Is magic an art?

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Postby r paul wilson » 01/11/13 07:52 PM

Dear all, the official version of our first Unreal Work is now available.

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

The question comes from discussions I've had with other artists who did not believe so or were surprised to find that it could be.

This is for both magicians and laymen. Please share.

Best,

P
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Postby Joe Mckay » 01/11/13 08:19 PM

To my mind, Penn And Teller are artists. Yet I agree with something they said.

'Art is easy, entertainment is hard.'

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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/11/13 08:31 PM

"Art is easy, entertainment is hard."

Bullsh*t.
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Postby Joe Mckay » 01/11/13 08:51 PM

A urinal can be art. So can an unmade bed.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 01/11/13 10:10 PM

I enjoyed the videoexcellent job, Paul. It is useful and interesting to hear so many wonderful magicians discuss this topic.

But they are not answering the question "Is magic an art?" It's just as well, because this is an extremely silly question.

Magic is an art form. It is a performing art, specifically. What's the question, exactly? There's no controversy over the definitions of these terms.

The question the performers in Paul's video were really answering is: are magicians artistic? And the answer, of course, is: some, but not most. To be honest, this is also not a particularly useful question. The same is true of painting or singing or dancing or juggling or standup comedy or any other performing art, or physical art for that matter. There's a great big continuum of how artistic its practitioners are.

The most useful parts of the video are the ones that address the really important question: how can you make your magic more artistic? Because the more artistic you make it, the better it will be.
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Postby Tom Stone » 01/12/13 02:07 AM

Pete McCabe wrote:Magic is an art form. It is a performing art, specifically.

No, not "specifically". I can think of many pieces by our great creators that would be art even if no one ever performed them. For example, there are items in the Stewart James books that I've never seen performed, and that I can't find a suitable venue for myself, but that are intensely artistic just the same.
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Postby Matthew Field » 01/12/13 07:43 AM

This is a fine film by Dan and Dave Buck, R. Paul Wilson and Jason England. It attempts to provide an answer to a question I've asked (in print) many times. I've done so because I find so much magic unartistic, and art is the most important thing (other than love) in my life.

But you look at the work of Slydini, Vernon, Tommy Wonder and some others and you can see, I think, that magic can be an art.

Some of the responses in the film (such as Eric Mead's) allude to the fact that most would agree that paining is an art, but look at Walter Keane's paintings of big-eyed children and that's not art -- it's crap.

Just like a whole lot of magic.

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Postby erdnasephile » 01/12/13 09:59 AM

This is just terrific! Thank you Dan, Dave, Paul, and Jason!

After first viewing, something both Weber and Thompson alluded to prompted a further question in my mind:

- Are magicians really the best people to answer the question posed?
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Postby Terry » 01/12/13 12:33 PM

Really enjoyed it and the opinions offered.
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Postby Edward Pungot » 01/12/13 01:05 PM

By definition, magic can be whatever you want it to be.
The spectrum covers it all, including invisibles like me.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/12/13 01:50 PM

erdnasephile wrote:- Are magicians really the best people to answer the question posed?



IMHO there's much room for discussing how a work relates to its subject, to its audience and to it's context among prior works. What makes a work effective, how does it improve upon prior works and for whom does this work relate what prior works have not affected? IE beyond new ad copy in a magic catalog or 'effect description' listing an a book, what merits does an item have as an addition to our craft?
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Postby Q. Kumber » 01/12/13 03:18 PM

Magic is a craft, but the result can be art if the performer is an artist.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/12/13 03:55 PM

When I was interviewed for this, I said, "Magic is a craft, but some magicians are artists." Somehow that simple answer didn't make the cut.
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Postby Denis Behr » 01/12/13 04:04 PM

It did make the cut, near the 3:09 mark.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/12/13 05:09 PM

Must've missed it. But I watched the first version, and I think a second version has been posted now.
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Postby El Mystico » 01/12/13 06:19 PM

Gary Plants nailed it - it depends on what your definition of 'art' is.
There are several definitions of art; several definitions of artists, several definitions of art form, and several definitions of artistic.
Without a generally accepted definition of these terms, the question is pointless.
But it is still interesting to hear respected magicians talk about magic, and about people they think are great magicians.
And I did find myself wanting to spent time talking about magic with Eric Mead. But I'd already thought that.
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Postby erdnasephile » 01/12/13 06:57 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:
erdnasephile wrote:- Are magicians really the best people to answer the question posed?



IMHO there's much room for discussing how a work relates to its subject, to its audience and to it's context among prior works. What makes a work effective, how does it improve upon prior works and for whom does this work relate what prior works have not affected? IE beyond new ad copy in a magic catalog or 'effect description' listing an a book, what merits does an item have as an addition to our craft?


I agree, JT.

My point was that perhaps those that love magic are a bit too close to objectively assess it's place amongst the performing arts. (Weber's remark that many magicians are desperately running around trying to convince themselves and others that magic is art is what made me think of this).

Can magic really be legitimate art if virtually the only people who think it is are those that love it?

While it's true you can't judge art by the public's taste (apologies to WC Field), can we completely ignore it in such discussions? Can I be an artist if the vast majority of my audience believes I am not?

That said, how does one account for artists who are ahead of their time, whose artistic genius is only recognized by later generations?

My high school English teacher used to define a classic is "somthing that has stood the test of time". I rather think this also may apply to what is true art.

Which brings me to this chilling question: will any of my audiences think of me as an artist next week? Next month? Next year? How many of my magic heroes' performances would be considered art when viewed by a non-magician 50 years from now?

I certainly don't have a definitive answer to this question, but I believe that my personal answer will likely involve some sort of assessment by the intended audience, as well as some sort of enduring legacy.

I'm enjoying this discussion! :)
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Postby Terry » 01/13/13 11:02 AM

Art is always in the eyes of the beholder. Only posterity has the right to point out our mistakes. Len Wein

Though the artist must remain master of his craft, the surface, at times raised to the highest pitch of loveliness, should transmit to the beholder the sensation which possessed the artist. Alfred Sisley
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Postby JHostler » 01/13/13 11:48 AM

Something becomes an "art form" when a critical mass of its practitioners execute at a level appraised - by informed standards/critics - as "art." While 99% of amateurs - and close to that percentage of professionals - might not qualify (I surely don't), the question seems to be: do the remaining 1% provide that critical mass? This obviously leads to well-worn debate concerning the nature of "informed critics" etc. etc., but a line must be drawn somewhere or we'll end up asking ourselves what the definition of "is" is.

Touching on earlier comments: It's awfully lazy to define art (artistic merit etc.) as entirely subjective. If that were the case, the concept itself would cease to have any meaning.
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Postby Andrew Pinard » 01/13/13 12:45 PM

JHostler wrote:Something becomes an "art form" when a critical mass of its practitioners execute at a level appraised - by informed standards/critics - as "art."


Hmmm... Not sure that any of the state arts councils or the National Endowment for the Arts would agree with this statement. Some of the state councils recognize basket-weaving and ventriloquism as arts and somehow I don't think the numbers there fit your definition. (Note: I am not making a qualified opinion on the validity of the disciplines mentioned...)
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Postby JHostler » 01/13/13 01:41 PM

Andrew Pinard wrote:
JHostler wrote:Something becomes an "art form" when a critical mass of its practitioners execute at a level appraised - by informed standards/critics - as "art."


Hmmm... Not sure that any of the state arts councils or the National Endowment for the Arts would agree with this statement. Some of the state councils recognize basket-weaving and ventriloquism as arts and somehow I don't think the numbers there fit your definition. (Note: I am not making a qualified opinion on the validity of the disciplines mentioned...)


It should be obvious I've made no attempt to align my quasi-philosophical response with any particular organization's or agency's definition.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 01/13/13 04:13 PM

"Is magic an art?"

Not the way I do it . . . .
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Postby Joe Pecore » 01/13/13 05:38 PM

Penn Jillette says Teller's broad definition of art is: "Whatever we do after the chores are done." http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penn-jill ... 95411.html
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Postby Anthony Vinson » 01/14/13 12:30 PM

El Mystico wrote:Gary Plants nailed it - it depends on what your definition of 'art' is.
There are several definitions of art; several definitions of artists, several definitions of art form, and several definitions of artistic.
Without a generally accepted definition of these terms, the question is pointless.


This. Without benefit of a previously agreed upon definition the question should've been, "In your opinion, is magic an art?" The video provided a great many opinions by some of magic's most respected thinkers. That said, the video was enjoyable, interesting, and thought provoking on several levels. I was particularly tickled to discover that Brad Henderson is the Potter Stewart of magic! (Just kidding, Brad. Know you only through your writing, but couldn't resist.)
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Postby Bill Mullins » 01/14/13 09:51 PM

Picked up by Boing Boing

From the comments:
One of the defining characteristics of being an artist is that other people want to sleep with you, so I would say no.
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Postby R.E.Byrnes » 01/15/13 11:24 AM

Brad Henderson repeatedly had some of the best insights, many of which are perhaps overwhelmed by his highly memorable "pornography" formulation, which unlike lots of similarly catchy comments had a lot of depth and truth to it. While the "it depends on what the definition is" response seems profound, it leads either to a dead end or an all-inclusive, infinitely subjective definition where something is art if someone says it is. It's often the more accomplished performers (e.g., a modest Johnny Thompson) who embrace this sort of flaccid definition, perhaps to avoid seeming elitist, along with the least accomplished performers, who are often the most insistent that "Our Art" or "the Art of Magic" be accorded status like symphony music and museum-quality painting. RK, Eric Mead and others make distinctions that comport with common intuitions about what art is, and confirm that, like most things, some ambiguity and disagreement doesn't preclude a generally useful definition. Even so, over at the Magic Castle Facebook page there are multiple postings offering up a bunch of soft aphorisms to avoid any conception of art that would be the least bit exclusionary.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/15/13 11:43 AM

I don't think Brad Henderson's pornography analogy was memorable--I think it was deplorable. T

hat type of catchy drivel is what's going to be picked up by the news media: "Magician thinks so little of comrades he calls them 'pornographers'."
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Postby mrgoat » 01/15/13 11:54 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:I don't think Brad Henderson's pornography analogy was memorable--I think it was deplorable.


Quite right. Most porn is better than most magic, in terms of achieving the end goal it set out to do.

However, the original question is a bit pointless, as the answer depends, as stated, on how one defines art. It's personal and subjective.
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Postby JHostler » 01/15/13 12:07 PM

I think Eric Mead nailed it @ 3:15. Is the performance intended to communicate something meaningful - and, as Brad would qualify, something other than "wow?" Astonishment alone isn't enough.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/15/13 12:15 PM

I think most of us can agree that Rene Lavand and Juan Tamariz are artists. Creating a definition requires examples.
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Postby R.E.Byrnes » 01/15/13 12:16 PM

Each person's "personal and subjective" definition of what art is can generally be inferred from an expression of a preference; there's no need to preface everything with "IMHO," not least because the prevalence of opinion doesn't render conversation about what is and isn't art or what is good magic and bad magic "pointless."

Similarly, despite there being the same kind of differences in definitions and values as to who is the "best" performer, the conversation isn't futile merely because it doesn't, and can't, yield a single, consensus, immutable choice as to who is best. Even though we can't achieve that ultimate precision, the discussion invariably elicits the same handful of names -- Vernon, Miller, Kaps, and so on. Not just one "best" performer; but not an infinite, indistinguishible list, either. That different people identify different magicians as the "best" is a function of them using different definitions. However, that the same names invariably are mentioned suggests that those definitions, while different, aren't all that different. Also, were someone to propose that I was the greatest magician of all time -- better than Vernon, Miller, Kaps and everyone else -- only the most committed sophist would insist that that is an opinion as valid as the opinion that it's one of those names that always comes up when the "best magician" question is posed. Everyone else would ridicule the selection of me, deservedly; Vernon and Charlie Miller partisans alike would be in complete agreement that the best is not me, despite their disagreement as to who occupies the #1 spot.

The "grey areas" are always more confounding and less susceptible to clear, consensus answers and analysis. At dusk, I might legitimately be of the opinion that it's daytime, while you just as legitimately call it night. But the great majority of the time, there is only one right answer as to whether it's day or night.
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Postby Edward Pungot » 01/15/13 12:20 PM

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Postby R.E.Byrnes » 01/15/13 12:36 PM

"I don't think Brad Henderson's pornography analogy was memorable--I think it was deplorable. That type of catchy drivel is what's going to be picked up by the news media: "Magician thinks so little of comrades he calls them 'pornographers'.""

That's certainly a valid point, as any nuance in the comment would be lost were it reported in some non-magic forum.

That I agreed with both RK and Brad Henderson's comments only underscores that differences in opinions can be perceived differently, further compounding the subjectivity inherent in these things. Even so, the discussion isn't "pointless" and it doesn't require establishing a fixed, consensus definition of 'art' at the outset.
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Postby R.E.Byrnes » 01/15/13 12:40 PM

"I think most of us can agree that Rene Lavand and Juan Tamariz are artists. Creating a definition requires examples."

Exactly; I think that's either "inductive" or "deductive" reasoning -- I never got those straight. And the fact that at least a loose definition is possible is made even more clear when someone proposes "Tamariz is not an artist," because that exemplifies that all opinions are not in fact of equal value.
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Postby mrgoat » 01/15/13 12:40 PM

R.E.Byrnes wrote: the discussion isn't "pointless" and it doesn't require establishing a fixed, consensus definition of 'art' at the outset.


What point does it provide then?

And how can you discuss something when that something isn't defined?
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Postby R.E.Byrnes » 01/15/13 12:43 PM

"I think Eric Mead nailed it @ 3:15. Is the performance intended to communicate something meaningful - and, as Brad would qualify, something other than "wow?" Astonishment alone isn't enough."

Yes; that was really well said, and the "wow" point complements it nicely, as you indicate.

I found it astonishing how eloquent and well thought-out virtually every comment was. Usually with these things it's a ton of cliches and one or two truly interesting comments. R. Paul, Jason England, et al are clearly the right kind of people to elicit interesting responses. They command respect and they're the kind of people you don't want to be dumb around.
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Postby R.E.Byrnes » 01/15/13 01:02 PM

"What point does it provide then?

And how can you discuss something when that something isn't defined?"

It identifies elements that might or might not be part of a definition of art; it causes each person to re-evaluate his own definition of art; and in this instance it suggests some of the factors that constitute good and bad magic. In other words, even if I come to the conversation with a narrow, Baroque-era idea of what's art and you bring a post-modern view, that will be apparent when I say Lance Burton is art but Penn & Teller are crap, and you take the opposite view. There's generally no need to preface everything with the laborious "in my opinion. . ." because that's the nature of virtually everything we say. More important, those listening/participating in an exchange will likely find some merit in both points, perhaps revising their own view of what art is, and on that basis weigh in on, for instance, whether what Richard Turner does is art or mere demonstration. I use that example because a while back I had what I thought was a quite settled opinion of what Richard Turner does, but Dustin Stinnett entirely transformed that opinion -- with the expression of his own opinion, which became my opinion, too, because he posed it with such conciseness and clarity. I gather others had a similar opinion-changing experience.

Separately, even definitions and opinions that differ -- as to art, good magic, which football team will win, etc. -- will often have more common elements than points of difference. Particularly when the realm of difference is small, it will often happen either that one person comes to agree with the other or, alternatively, people gain respect and regard for others by recognizing that the magnitude of their agreement exceeds how much they disagree. So in this instance, some basic harmony can be achieved -- although it would be dishonest to not acknowledge that one price of these exchanges is disagreement, sometimes with anger.

In any event, I'm sort of surprised that you took this view, as you are one of the most consistently provocative and interesting posters here. More than a few times I'm sure someone began a thread and then emerged from it with their perspective transformed because of a strongly stated idea posted by you.
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Postby JHostler » 01/15/13 01:11 PM

JHostler wrote:I think Eric Mead nailed it @ 3:15. Is the performance intended to communicate something meaningful - and, as Brad would qualify, something other than "wow?" Astonishment alone isn't enough.


I really should amend this: "Astonishment, while essential, isn't sufficient." Bad magic can be entertaining, but that doesn't make the magic itself any better. I was reminded of this a few nights ago, when a simple comment about cherishing that sense of astonishment was met with a nauseating lecture on why "fooling people doesn't matter - as long as they walk away happy."

BULL.

People can "walk away happy" from hot dog stands and Wal Mart.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/15/13 01:17 PM

Let's take as an example Michael Finney's masterful performance of "The Six Card Repeat."

Frankly, I don't think the trick is of much interest to anyone, laymen or magician, in terms of deception. It works exactly the way a laymen presumes it would: you are holding more than six cards in your hand. (This is in opposition to Edward Victor's 11 Card Trick, whether done with currency by Kaps or cards by Dingle, which is a dumbfounding mystery.)

So, what is the success of Finney's performance due to? Entirely to the presentation and his delivery. It has nothing to do with the trick. There is no "wow" involved, yet it's hard to deny that at many levels it's a successful performance.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 01/15/13 01:27 PM

What makes this craft different from standup comedy?
What makes this craft different from what the monologuist or storyteller (or theatrical producer) offers?
What makes this craft different from what the charlatan attempts?
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