Secrets in Magic?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MohanaMisra, Apr 22, 2020.

  1. I really believe that magic is an art and while I understand that not many people tap into this artistic property of magic, I believe it can easily be an art form in good hands (literally).

    The above was important to start out with, because while I am not really discussing whether magic is an art form or not, my idea is that true art doesn't really have secrets.

    The problem is that magic, at a glance, is secretive. But then I reasoned to myself and wondered, are these really true secrets?

    Think about it, if I told an aspiring magician who knows NOTHING about magic yet, that a coin vanish is definitely NOT real magic, and there's 100%, absolutely, surely, certainly a 'physical method' to what is happening, and then I put them in a room, eventually, they will figure out a way to vanish a coin apparently.

    Then if I put some 'spectators' in that room for them to perform for, they will probably find that their method doesn't work well. With some more time alone in the room, they will probably find a method which is workable and foolproof. With even more time and only the audience reactions to learn from (no magic books, teachers, videos, internet, nothing) they will eventually also figure out psychological 'tricks' to make the vanish more convincing. Ultimately, they will know a way to do the coin vanish in an amazing manner. Because that is how smart human beings are (applaud yourself for belonging to this species :D ).

    Yes, I assumed the above aspiring magicians will be highly driven and focussed.

    His ultimate 'method' might be inferior to the works of so many of the great names in coin magic. But for all purposes, he has a method! And it works really well to convince the coin has vanished!


    Doesn't it seem that the so-called 'secrets' are just to help save time? It's important of course, magic wouldn't advance if we had to keep rediscovering Double Lifts every single time. So we teach, we spread the art and we keep these methods within the community because if our audience knew of them, the illusion of magic in their minds, will be destroyed.

    But are these 'methods' really 'secrets'? Isn't it true that any human can work things out for themselves, because that is how our brains are wired?

    Please reply with what you think of the above! Does then, magic really have any secrets, if physical, psychological and verbal 'tricks, methods, secrets' can all be worked out with time and intelligence put into it?


    PS:- This is just an interesting thought process I landed on and I wanted to educate myself on this matter by discussing it over. So it's more of a thought exercise than an actual, formed opinion or question.

    Al e Cat Dabra likes this.
  2. Secret:
    The term "Secret" applies more to the people than the information itself. Anything that a person is withholding from others could be considered a secret.

    Logically speaking anything used in the mystery arts had to be figured out at some point, and therefore could be figured out again by someone else with the proper set of knowledge and the drive to bother doing it.

    A lot of what I do is publicly available to anyone who's willing to spend the time doing the research as I have. I still consider much of my knowledge secret because it takes a pretty specific type of mind to actually want to do that. Therefore I have a significant base of knowledge that very few others have, and I'm not super inclined to share it willy nilly, so it would be fair to classify that as secret.

    In regards to learning, yes, the 'secrets' are just shortcuts to avoid re-inventing the wheel every time. As is any form of learning from a teacher, really.
  3. Personally I do think that the methods are the secrets of magic. Theoretically, if a spectator was transfixed on finding out what you did they could figure it out. However, this is rare. Most people will never put in enough effort to figure it out. For most spectators they have no knowledge of magic at all. When you present an effect they walk away with a sense of amazement. This feeling is so powerful it overrides their memory. They begin to forget the details and are only left with a basic outline of what happend. Now naturally they will try to rationalize what happend by applying knowledge that they do have. This is why we get ridiculous explanations like using demons or having some special color changing ink. To us it's not logical because we understand magic but to them it's what makes the most sense. However this is good because no one will figure it out.

    Of course there are always people who will try to actually figure it out. Like I said above, they will have a limited memory of what happend. They will have a basic outline of what happend and if they really worked it out in their heads they could figure it out. Take a color changing effect for example. In their minds the following happend:
    You turned over the top card of the deck, show it, turn it back down, snap your fingers and it changes. The first thing they think is that you switched the cards and that's what you did. There is a way to prevent this though. That is by creating a false window where something must have happend. Using the same example, you could show the card, turn it back over, take the card and place it on the table, and then eliminate the deck. Now in their mind there is no way you could have switched it. You could then have the spectator place a hand on the card and close their eyes. They now think that whatever you did it happened in that window of time. So in my opinion the methods are the secrets of magic and it's the magicians job to protect them
    Al e Cat Dabra likes this.
  4. Jim Steinmeyer said it best:

    "Magicians guard an empty safe. There are few secrets that they possess which are beyond a grade school science class, little technology more complex than a rubber band, a square of black fabric or a length of thread. There are no real principles worth of being cherished, only crude expediencies. But magicians have learned to appreciate how such simple devices can be manipulated into illusion. The art of magic is not found in the simple deception, but in what surrounds it, the construction of a reality which supports the illusion." Art and Artifice, p. 7-8.​

    The answer is this:

    As we learn more 'secrets' we are better able to apply them in other contexts. But the most important secrets are not the methods, but the presentation of those methods in creating Steinmeyer's "construction of a reality which supports the illusion."

    Honestly, most methods are disappointing to non-magicians. I remember that my then 7 year old son was just amazed by the Hovercard. I showed him how it worked and his response was "that's it?" If someone sincerely asks me how something was done, I sincerely tell them that they don't want to know because the method isn't nearly as beautiful as the illusion.

    I think the true secret of magic is not how to protect methods, but how to convince your audience not to care about the methods but to just enjoy the illusion.
    RalphB2 and Al e Cat Dabra like this.
  5. I agree with @RealityOne that magicians guard and empty safe. I guess it's better to think of the methods as the tools we use to create magic. We have to keep these tools a secret so the magic lives on in the spectators mind.
  6. I think the "reality that supports the illusion" is more important than the method itself, personally.

    Yes, we do have to execute the method properly, which generally means deceptively, but something I have come to realize is that it is not always absolutely necessary that the audience have no idea what the performer is doing.

    Mystery can be created while honestly telling an audience what you're doing, if the performance is constructed properly.

    Methods are a small percentage of the important secrets we keep. The more important secrets are far more esoteric, and make up a larger portion of what creates truly mysterious performances in my experience.

    And to quote Delgaudio, "Magicians don't keep secrets from people, we keep them for people."
    RealityOne likes this.
  7. Though this seems to be a discussion for linguists and philosophers as much as for magicians, RealityOne, WitchDocIsIn and ChaseC6 have given some good answers worth thinking about. I'm just curious about your premise: "True art doesn't really have secrets." Why not?
    Al e Cat Dabra likes this.
  8. Because true art should be as close to nature as possible (hold a mirror to it) or even, merge with nature herself, if the art is beautiful enough. As @WitchDocIsIn defined above, and so does Google, a secret is anything which is either kept or meant to be kept unknown, hidden from others. Does nature have secrets? Yes, in a fashion. But nature doesn't KEEP secrets deliberately. They are out there for anybody to work out, if they wish to.

    The entire concept of 'secrets' seems very gross, selfish and humanly to be associated with nature.

    That 'grossness' or 'selfishness' isn't always to be associated with something negative though. Again, as pointed out above, if one has worked to get something, they have a right to keep it for themselves. But nature doesn't do that, so TLDR:-

    And nature isn't a being.

    (I'm more of the romantic sort of artist so this view may clash with people. I like how you switch the question of threads, however ;) :D)

    That's a good point. I'd guess it's because it's still something lesser known and being kept from people. Thanks!

    [insert applause]

    So if I understand everybody's responses correctly, we're using the word 'secrets' for the lack of a better term? (Because what, really, is truly a secret today...)
  9. We're using "secret" because by definition it applies.
    MohanaMisra likes this.
  10. Magic/Mentalism is one of the few performance arts where you don't seek the appreciation of the techniques and the "secrets", unless you are doing a gambling routine or some presentation of that nature. we create the conditions in which everything is impossible so the audience feels they could never reproduce it

    you can see a dance, and not like dance, not know the techniques of dance, but be impressed by their abilities, if an audience knew how you were about to do a color change... that is not impressive, or it no longer becomes Magic, it becomes a technique which they can then learn.

    this is another reason I will never do a presentation where the audience member "does" the magic, when/if someone ask where I learned this I never say "books (or other mediums)

    Magic is presenting something only *you* at that given moment can do, if everyone could do it, why are they watching you?
  11. I would say that's one approach, sure. But I have found a lot of success in creating mysterious experiences for people by showing them they can do things they never imagined were possible for them.

    It's one thing to show someone you can read their minds. Have you ever seen the look on someone's face when you show them they can read yours?

  12. Unless it is set-up in a way in which you are transmitting *you* being the ultimate conduit for these events having someone who "can't" read minds be able to read your mind it becomes just a trick that *you* are responsible for

    if you are having someone read your mind because you can transmit something can be presented in a way in which they don't necessarily have these "abilities" but you are transmitting vs having someone read someone else's mind when they know they "can't"
  13. I'm going to go a bit more broad and say that the goal of a magic or mentalism show is to give someone a desirable experience which is different than what they can get anywhere else (including in someone else's show). One type of experience is to see someone who can do impossible things that they cannot do. My style is to give them an experience of a different reality where impossible things happen. My role is more the narrator, the facilitator or the curator. I'm not responsible for the magic but merely responsible for creating an environment where magic can happen. They are watching me because I enable them to experience magic.
    MohanaMisra likes this.
  14. This is more my style as well. I am more of a guide to their experience, rather than an all powerful being separate from them.
    MohanaMisra likes this.
  15. yes, there are different approaches, different performing styles etc

    I think the one central point is that this experience is presented in a way they can only get form *you* be it a facilitator of an experience, or someone who can do these *impossible* things and not something they can just learn and do themselves
    MohanaMisra and RealityOne like this.
  16. @Mohana Misra wrote: "Think about it, if I told an aspiring magician who knows NOTHING about magic yet, that a coin vanish is definitely NOT real magic, and there's 100%, absolutely, surely, certainly a 'physical method' to what is happening, and then I put them in a room, eventually, they will figure out a way to vanish a coin apparently."

    But will they make it look magical? Even many experienced magicians do a coin "vanish" very fast or as if they are hiding something, or otherwise awkwardly or unnaturally. Doing it in a way that looks magical - so that it is truly mystifying to the beholder and beautiful to behold - that is both the secret and the art of it.
    CWhite and RealityOne like this.
  17. That is true.

    Since we're dealing so much in something that is hypothetical (because nobody is locking anybody to make them learn magic (they should, maybe :D ) ), one can argue that they will end up doing that, given enough performing chances.

    As much as hypothetical reasoning sounds unreal, we need to remind ourselves that in a world of almost 8 billion people, really, what is impossible?

    But yes, it is highly unlikely that a magician will be able to make their performance 'magical' without extensively thinking about it and looking for suitable works already written on that subject.

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