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.