Desperately Seeking Meaning

Discuss the latest news and rumors in the magic world.

Postby Dustin Stinett » 12/07/05 03:21 PM

There is perhaps no more reliable indicator of a society's ripeness for a mass movement than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom.
Eric Hoffer

When did we begin the search for meaning?

Im not talking about The Big One (The Meaning Of Life); the search for that began with the dawn of human kind.

No, I mean we as in we magic-types. Im guilty of it; a lot of people here are. A book was written about it; essays on the subject are everywhere: Magic should have meaning.

We are told to seek out tricks and presentations with emotional hooks and that reinforce the message and/or the character.

That, we are told, is the essence of Art.

So, when did this movement begin?

If you are looking to me for an answer, look no further; I dont have one. Im the one asking, after all. Oh, I suppose I could start looking through my old periodicals (which date back to the 19th century) and seek out passages and articles that are germane to the question and then formulate an answer. I bet a book could be written on the subject. But right now I dont feel like it: Its too complex an issue. There are many facets and opinions that fall into countless combinations. In fact, chances are it would just confuse the issue even more, resulting in someone looking for meaning in the search for a meaning.

It would be like trying to find meaning behind a joke, which happens all the time.

Q: How do you get the magician off your front porch?

A: Pay him for the pizza.

What did he mean by that? (Insert appropriate emoticon here.)

Nothing: Its just a joke.

Just like, sometimes, its just a trick.

Dustin
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 12/10/05 07:18 AM

Confession time:

I posted this in Announcements as more of an obscure jab at another thread in the Forums, but Ive received a couple of emails regarding it, so Im moving it to a place where discussion may follow, should any others be so inclined to do so.

One of the emails I received was from Bob Infantino. His response is below. (So remember, what follows is Bobs post. Thanks Bob!)

Posted for Bob Infantino

Finally a post worth responding to. I was getting weary of the inane posts on the cafe and, yes, even here (see the nothing posts regarding Maven and Minch's book elsewhere).

I've often read magic books by our poet laureates e.g. Sharpe, Neale, Burger et. al. and after mulling over their writings and thinking about it all with great consternation, I say to myself, "What the f**k are they talking about?"

Meaning in magic? They're tricks after all. It's not a painting, it's not a musical score, it's a magic trick pure and simple.

Well, maybe in a theater (or more correctly, theatre), I can see magic being an art form (see David Ben). In a theatre, highfalutin people pay to see artist give their interpretation of life (and at over one hundred dollars a seat, you have to be highfalutin).

But in a restaurant, or someone's home, or at a corporate affair, if a magician begins his trick with, "I lost my love once, and it hurt me to the core. If I may, I would like you to feel what I have felt these past ten years of misery with a card trick."

What??!!

People would never come back to the restaurant, families would walk into the other room, business men would laugh you silly and move to another booth.

I think it was David Ben who said it was okay to call them tricks...that's what they are when all is said and done.

I perform magic six nights a week in a local restaurant. No, that was not a typo...SIX NIGHTS A WEEK and I love every second of it. All I do is tricks.
No meaning, no message, nothing about me. It's all about the magic. I know Sankey has written about putting yourself into your magic so the people will know a little about you. Why? I just want to blow them away with a magic trick. I can do that without them knowing one iota about me. Some people have come back to this restaurant week after week for the year I've been there and all they know about me is that my name is Bob. But they also say, "The only reason we come back here is for you." Yes, without telling them one thing about me, without giving my magic any artistic meaning beyond the trick itself, THEY COME BACK FOR ME, for it is I who is performing the trick. The trick doesn't perform itself and the people know that. They know that I'm the one who practiced and rehearsed and can do things that look above and beyond what they've seen in the real world AND THEY COME BACK FOR MORE.

Maybe I do have a message without even realizing it. Maybe my message is: for the short time that we're together, you won't have to think about the problems of the world. You'll laugh, you'll be amazed, and for three or four minutes, you'll feel something in your belly that will make you feel wonderful.

I guess that's meaning.

Bob Infantino
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Postby Matthew Field » 12/10/05 07:34 AM

Dustin, the phrase "Pearls before swine" springs to mind.

There are those who deny the art in magic. Let them do their tricks and be happy.

There are those who seek the art in magic (Wonder, Burger, Neale, Swiss, Schneider, Finn John, Carney, Vernon, Jennings, Racherbaumer, Andrus, Maven, McBride, Hollingworth, Samelson and many others).

Others, in magic history, forged their reputations on magic as art (Robert-Houdin, Hofzinser, Germain, Lepzig -- again, the list goes on).

Some people don't "get" modern art. That's OK. Some scratch their heads at those who try to imbue their magic with meaning and art. That's OK as well.

G.I. Gurdjieff said most people are asleep. I think the same holds true of many magicians.

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Postby Tabman » 12/10/05 09:11 AM

Did the expression "casting pearls before..." actually originally refer to the old, Roman era game of casting lots referencing the order of placing bets to win? Did the new testament hero, Jesus, use it in a parable??? I wish I knew the answer to this. I'm curious to your thoughts???

-=tabman
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Postby Guest » 12/10/05 09:17 AM

I'm not into philosophy and not qualified to participate in any deeper discussion re the original question:

What is the 'meaning'....

I have however some thoughts on the subject and these are general, covering anything ppl occupy themselfes with, being it playing a violine or doing magic.

The meaning of *this* is having fun (both as an amateur and a pro -I'll explain in a moment)and enjoying what one does, being it playing a violine or doing magic in any of it's forms.

Having fun and exploring the possibilities, BECAUSE one does love doing what one does and this also goes for the pros, the real pros!

They do have to make a living, sure, but no real pro ever entered the field of magic (or playing a violine) to get rich and becoming a millionair..they all started as true end devoted hobbyists, and continued to be such...

Just 2 names, Fred Kaps, Albert Goshman.
Many others could and can be added, Don Alan..aso.

Now, doing magic -in this case- is/was their living, but it also gives THEM pleasure and education re *life* in general, as they get a feedback from their audience, which no doubt make them 'proud' (if they are 'good')and is part of the 'meaning' of continuing performing, because it is a positive experience in life to get recognition, seing the audience loves what one does and this gives them the needed 'pad on the back' to continue to find out what ppl enjoy to watch and so they improve and adjust their act accordingly.

So, in short, the meaning is to get pleasure and satisfaction out of what one does, and in case of the pro, also making a decent living.

So the meaning is to walk through life in a way as happy as possible and later being able to look back at those moments of happyness and pleasure one not only has experienced oneselfes, but hopefully ones spectators too, and the result is that ones life isn't *just* wasted by fooling and dabbling through it, but consists of enjoyable moments, again, wheather one has performed magic or played the violine, whatever...

Just the way I look at it...

The alternative is, to let life just pass away meaningless as an 'onlooker'..
Do what you love and like to do, try to pass the pleasure this gives 'you' onto others and the reward should be as above outlined, no more no less...
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Postby Bill Duncan » 12/10/05 05:33 PM

Dustin,
I think theres a small flaw in the question, because it presumes that there was a time when a performing art did not have meaning.

Make no mistake; every performing art is filled with meaning. All performance art is communication between the performer and the audience. The largest difference between an artist like Tommy Wonder, or Max Maven, or Mac King, is self awareness and a consciousness of that communication.

For many magicians the only thing begin actively communicated is see the pretty thing, but they fool themselves if they think that is all they ARE communicating. In every human encounter much more than the spoken words are communicated. In every magic performance much more than the patter is communicated. The artist not only understands what is being communicated, but works consciously at shaping that communication to express something.

And sometimes that something is just see the pretty thing, which is enough for folks who are only looking for something to distract them from their overcooked steak, fried potatoes and all you can eat salad bar.

I would wager that anyone who is getting repeat customers is communicating something besides see the pretty thing to their audiences. Just because you use cooking show patter doesnt mean that the choices you make in material, and the way in which you interact with your audience doesnt communicate something more.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/05 09:16 AM

Sorry, I haven't read all the posts here.
I found my name on one and wish to correct what was said.

Matthew Field

I do not seek "ART" in doing my magic.
I have written many times and in many places that my intention is to not even be entertaining much less persue art.

Reason one. I have attended acting classes. Those that seem to present acting and art talk in such a funny way I simply want to run away.

Reason two. When anyone attempts to define art it goes nowhere. I just hear a bunch of gobly gook that sounds like Jon Townsend. The only sense I make of it is that art is in the eye of the beholder. If you see what I do as art, so be it. That is not what I intend.

Reason three. I am a physicist and I am fascinated with phenomena. I believe that other people are interested in pure phenomena. I perform for those people. If others want to watch, that is OK.

Al Schneider
The purpose of life is to search for the purpose of life.
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Postby Matthew Field » 12/11/05 09:28 AM

Sorry Al. I'll scratch your name off the list.

However -- I majored in, of all things, the Philosophy of Science, so I know quite a bit about physics (not as much as you do). I don't see a dichotomy between physics and art, and, as you say, one can find art in what you do even if you say it is not a goal of yours. Similarly, one may find beauty, even art, in fractals even though it not "meant" to be there.

As Bill Duncan said, to some it may be fine to just present a "See the pretty thing" effect. To others, the esthetics are what matters.

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Postby Countelmsley » 12/11/05 09:37 AM

Hey all!

I strongly believe that if you' ve been doing magic long enough (performing for real people in a real environment), some part of you WILL leak out in your magic, some message WILL be sent to the spectators. So those like Bob who enjoy performing magic just for what it is at first glance (tricks) will nevertheless bring something special to it that they probably dont even know exist.

Of course, there's a big difference between working hard to bring "meaning" (whatever that means TO YOU) to your "art" (once again...) AND subconsciously bringing something new and personnal to the tricks you do.

I say there's no good answer, though. You do what you enjoy doing. You have the choice to either work hard and push the limits of what you' re trying to do, hence help the "art", or... just do some tricks for the fun of it. It' s your call.
Laymen WILL enjoy it all the same...

A thought,
Seb.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/05 11:18 AM

Dear Matthew Field

The term "Philosophy of Science" brings warmth to my heart like "Military Intelligence".

This feeling is based on my history of interacting with those that espouse to know something about physics. I am not accusing you. I am attempting to justify why I feel the way I do.

For example, those in the spiritual realm often use the word energy. They have energy flows. They believe they understand that. Then they prove things because energy is a concept from physics. It is so much babble and frustrates me to no end. I feel they are intelliget and have something to offer. But when they use that word in a realm of faith, I think they really lose it.

One of the fascinating things in physics is the spontaneous appearance of matter. This is an occurance that occurs everywhere in the universe. I have mentioned it to several people, "on the street," and they think I am daff. I first learned about it in a sophmore pyhsics class. I got on the internet one day to see if I could find a bit more about it. Upon entering the search word for it I came up with 100,000 hits. All of the first ones I checked used the concept to prove the existance of god. Hmmmm.

I was talking with a lady about magic one day. She said I was very fortunate that I understood Quantum Mechanics and I could relate that to my magic. In Feynman's words, no one can understand Quantum Mechanics. Her comment blew me away.

Does anyone understand energy? I do not think they do. Energy is E=1/2(m*(v^2)). How can this possibly relate to emotions? How can this possibly relate to magic?

Now, to offer something constructive here, I would like to point out how this influences my magic. As I construct a trick I attempt to ignore the ideas of how an audience might feel about a move. I focus totally on what they percieve. I am aware that how the audience feels about me can affect how much they are fooled. Thus, I aim at doing moves that are logical and presenting a pleasant personality so I do not alinate my audience. I dare say I see many performers that do something with "energy" and attempt to appeal to the emotions of the audience do it in a condesending way that the alienates their audience.

Some of those that aspire to art and a meaningful story simply leave their audience cold.

It seems to me a bit of pure logic would go a long way to enhancing their performance.
Al Schneider
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Postby Gord » 12/11/05 12:51 PM

I believe that there are two ways to translate "meaning" in magic.
Way one is through the magician. A magi can put meaning into their presentation ala Burger, and no, "meaning" in close up magic does not have to mean deep philosophical quandries mated with an ambitiouse card routine. (Again, I refer you to Burger.)
Yet there can also be meaning out of what the audience get's from a trick. It doesn't have to be deep, it can be as simple as being blown away by a "Three-Fly" routine. When the audience reacts posativle, I believe they have found some sort of meaning in your trick. It may ne be earth shattering, but it's something.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/05 06:25 PM

as an audience member, I'd really rather just see cool tricks with a nice presentation

catharsis should be allowed to happen accidentally, not forced, according to the confluence of person, artifact or event, and timing

relevance or even artistry should be applied with the lightest possible touch if at all, the artless art

but just as there have been different schools of poetry simultaneously, and different flavors and depths of music, not to mention what kind of movie to get at the video store, I would agree there is room for different approaches to magic

I'm not sure that people of today need magicians to "play shaman" ... we are probably all processing and considering meaning every day in moments that would not make a good story for anyone else ... but I would agree that some magic could be a nice communal event

on the other hand, maybe some people could connect with this presentation for the "torn and restored thread":

"Merlin, as you know, was born full of prophecies and magic ... as he became a young man, he learned languages and other skills to be useful in the moments he had foreseen ... what we would call dreams were just another day in the life -- future or past -- a rather non-linear life from our point-of-view [tears up the thread] ... in middle age, he let go of much that he had learned, but it was only years later, as he wandered in the woods, that the course and the melody of his life became clear"

followed up by the magician producing an owl from his large beard ;)

although of course, production of the owl might be more effective from the sideburn or silver earring (nipple-ring if performing shirtless), which would have less cover

I'm also thinking of things like storyboarding, color-schemes and textures, nice props, a tea ceremony, "great ingredients, simply prepared"

[but these have more to do with the art of a presentation in general, and may or may not contribute to the conveyance or involvement of "meaning"]
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/11/05 07:40 PM

Originally posted by Al Schneider:
... When anyone attempts to define art it goes nowhere.

I just hear a bunch of gobly gook that sounds like Jon Townsend...
Interesting, you can get a degree in art history and even then only know about what DID make some things art and still not have sure fire method to make new and significant art.

And thanks Al, that's why I can discuss matters with those who work in other fields. I learned a little of their field and use the terms they developed to describe the subjects they study, like art, meaning, signs, subjective reality etc.

If we want to discuss meaning, we need to also discuss context.

Anyone here think of a blue shovel when they seek a symbol for meaning?
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Guest » 12/11/05 08:01 PM

Originally posted by Al Schneider:
Dear Matthew Field

Does anyone understand energy? I do not think they do. Energy is E=1/2(m*(v^2))... It seems to me a bit of pure logic would go a long way to enhancing their performance.
Al Schneider
When anyone attempts to define art it goes nowhere. I just hear a bunch of gobbly gook that sounds like Al Schnieder. The only sense I make of it is that art is in the eye of the beholder. If you see pure logic as art, so be it...

Best, PSC
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Postby Pete Biro » 12/11/05 09:30 PM

Modern art... I can paint it
Real art... I can't paint it

Meaning? Darned if I know... all I know is if I am in the MOOD to magish and know the folks watching like it I will do something.

If the chemistry is wrong... I clam up.
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Postby Guest » 12/11/05 10:08 PM

The goal of anyone who calls himself a performing artist is to create Art. It is the audience, however, not the artist, who judges whether this objective has been successfully accomplished.

One definition of Art that I find compelling is that Art is the direct communication between the imagination of the Artist and that of his audience.

I expect that if this communication is achieved, the audience has found some meaning in the work of the Artist.

If the performer has no imagination, and is merely parroting someone else's ideas or routines, some sort of meaning might still be communicated, almost by accident, though not through the creativity of the parroter, but rather through the strength of the originator's concept and imagination.

While not every performer can originate brilliant effects or routines, we can all strive to at least become interpreters of the material we present and bring something of ourselves to the creative ideas of others. In this way we can still communicate something original, within the framework of someone else's routine.

The audience, as I said earlier, then decides if what we did is meaningful to them or whether it constitutes Art.

- entity
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Postby Guest » 12/11/05 11:25 PM

Let's look at one magician who also successfully existed in the fields of other arts; film and theatre. Orson Welles.

From the documentary, "One Man Band" which can be seen on the Criterion Collection DVD issue of his "F for Fake," Welles says a few interesting things about magic. I'll paraphrase:

Magic has a sort of visual poetry to it that I find delightful.

Actors are different magicians, every magician claims to be the greatest in the world
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 02:43 AM

I still believe we have to keep in mind what the real estate people espouse: Location, location, location (or more appropriately for this conversation: Venue, venue, venue).

In a theatre, the magical performer has more time to talk meaning, act meaning, promote meaning in his/her routines. The promotional speaker using magic can use meaningful routines to promote their cause.

In the restaurant, a family's home, or a business trade show, all art goes out the window.

I love kfortin's story line for the Broken & Restored Thread, but if I tried that routine at the restaurant I work at, it would go something like this:

me: "Merlin, as you know, was born full of prophecies and magic..."

Johnny: "Mommy, what's profecy?"

Mommy: "Shush, Johnny, just watch."

me: "As he became a young man..."

waitress: "I'm sorry ma'am, we're all out of chicken noodle, would you like Manhattan Clam, Split Pea, or Cream of Mushroom, instead?"

me: "...he learned languages..."

Mommy: "I think I"ll have the salad instead."

server bringing the entree: "Who has the chicken wings."

me: "Maybe I'll come back later."

And so it goes performing real magic in the real world for real people. My magic certainly has changed since I first started in 1977 to today. I studied the masters and used their routines in the real world with little success. I remember reading The Coins of Ishtar by Jules DeBarros. I loved reading and practicing the long routine with the long storyline. I thought it clever and interesting...until I performed it for real people. What a flop. Too long, too esoteric, too many other things that I couldn't understand why there was no grand response from the audience.

And that's what I look for in a magic trick...a grand response. My magic today has turned into the two minute pop song. Back in the long ago fifties, radio only played songs that lasted two minutes. That's my magic today: hit 'em fast, hit 'em hard. My hook (or frame as Burger calls it) is a five or six word sentence, and them BAM, the trick.

Again, it's the venue. I used to perform in comedy clubs and my magic was different...but not much. The venue of the comedy club calls for fast and furious. I used to do family shows, I actually tried using meaningful presentations and people just sat there. When I converted to the two minute pop trick, there was laughter and applause.

If I ever perform in a theatre, I might try more meaning/art...but then again, maybe not. The old style vaudeville comedians probably never had this discussion. Whatever makes 'em laugh, that's what they did.

Today, it seems people respond to two things: 1- laughter and 2- absolute, utter, unbelievable impossibility.

That's the meaning I bring to my audiences.
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 03:28 AM

BRAVO INFANTINO !!!
Finally somebody revealing the truth re those dreadfull and long, by many magicians so beloved, STORIES!!!
They don't work in many venues, it's also IMHO exactly as you described..
Fastly in, fastly out with a big BANG!!

That's magic..

Forget all these stories, very few are interesting, BUT I also admit a few are..f.ex. Cellinis presentation of Sawas Slot machine, Bill Malones *Sam the Bellhop* and a few others like Dai Vernons Cutting the Aces/the one armed gambler aso, but note the 'good' ones of them (like Bill Malones) are part of the fast going on action..no long intro and babbling, magic happening right away..

Fred Kaps did interact with the specs instead, so did Al Goshman and Don Alan..they didn't use long drawn out stories because they want to make sure their specs didn't fall asleep before the action started..
JMHO...and especially in a restaurant situation what you described is true and a good example..in fastly, out fastly, leaving a lasting impression..

I had a short go yesterday, once again proving that it works..and it works great that way..

In fast, out fast, leaving a lasting impression..easy to realize when hearing the remarks out of the corner of the eares..and the *come soon again, may I get your phoneno.* aso, proving they where awake and didn't fall asleep :p
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/12/05 05:51 AM

Originally posted by DustinStinett:
...When did we begin the search for meaning?...
Not sure about meaning in the mythic sense.

Let's see if this works for folks:

Someone recently posted that if you do a trick with slightly different props, it (from our magician's perspective now) becomes a different trick and one should not call it by the name of the original. In this case it was Matrix.

So, when we get to meaning, we also need to ask if the meaning of a routine is focused upon the actual props or if the meaning has a component that uses the props as icons or stand-ins for something else.
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 06:54 AM

So we seem to have a gap between the folk who do "meaning" intrinsically (Goshman, Alan ["It's tricks!"], Infantino -- not a swine among them), and those who fret about it...

Perhaps they aren't so different as the shouting would lead us to believe. Without question, the thing that makes the "intrinsic meaning" folk successful is that they share themselves in their performance. The restaurant patrons come back to see Bob. The great Albert said, "the magic is you." Maybe that's what makes the "extrinsic meaning" folk (Burger et al.) successful, too.

And then all the theorists try to scholasticize and formalize the process. Ironically, the end result is often soulless and mechanical.

"Art", remaining impossible to define, is successful when "personality" (equally undefinable) is injected into it. And whether your "personality" can be described with "Boo!" (Maven) or "I like amazing and silly things, and I'm going to share them with you" (Kaye), if you succeed in layering that personality onto your performance, you magically conjure "meaning" into your performance, whether your favorite magic book is "Magic and Meaning" or "Seriously Silly".

From where I sit, the big difference between the "intrinsic meaning" folk and the "extrinsic meaning" folk is not so much their success at adding meaning (i.e. personality) to their performances, but rather the degree of pomposity that they bring to the discussion.
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Postby Bill Wells » 12/12/05 08:24 AM

I would like to add my "Bravo" for Infantino's post as well...

Having just worked a Corporate "holiday" party this past weekend all this is rather fresh in my mind and I must agree that when one is working rounds of ten against a constant background of music and a singer interspersed with drawings for the door prizes and various happy holiday speeches from the "owners" as one attempts to work in the magic before they dig into the entries that "art" in performance is a somewhat distance concern.

The need to entertain becomes paramount and in this sort of environment the "story" approach is almost impossible. One must hit hard and quickly and evoke wonder and humor. If a routine isn't short then it must have multiple spikes of entertainment. In addition to your presentation, you must also be able to reset on the fly, have everything in the proper places to allow you to be mobile, and be ready to react to whatever situation evolves in the next moment.

I do think one gives or leaves something of themselves (beyond the stresses endured) even in these situations. There is a sense of wonder at how a fellow human is able to accomplish such things. I am often drawn into discussions with the spectators wanting to know how I got into magic, or have I seen Cooperfield, etc. However, it is difficult to always feel you are being an artist in the sense of creating "art" in many of the more common working enviroments.

A close up demonstration at a magic convention...maybe. Table hopping or a holiday hospitality suite...I don't know but I know that "art" isn't uppermost in your mind.

Bill
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Postby Pete Biro » 12/12/05 09:53 AM

Aha.... that's why (TO ME) the true artists in magic were the bar guys... Johnny Paul, Heba Haba Al, Frank Everhart, Frank Shields...

And the NO STORY CRAP great magic of Fred Kaps and Slydini... Goshman, Alan...

Ah yes...
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Postby Carl Mercurio » 12/12/05 09:57 AM

I think the term "meaning" is misused and misunderstood. What we're really searching for is "context." Cutting a rope and restoring it is inherently meaningful; it causes people consiously or unconsciously to question the laws of nature and life. That's why it's a classic trick that resonates with people. You don't have to add meaning; the meaning is built in.

But you do have to ask yourself, "Why am I performing this particular trick at this particular time in this particular way? What does it say about me as a performer?" I.e., "context."
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 10:02 AM

One big exception re the non-stop story-tellers

Gordon Miller doing the Afghan Bands, that's pure entertainment and magic!

But again it depends on the place/venue.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/12/05 10:31 AM

There are ways to "tell" a story to someone.

The "once upon a time" approach is ONE way.

Another is to allow them to watch a reenactment.

A third way is to have the story happen with the audience in real time.

That pesky salt seemed to keep pouring every time Mr. Kaps did the act, and folks liked it each time. That's an example of the real-time approach. That approach depends upon having a likable character (persona) and making sure the methods and mechanics (behind the scenes stuff) don't distract from the acting.

Given the choice, I most enjoy the real-time approach.
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 11:11 AM

When you reach a certain level of competence in any artform, you arrive at the fork in the road where you can choose to either use the artform to comment upon and illuminate things that are important to you...let's call this "Magic With Meaning," or, you may instead choose the path that simply showcases the artform itself and for it's own sake...let's call this "NO STORY CRAP."

Both are equally valid, and somewhere along the line you may well jump from one TO the other. Nothing is set in stone.

Relax, do what YOU do, and enjoy the other guy for what HE does.

One last thought; to make a blanket statement that "X" does not work in "Y" venue is to self-limit. If you say it won't work, then it definitely won't...for you.

Magical Elder
(One copy of THE OTHER BOOK still remains...grab it while you can!)
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Postby Bill Duncan » 12/12/05 12:53 PM

Originally posted by Pete Biro:
Aha.... that's why (TO ME) the true artists in magic were the bar guys... Johnny Paul, Heba Haba Al, Frank Everhart, Frank Shields...

And the NO STORY CRAP great magic of Fred Kaps and Slydini... Goshman, Alan...

Ah yes...
If you are a genuinely nice person, you might find success doing magic in the same vein as Johnny Paul, or Heba Haba Al and simply be their new friend who does some cool stuff.

And perhaps, the reason Kaps and Goshman and Sydini were successful was that in spite of the fact that they couldnt pull off the STORY CRAP, they were able to find something that worked for them. I think it might be a mistake to assume that magic presented with stories is bad, simply because your favorite magicians didnt do it. Im not a fan of huge spectacles of magic with lions and tigers (and bears? Oh my!) But I can still appreciate that what S&R did was wonderful. I hate watching split fan productions but Id stand in line to see Shimada or McBride, or Lance Burton in spite of the fact they all feature them.

Eugene Burger does some great story magic, and Michael Closes The Frog Prince is about as good as card tricks get. But both of those fellows are actually interesting to listen to even if they dont have a pack of cards in their hands.

People who can CAN tell stories entertainingly, SHOULD tell them. And people who cant, should find some other way, and choose material that is suited to their talents.
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Postby David Alexander » 12/12/05 12:57 PM

I like and agree with Bob Infantinos posts. Clearly, a working pro who knows his stuff. Apparently, those who do not agree with Matt Field are, by his definition, swine. Thanks for that, Matt. Glad were keeping this discussion on a high plane.

So, is magic an art with meaning, a lot of self-indulgent amateur-defined [censored], or is it something else?

Well, first you have to separate amateur magic from professional magic, a subject Ive written about elsewhere. The two are different primarily in why performers perform and their goals of performing. The amateur performs to entertain himself and the pro works to satisfy his audiences entertainment needs.

Can magic be performed artfully? Sure, but who decides what is artful and what isnt? Is it the province of the amateur to define art or should it be that of the professional to perform artfully and the amateur to understand what he can of the performance he sees, absent the understanding and experience of what is required of the professional?

It must be remembered that much of what is considered art in magic by the amateur population is considered nonsense by the working pro whose goal is to entertain and get paid for delivering a known level of entertainment.

Sitting around and pontificating or writing books on meaning doesnt put groceries on the table for the working performer. There is a difference between theories and the real world. I live and work in the real work, thus, any theory must be tested in real world situations. Many fail the test of real world performing and are little more than self-indulgent nonsense put forward by people who think they know, but have no working experience to back up what they say.

If the goal is art, well that can be defined by the amateur in any way he wants to achieve his goal. Entertaining an audience might be part of the goal if the audience is amateur magicians. This is often the province of contests at conventions of amateur magicians. That which is perceived as artful by amateur judges is rewarded and that which is commercial (entertaining to lay audiences) is not. Being a contest winner does not automatically make you an entertaining magician worthy of being paid.

Are they tricks, mere divertissement from the every day or is there something deeper and profound? It can be both, but rarely. It depends on the venue, the audience, the performer, the expectations of the audience, what the performer is being paid to do, a variety of things. What the amateur thinks is art or artful is not necessarily what the public is willing to pay to experience.

This is also a large portion of the argument between art and commerce. A lot of what amateurs consider art is simply material that fooled them. Ive heard amateurs denigrate top pro acts because what was performed didnt fool them, or was old hat. (I was present when a clown who posts here occasionally made the latter comment when watching a video of one of the top review acts in the world. I told him that he would have been happy to have had ten percent of that performers success.)

As an example of commercial vs "art," I knew a working pro in the Los Angles area who did the Sub Truck. He did not tie his wife in a bag, use handcuffs, make a change of costume, or come out of the trunk smoking a cigarette after the switch. He and his wife simply changed places inside a locked and roped trunk under cover of a tent held by four people from the audience. There was plenty of interaction with the audience, plenty of laughs and entertaining bits.

I asked him why he didnt do the additional effects and he answered honestly, In a week, no one will remember anything more than that I changed places with my wife quickly. Anything more artful was lost/wasted on the audience and added nothing to what would be remembered. This was not an artful routine, but a commercial one, done by a successful working pro who made a good living performing entertaining magic.

The difference between the amateur and professional is often visible in reviews. I have read reviews written by amateurs which differed by 180 degrees from the same show seen the same night by working professionals. I remember one example quite clearly. The amateur reviewer was all agog at how wonderful the performer was while the two working pros who saw the same performance candidly told me in separate conversations that the performer was awful, the lay audience lukewarm to his personality, and the show not worth the money charged. Whose opinion do I value?

I have often wondered, on reading the opinions of authorities who often make their livings doing anything but magic, how they would react if I walked into their offices and defined for them what their profession is or how it should be judged by non-professionals in the field.

When defining art it is important to keep in mind George Jean Nathans marvelous observation: The confidence of amateurs is the envy of professionals.
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 02:31 PM

>>>It must be remembered that much of what is considered art in magic by the amateur population is considered nonsense by the working pro whose goal is to entertain and get paid for delivering a known level of entertainment>>>>

All due respect, but what you describe is a journeyman entertainer. There's nothing wrong with limiting your aspirations to 'getting paid for delivering a known level of entertainment," but I hardly think that define's a "working pro."

Take Norm Neilsen's Miser's Dream, for example. He's systematically eliminated every single extraneous move over the years until the piece has been pared down to it's essence, and nothing more. He took someting difficult and made it look easy, THEN, he took something that looked easy and made it beautiful. Therein lies 'art'.

Take Penn & Teller's Water Tank. They took a card trick and turned it into a biting satire on the nature of partnership and the enormous egos in showbiz. Therein lies the "art".

These are just three examples of 'working pros' who went FAR beoynd 'providing a known level of entertainment,' and I'd hazard a guess that none of them think 'art in magic' is "[censored]."

M.E.
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 03:44 PM

Oh! I get it.
1 I babble.
2 I am a swine.
3 If one cannot uderstand it, its art.
4 If one can understand it, it doesn't matter.
5 Even if I do not believe I do art, I do.
Al Schneider
Sorry, for babbling.
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Postby David Alexander » 12/12/05 04:07 PM

Your example of Norm Neilsen's Miser's Dream is not as valid as you think. Norm adapted the Miser's Dream so it conformed to the musical theme of his act - the coins cascading down a sort of xylophone that was attractive to the senses of sight and sound. This act was designed for a specific type of venue: a review. As such, the act had limitations and Norm worked within them to produce what he did. "Essence" had little to do with it.

Norm's presentation is artfully done for a variety of reasons you don't mention, but it isn't any "better" or more "artful" (whatever you think that means) than what Frakson did when he worked reviews as a featured performer and did a completely different and highly effective Miser's Dream.

The working pro's first responsibility is to deliver a known quantity of entertainment. That is what he is being paid for and is not necessarily limiting, as you seem to think. It can and is done arfully, but art isnt the primary objective.

What has not been mentioned, and seems little understood, is the necessary stagecraft of the performer. David Copperfield is poised on stage and moves well. His successful presentation of Flying is almost completely dependent on his ability to utilize his body properly; the pointing of his toe as he lands, the appropriate use of his arms and legs as he levitates, all contribute to the creation of the illusion; otherwise, hed just be hanging from John Gaughns wires. This is a magic effect artfully done. It works on a variety of levels.

The past master of stagecraft is John Calvert who moved as though he owned the stage. (He did.) Others had the same skill, but it seems little understood in magic where tricks and methods seem of supreme importance. What some confuse as "artful" is actually competence in moving, handling props, and the performer using his own physicality in a proper manner.
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 08:22 PM

>>>Your example of Norm Neilsen's Miser's Dream is not as valid as you think. Norm adapted the Miser's Dream so it conformed to the musical theme of his act - the coins cascading down a sort of xylophone that was attractive to the senses of sight and sound. This act was designed for a specific type of venue: a review. As such, the act had limitations and Norm worked within them to produce what he did. "Essence" had little to do with it.>>>

Perhaps you didn't see what I saw. When Norm holds up a coin and gently wiggles it so it catches the light, the rest of his body is ab-so-lute-ly still. Not a muscle is moving, and the whole of Norm's being is focused on the tips of his fingers where the coin has just materialized. THAT'S what I mean when I say 'pared it down to it's essence'...everything even remotely extraneous has been eliminated.

>>>Norm's presentation is artfully done for a variety of reasons you don't mention, but it isn't any "better" or more "artful" (whatever you think that means) than what Frakson did when he worked reviews as a featured performer and did a completely different and highly effective Miser's Dream.>>>

You're setting up a straw man, here. I didn't say ANYthing about 'more "artful" or less artful, for that matter.

>>>What has not been mentioned, and seems little understood, is the necessary stagecraft of the performer. David Copperfield is poised on stage and moves well. His successful presentation of Flying is almost completely dependent on his ability to utilize his body properly; the pointing of his toe as he lands, the appropriate use of his arms and legs as he levitates, all contribute to the creation of the illusion; otherwise, hed just be hanging from John Gaughns wires. This is a magic effect artfully done. It works on a variety of levels. >>>

Which is precisely what I was saying about Norm.

>>>The working pro's first responsibility is to deliver a known quantity of entertainment. That is what he is being paid for and is not necessarily limiting, as you seem to think. It can and is done arfully, but art isnt the primary objective.>>>

Yes. We agree. There is nothing wrong with this journeyman's approach. It's perfectly valid.

M.E.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/12/05 09:08 PM

In direct answer to Bob I's statement below:

"Meaning in magic? They're tricks after all. It's not a painting, it's not a musical score, it's a magic trick pure and simple."

There is nothing wrong with adding some mystery to the ambiance at a restaurant. That is your chosen context. Great that folks are responding well and from your efforts leaving with a better impression of our art.

Just as there is decor in the restaurant which is not the same as the objects one finds in museums, there are other aspects to our performing art which (as you rightly stated) would be about as suitable as putting original works by DaVinci and Rembrandt in a family eatery. All about the context.

As long as we don't forget that much of what we take for granted about the decor in our environment started as bold experiment by those whose works can be found in museums, we can all get along. Both Rembrandt and DaVinci were artisans who did works for commission and for hire.
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Guest » 12/12/05 10:22 PM

I can see this thread turning ugly. Someone alluding to us as swine, another saying we're limited...if someone mentions Hitler's name, it's all over.

Me, I'm just a blue collar magician doing my part bringing happiness and wonder in a place so badly in need of it. Glad to see some working magicians here as well (good talking to you on the phone, David). I always wonder how many poet laureates of magic are real performers...meaning they perform full time? Or do they have a fifty hour a week job sitting behind a desk and do an occasional show a few times a year. I don't think Sharpe performed professionally, I know Burger does, I don't know if Fitzkee did, I don't know if Ken Weber does ("Maximum Entertainment"). I think it's important for people philosophizing on performing magic to know what it's like to do what they're talking about in front of a real audience...and by "real" I don't mean the guys at the magic club.

I'm not saying there *can't* be art or meaning in magic, I'm just saying it depends where you are. I love Peter Samelson's rendition of Wintertime in China to the point I get chills, but try doing that routine other than in a theatre setting and he'll get yawns and walk-outs. As amazing as Rene Levand is, he'd probably bomb in a restaurant situation. Brother John Hamman was one of our greatest creators...I fell asleep during his six DVD set. Put these guys where they belong and they'll get standing ovations.

Venue, venue, venue.

This is going to sound hokey, but when I see a great painting by one of the masters, my eyes fill up with tears...I'm not kidding. I'm strange that way...great paintings make me weep. Hang that same painting in a booth at a flea market next to paintings of dogs playing poker, kids with big eyes, and Elvis in velvet, and that same painting that brought me tears wouldn't elicit a blink.

Location, location, location.

Regarding Bill's comment, "...it is difficult to always feel you are being an artist in the sense of creating "art" in many of the more common working environments." I remember reading an interview with Bob Dylan and the interviewer asked him, "How are you able to write some of the most important songs of our generation?"

Dylan answered, "I don't know."

The interviewer continued, "When you write a song, what is the meaning behind it, the motivation?"

Dylan: "I don't know."

Interviewer: "When you wrote All Along the Watchtower, what did you mean?"

Dylan (with an almost pained expression): "I don't know."

Sometimes art just happens, sometimes it's worked on. If it's worked on and worked on, it looks that way...almost strained.

If it just happens, it's magic.

Bob Infantino
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Postby Pete McCabe » 12/12/05 11:51 PM

Forgive me for interrupting a thread which is giving so many well-respected magicians a chance to insult each other, but isn't Dustin's question based on a false premise? Magic didn't "begin" the search for meaning. The oldest magic was entirely about meaning. It wasn't until sometime around the age of Discoverie of Witchcraft that the idea of magic as "entertainment" was put forth.

Wouldn't a more accurate question be, when did we stop trying to put meaning in our magic?
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Postby Guest » 12/13/05 12:28 AM

a close-up idea:

a little plastic or rubber pig is introduced

a pearl and a piece of Meow Mix are placed in front of the piggie

"decisions, decisions"

the pig is given a moment of privacy to decide

"I think I hear some crunching"

now the pig has turned into jade, and the pearl and the Meow Mix are both gone
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Postby magicam » 12/13/05 01:58 AM

My take: Dustin is not clear on his question. But I think maybe the essence of Dustins question was, when did magicians begin to regard their performances as artful (or as expressions of an art form, or as performance art).

I think most historians would point to the mid 19th century as a place to begin studying to answer such a question, and would cite Robert-Houdin as one of the key early proponents of magic as an art form. Those who read Christian Fechners biography of Robert-Houdin will find arguably the best documentation to date of Robert-Houdins struggle to raise the status of magic and magicians in the eyes of the public and the creative cognoscenti on a par with the performances of actors, musicians, playwrights, signers, etc.

I believe the widespread self-consciousness of magi as performers of an art form had its birth in the 19th century.

Clay
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 12/13/05 05:59 AM

Magic used to be the way the arts and sciences got passed down and demonstrated.

J. E. Robert-Houdin (and Hofzinser, DeKolta... ) did a great job of keeping magic from sinking beneath the rising level of technology of their time.

Are we looking at a TV cartoon dog and asking when or how it's related to wolves?
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Guest » 12/13/05 08:45 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by INFANTINO:
[QB] I can see this thread turning ugly. Someone alluding to us as swine, another saying we're limited...if someone mentions Hitler's name, it's all over.>>>>

Oh yeah, Larry Hitler...tablehops at Applebee's on Sunday afternoons...great story magic!

BTW, re-read what I wrote...I NEVER said you-uns were 'limited'. I simply responded to David's assertion that a working performer's goal is to "get paid to provide a known level of entertainment." That statement is SELF-limiting. Understand, Bob, the only limits placed on what a working pro's goal "is" are being placed by the "NO STORY CRAP" contingent.

>>>Sometimes art just happens, sometimes it's worked on. If it's worked on and worked on, it looks that way...almost strained.>>>

Really? Chaplin worked on City Lights for over two years...looked 'strained', did it? How many re-writes of Phantom of the Opera do you think Leroux went through before he was satistfied? Beethoven said the....9th, was it?....popped into his head all at once, but then he spent months polishing it until it was.........art.

On and on, example after example, "art' is the result of painstaking work, not happy accident.

M.E.
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