times the actual writing and filing process has been discussed for submitting a work for copyright protection as a play? Or the exact nature of the protections afforded? Can we get an ebook or DVD on that? How about a useful article in the magazine? :)

Okay, back to waiting for someone to post about "fixed expression" and you can pretty much expect me to be reading that and what follows with "yes, that performer needs a makeover" in mind. :D

-Jon

*As a sidebar it might help to keep the distinctions between backstage and audience views of an item clear in discussions of routines and what aspects of them are original and/or novel.
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on 05/09/11 07:44 AM, edited 0 times in total.
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Postby Tom Stone » 05/09/11 08:01 AM

Copyright is automatic, so no registration or filing is required. Documentation is another matter though.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/09/11 08:32 AM

Tom, the only evident "copyright" in magic is the semi-divine right to copy any effect seen in performance - and perhaps to be lauded for doing it in red socks while at a convention. And until that changes there will be much to work at as regard details in both writing things down in a useful way and understanding the protections afforded and the process of filing/seeking remedy under those protections.

Written while smiling at the very few exceptions who've managed to stay both out of print and out of common use like that item with the crackerjack box. :)
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Postby Kardova » 05/09/11 11:12 AM

I guess whats on my mind is the classics in magic and whats associated with them--why I prefer them to the majority of effects/actsthat attempt to be different for difference sake. Often novelty and the attempt to be original and improve something only turns-out a curiosity like a three-ring circus attraction beckoning your attention on one of the circle spotlightsa side-show attraction. Often the most bizarre and colorful wins the general publics easily diverted attention. To me, it feels degrading to use originality and novelty in this sense as a goal. Something feels lost and sacrificed when this approach and mindset is taken, often at the expense of elegance and clarity that makes the classics so strong.

Dont get me wrong, I love and respect Penn & Teller and think theyre the hottest ticket in town. I'm all for exploring uncharted territory. But their style, characters, and venue is a special case where all the various factors work for them in that appropriate context.

Maybe Im just a classicist and prefer the simple, elegant plots and effects that are associated with Vernon and the older booksthe ones the younger generations never read and pass over for the more current stuff out there.

I had a chance to see Michael Weber on a Japanese day-time show showcasing his signature matrix routine done with steel nails and a plywood board. Effect-wisethe classic coin/card matrix routine. Novelty-wisevery originalthe use of hammered-in steel nails at four corners of a piece of plywood magically gathering at the inner corner of the piece of wood under cover of tea cups. Eye candy in every sense of the word and immediately examinable by a layman only to be dumbfounded that the nails have indeed been reconfigured and permanently fixated at one of the corners (one of the nails even having been passed all the way through and showing on the other side). Very strong indeed, but I still get a sense that something was lost in the attempt of being novel. I guess it makes magic feel like a novelty, as in, novelty, magic, and gags. Trivial is the word and impression Im going foras much as I admire and respect the work of Michael WeberI believe he is one of the best in our profession.

Maybe Im setting too high a standard on magic and expecting too much. I donnoit feels like magic belongs there.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/09/11 11:52 AM

Agreed about magic having a place (of dignity) in the performing arts.

If one treats our "effects" as script outlines for performance works we can then proceed to look at how particular performers interpret the work (much as directors) and how particular performers use the work as vehicle for their character. These are two distinct aspects/tasks the average magician faces alone for the most part - as not too many of us have ready access to a director, scriptwriter or even a good grimoire of themes and basic plots from which to draw.

Perhaps you are familiar with Shakespeare's works? One that's seen much in the way of varied interpretation recently is his Midsummer Night's Dream. Neil Gaiman used the work in his Sandman project and won a fantasy literature award for his efforts. Peter Brooks staged the play using a minimal cast and much in the way of contemporary visual/costume devices to wonderful effect. We could also discuss various modern takes on his play The Tempest, from Forbidden Planet to Prospero's books.

I don't pretend to know much about "novelty" or "originality" beyond the needs of a particular character who offers magical entertainment at a certain limited format of venue. Just to make the classical tricks work in apparent accordance with classical ideas as regards our craft as expressed by lay audiences in discussion and their literature - and in a manner that remains congruent to the nature of the character (mine happens to be economical in both words and action) all sorts of backstage machinery of sleights and design seem to be required - and some that appears to be novel in the literature of our craft. But again that has nothing whatsoever to do with any attempts at novelty or originality beyond making some tricks work in a way that permits a directness of action and this nearsighted and harebrained performer to focus his attentions on the audience he seeks to entertain.

If I may be permitted a conjecture on this matter - I suspect that those who build their works as vehicles for their characters and to serve the needs of a larger dramatic or artistic vision they wish to offer audiences will find "originality" organic to the process and "novelty" happening as an incidental rather than intentional outcome of realizing their works.

yeah he wrote "harebrained",

Jon
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Postby Kardova » 05/09/11 02:18 PM

Thanks for the input everyone. Very much appreciated.
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Postby Faxton » 05/17/11 05:51 PM

There is doubtless a certain superficiality inherent in this predilectionThere is very little of profound significance to be found anywhere within this deceitful art. Still, I know that I cant help my ridiculous passion, and I strongly suspect that you cant help yours either. We might as well make the best of it.

--Ernest Earick, Apologia, By Forces Unseen (1993)
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/18/11 08:43 AM

C. P. Snow's introduction to Hardy's Mathematician's Apology is even more telling if you're into that stuff. If you can read through the context the Hardy essay is also interesting.
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Postby Sophia Feltro » 05/18/11 01:11 PM

"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event in the living act, the undoubted deed there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?"

--Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)
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Postby Faxton » 05/18/11 01:13 PM

Visages d'Art | Montage: Philip Scott Johnson Music: Bach

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrjCjJ57nro
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