Is magic an art form?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MohanaMisra, Nov 18, 2020.


Is magic an art form?

  1. Yes

  2. No

  3. Could be

  4. I don't care. Card tricks are cool!

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  1. Now, hold up. The question might seem redundant to you and maybe you're exasperated, but I couldn't find any actual and more importantly, recent discussion on this topic which by its very nature, needs to come up again and again after certain intervals of time as the world changes and the priorities and styles of the most visible faces of the magic community at large, change. In my opinion, this discussion doesn't aim to change anybody's point of view, instead clarify each of our own perspective.



    Essential definitions:-

    Art form:

    "The more or less established structure, pattern, or scheme followed in shaping an artistic work." (

    "An unconventional form or medium in which impulses regarded as artistic may be expressed." and "An undertaking or activity enhanced by a high level of skill or refinement."
    ( )

    "An activity that someone does very well and gives them the opportunity to show imagination." ( )

    "Art is a diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), which express the creator's imagination, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.[1][2] Other activities related to the production of works of art include art criticism and the history of art." (

    "The arts refers to the theory, human application and physical expression of creativity found in human cultures and societies through skills and imagination in order to produce objects, environments and experiences." (

    The above definitions aren't to limit the discussion, just provide a broad view of what is art, because as even Wikipedia says, "Though there is no generally agreed definition of what constitutes art, and ideas have changed over time, general descriptions mention an idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency[8] and creation."

    To be noted: The above sites often used rap music, comic writing and wine making as examples of an art form inspite of them being pretty niche. Meanwhile, none of them mentioned magic.


    There are two schools of thought, one that says magic is an art form, one that says magic isn't an art form, and one extra lenient school which thinks that magic isn't naturally an art form but could be made into one. The question is simple,

    Do you think magic is an art form? If yes, why? If no, why not?

    Please reply because I'd love to have a discussion on this because I think magic is an art form and I'm curious as to what others on these forums think.

  2. Magic is a skill set or set of tools that can be used to create art. The performance is the art, not the skill used to create the performance.

    Just like a paint brush isn't an art form, but can be used to make works of art.
    MohanaMisra and RealityOne like this.
  3. I think anything can be an artform, if done correctly. It depends on how you define it, but my vague definition is something that exudes imagination and invokes emotion. With that framing, I see art in all sorts of things. Movies, paintings, buildings, sports, dress, food, books, organization, video games, cityscapes, and so on. Art can be found in anything.

    So in short, yes, I believe magic is an art form, if applied right. For example, here is Lance Burton doing a levitation act. Stunningly artistic. Now here is a video of some guy performing a sandwich routine. Not so artistic...

    Disclaimer: I don't mean to come off as an elitist. My magic has more in common with the guy I am calling not very artistic than Lance Burton.
    MohanaMisra likes this.
  4. That is really your answer. What percentage of magic performances has beauty or emotional power? What percentage is just a trick? Magic could be art, but typically isn't.

    I'll go further. Not every painting is a work of art.

    Think about this... the performance by the performer is the art... not the props or the skills but HOW you do it.
    WitchDocIsIn likes this.
  5. I agree with the above sentiments: Yes, magic can be art, but not all magic is art. I'd like to ask a new question: Which magic is art?

    Therein lies the rub: Beauty is in the eye of the observer. I wouldn't classify many of Picasso's paintings as art, but other people will passionately fight me on that. When does a specific painting fall into the category of "Art"? Or a piece of music? Or a magic performance? Why isn't magickidz237's YouTube video of Twisting the Aces "Art", whereas David Copperfield's flying illusion is?
  6. I actually had a bit down that road that I deleted from the post.

    Is it?

    That is the problem indeed. There's no way to define 'art' in a useful way. It's a debate that's been going on for centuries. I simplify it for my own sanity - art is something created that evokes emotions or thoughts. Emotions being the more valuable option.

    Sure, it's broad. It's entirely subjective. But it keeps my obsessive brain from picking at the idea forever.

    Also, due to that definition, I don't think most magic performances are art.
  7. Ultimately, the answer is consensus over time. I also think there is a semantic difference between "an art form" which is something that can be used to produce art but which doesn't necessarily mean everything produced using that form is art, "artistic" which means it contains elements of art (e.g. drama, storytelling, beauty, emotion, etc.) but again may not constitute art and "art" which is the consensus over time that it contains the lasting elements that elevate it to an exalted status.

    Which brings me to a different question -- how can this discussion improve your magic? Whatever we say here is meaningless unless it gives us a perspective that we can put into practice.
    WitchDocIsIn likes this.
  8. Probably the smart thing to do.

    Great question. To piggyback on Christopher's definition: Build your magic act to provoke thought and emotion. How to do that? I'll let smarter and more experienced people answer that question. (In case you didn't get the hint: That's you, David and Christopher!)
    MohanaMisra likes this.
  9. @RealityOne @WitchDocIsIn That was meant as an honest question. How specifically do you make an act thought/emotion provoking?

    PS: @WitchDocIsIn, I have an unrelated question for you specifically, but can't seem to be able to PM you. Would you mind shooting me a direct message?
  10. Like a mirror, art is reflective. We see and feel in it things that are inside ourselves.

    I love paintings by Monet. When I look at them, I see these vidid colors and amazing images that linger when you close your eyes. When I look at them up close, I can see the tiny brushstrokes -- each of them alone insignificant but with a thousand others along side them it creates this beautiful illusion of reality. His paintings of water convey a mood - bright or cloudy, relaxing or serious, scenic or busy. I am experiencing a stylized reality through his eyes shared through his paintbrush.

    The first ten minutes of the move UP! provokes a lot of thought an emotion. Why? Because we see our grandparents, parents or ourselves in the characters. We see a story about love and dreams and loss. What it means differs for each of us depending on how we view life.

    But there is a problem. Magic is inherently trivial. There. I said it. MAGIC IS INHERENTLY TRIVIAL. A card vanishes from a deck and reappears in your pocket, a dollar bill disappears in a flash and appears in an orange, a ball moves from one cup to another, two jacks ultimately appear next to your selected card - not even full of sound or fury but still signifying nothing. By itself, the best we can hope for is a second of impossibility or a moment of astonishment. The aura of mysticism vanishes as quickly as it appear. "Nice trick." The understanding that there is a method interrupts - even if they don't know THE method, they know there is A method.

    To make magic art, it must become symbolic in that it represents something else. It has to become a mirror that reflects more than it is.

    So, a simple effect of four objects becoming five in a spectator's hands becomes something more when the objects are worry stones and the magician talks about the difference between worrying and prayer, quoting a pop singer, a Russian agnostic and a Dutch theologian.

    An effect where two people pick the same card out of two different decks becomes a compatibility test for a relationship and asks the question - is it better for a couple to be more alike or to be different?

    A selected card being found in a unique location becomes a story about a favorite uncle who proves that both genius and a spectator's selected card can be found in the legacy of an empty gin bottle.

    The redundancy of an egg disappearing and reappearing becomes a story about a young girl's wishes and how humanity is not always how it appears.​

    The HOW to get there is both simple and difficult. Take an effect and hold it in your mind, wondering what it reminds you of and asking what feelings it evokes in you. Focus on what the effect reflects for you and build your presentation around that. That is easier said than done - and, well, that is the simple part. The difficult path is to read. Read what you ask? Everything. Magic and non-magic. Read everything magic you can because that gives you the effects, plots and methods you need to construct the magic side of the presentation. Read everything you can non-magic - short stories, news articles, novels, classics, morality tales, Edgar Allan Poe, the Brother's Grimm, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner - read books on perception like Blink or How Real is Real, read books on history, just read. Why? Because reading is the best way to understand life and humanity. Keep two notebooks. One with ideas of magic you would like to do and one with ideas of presentations that you find meaningful. In those instances where those two notebooks intersect, you will find art.
    MohanaMisra likes this.
  11. I agree of course, that not all magic is art. But I think that's more relevant when we talk about whether a particular act/creation is a work of art, or what makes something a work of art. My question isn't really if the random trick on You Tube is a work of art, but whether magic itself is an art form.

    I think the difference is essential is because when defining something as an art form, we usually ignore anything subpar. If somebody were to really, really closely study the way Justin Timberlake sang a song, from his expressions, most minor inflections in his voice, his style and made a cover on You Tube (mind you, I'm assuming they created an exact copy, just with bad production value), then I'd be uncomfortable calling that a work of art. There are several people out there in fact who create near-copies of the original song, without adding any of their own variations or style in the song.

    But that doesn't change that music itself is an art form.

    There are also exact copies of hundreds of popular paintings. There are copies of Mona Lisa which look 99% similar to the original Mona Lisa and have only the most subtle of differences which give them away. Those copies aren't works of art (they are just called a 'fake' in fact).

    But that doesn't stop painting itself from being an art form.

    Clearly, whether something is an art form or not, doesn't depend on whether every single thing created in the sphere of that art form is a true work of art or not.

    Similarly, I do think that we should judge magic in the same way. If there are multiple people who have managed to create art with magic, then magic should be called an art form, regardless of what the other magicians are doing with it.

    That is why my question was "Is magic an art form?" and not if magic tricks/effects/presentations are works of art because that depends from person to person.

    (That's just my opinion and the way I look at things, of course.)

    This is actually exactly what I feel sometimes, said with a much better analogy.

    Yes but then, it's just a definition posted by one website. There are several definitions posted by other websites which make only 'imagination' or 'individualism' as the condition on which we should judge if something is a work of art or not.

    Art is subjective of course. Which means arguably speaking,
    to me, maybe magickidz237's You Tube video of Twisting the art. A lot of people on You Tube consider that the way Chris Ramsay does magic as art (of course Chris Ramsay is way more talented and skillful than magickidz237). I have a feeling that there are many magicians out there who wouldn't consider his magic as art. But how do we decide who's right? Is art not art unless the knowledgeable in that field have agreed it is? But they are only human and thus will clearly have biases. No human can judge perfectly, ideally. So who gets the final say whether something is a work of art (I haven't said art form.)? If it is the audience, then maybe magickidz237's work, is a work of art for some? Maybe the wall to the garden of Art isn't that high after all.

    Also, I made some really impossible assumptions in the beginning, and that was about being able to exactly copy somebody else's work. That's impossible. Human beings are incapable of producing perfect copies (Austin Kleon in 'Steal Like an Artist' displays it really well by drawing several stars with the same hand, but none of them look perfectly the same).

    Ultimately whether I want to copy David Copperfield, Criss Angel, Chris Ramsay or even any user on this thread, I can't possibly do that without my own experiences and feelings influencing SOME part of that creation. Whatever we do has, inevitably, a little bit of 'us' in it, whether we do so consciously or unconsciously, we can't avoid it.

    Maybe the little kid's thumb painting is a work of art after all.


    Returning back to whether magic is an art form or not, in my opinion, and I might be wrong, but maybe magic isn't considered an art form because for centuries, it was considered an ability.

    People think that if you knew how it is done, you can do it. Otherwise, you can't. We as magicians know that's not true. We know there's a world of difference between knowing how something is done and knowing how to do it. But the general audience, most non-magicians don't know there's that difference. A lot of people think that the solution is making non-magicians aware of the hard work that goes behind planning, designing an effect, practising a sleight and so on. But then with a method behind it, it stops being magic according to magic's most basic definition. Wow, magic is screwed...

    Maybe the last option in the poll, is the best option after all.
  12. I have a very direct approach to this - I think about the things I find mysterious and emotional, and I put those situations in front of the audience in a creative way.

    To be less obtuse about it - I think about the things that I have found to be fascinating, and I figure out a way to script that so I can put the scenario that introduced me to the subject in front of an audience. Then I figure out a routine that will highlight or illustrate that particular mystery and what it may have felt like to experience it in person.

    Examples: A discussion of the history of sin eating leads to a re-interpretation of the ritual for a volunteer who has a sin they wish to be relieved of.

    An exploration of phobias and how to overcome them leads to a volunteer being shown a hypnotic method of conquering a fear, which they can then use for the rest of their lives.

    A discussion of voodoo and other forms of symbolic magick leads to a demonstration of how someone can be seemingly linked to an inanimate object, to the point of feeling what it 'feels' and even being controlled physically by it.​

    This is also my approach to hypnotism - I don't do 'comedy' hypnosis, I explore the possibilities of the mind and imagination directly. This is because I genuinely find this stuff amazing and practice many of the things I do on stage in my daily life.

    My approach to seances is also similar - I create a story I want the audience to experience, so they can experience a 'real life' ghost story themselves. I write the story first, then determine which 'paranormal' things I want them to experience, then I decide which routines best create those experiences.

    To those ends I do what RealityOne mentioned - I read a LOT, and on a lot of subjects. Fiction, non fiction, esoteric, etc. This provides me a wide birth of knowledge to pull from in regards to writing scripts and creating emotionally charged performances.
  13. I agree. To take other art forms as an example again: Yes, there are painting that cannot be considered art (proof: my projects in art class), there's music that cannot be considered art, there's dancing that cannot be considered art. But the existence of paintings, music, and dancing that are art is enough to make each of these fields count as an art form. By the same standard, the existence of magic effects that are art should be enough to make magic count as an art form.
    In magic, another problem is that the pool to choose from is much smaller than in other art forms, making the really good tricks (the works of art) more difficult to find than in other disciplines.

    @RealityOne, @WitchDocIsIn, thank you both for your detailed and comprehensive answers. I've bookmarked this page, and I imagine that I'll refer to your essays in the future, as well.

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