What is your emotional goal with magic?

Jun 18, 2019
547
295
17
West Bengal, India
Paul Harris has famously said that properly done, magic should take us back to an infantile, child-like state of wonder. Derren Brown, in Pure Effect, agrees.

I admire both of them immensely, but I think I disagree. Whatever I remember of my childhood, I remember a world where everything is possible.

In a world where everything is possible, very little can truly make somebody appreciate magic the art form. I remember seeing a magic performance, and while I enjoyed it for the fun persona and performance of the magician, I wasn't really fascinated by the magic. Because in my opinion everything was possible and I didn't know enough to understand what I didn't know. For me, if a small vessel had endless water inside it, or a coin penetrated inside a bottle, or somebody said they have a hidden 'skin' pocket in their palms from which they pull out coins (all examples of effects I remember seeing at that time), according to me, there was nothing happening that was not normal. Therefore there was no magic happening. The effects that I did enjoy as magic (somebody finding out what card I picked or cards changing colour), I'd have accepted any solution the performer provided.

"...what? You say you saw an after-image of my card in my eyes? Makes sense..."

Waving Aces seem less (or even don't, for me) magical if one truly believes that cards can turn over automatically. Or if one believes that Invisible Dice really exist and Asi Wind uses them for his performances.

My point is that in a world where magic is real, the magic performed by magicians is less than mediocre. It's frankly boring. Magic as an art form would still survive in that world if every performance was somebody walking on River Thames or vanishing the Statue of Liberty. Anything less than that, would be laughable.

So in my opinion, magic doesn't lie in managing to tranfer the audience's mind back to the primal, infantile state of wonder. Instead, it lies exactly in the extreme unwillingness of the audience to be transferred to that state and yet seeing, hearing or feeling something that does exactly that. It is in that struggle that the experience of magic lies, and that is my goal (currently, and of course, subject to change).

Needless to say, by using the word 'struggle' I don't mean that the magician and the audience are at two ends of a fight, or that the magician must defeat the audience somehow. The struggle is inherently within the audience themselves (there's no need for the magician to be antagonising). I know that magician Jamy Ian Swiss has also talked about this issue and it was reading his take on it that made me look a bit closer into the idea.

Essentially, a world where everything is magical, nothing really is (there is a slight reference to a particular Disney-Pixar movie, bonus points if you know which one).

~~~***~~~

So what is your opinion? Or do you interpret Paul Harris' words in a different way?

Irrespective of the ideas mentioned above, what, really, is your goal when you perform magic? What is the emotion that you want to leave your audience with? And to what level do you think you succeed in it?

PS: Everything I stated above is of course just my own opinion and my own interpretation, which may change some time, and similarly your answers to the above questions may also change. The point of this post is to get people think and mostly because I love discussing these intricacies of magic.
 

WitchDocIsIn

Elite Member
Sep 13, 2008
5,763
2,867
These are incredibly important questions to ask yourself.

I do interpret Harris' words a bit differently. I don't see it as a goal for the audience to be literally child-like, but instead to have a moment or so where they can step away from the cynicism that growing up brings, and let themselves imagine what a world where these things are possible would feel like.

A base level of "Good" performance is where the audience is able to forget about their day to day worries and just have a good time. I liken this to, say, action movies or rom coms, certain types of fantasy fiction books, or other things that just offer escapism without necessarily trying to make a statement. I call it "brain candy" or sometimes "eye candy". No real substance, but it's fun to look at.

I think for much of my childhood, that's actually what magicians aimed for. Fun stuff to watch, but carefully avoiding any real meaning because they wanted to appeal to the widest audience possible. As soon as your art has meaning, it will limit its audience potential to those who "get" the meaning.

Truly great performances resonate with the audience. Some of Derren Brown's work is in this genre. In and Of Itself by Derek Delgaudio I think is the contemporary gold standard, personally. That entire show is just Derek connecting with the audience and revealing himself to them. I don't even care if the whole story is made up (though I'm sure it's not due to other folks confirming it) - it's a beautiful exploration of the human condition.

To step outside the genre of magic you get comedians like Daniel Sloss and Bo Burnham. Sloss uses dark humor to explore his thoughts and failings and his view of society. Bo Burnham is a master of absurdity as a way to shine a light on life experiences that we all have but think are unique. I also really appreciate Burnham's views on celebrity and fame and such.

These performers focus on creating connection and rapport with the audience. By doing so they are able to engage the audience and welcome them inside the performer's mind and reality.

Side note - I suspect that this is why many artists who start out "edgey" and observational end up being very bland once they succeed in their chosen field. They stop having the same experiences as the rest of us and it becomes harder and harder to relate to them.

For me that is the emotional goal. Connection, rapport. I want to bring the audience into my reality and let them wander around a bit. When they leave my performance I want them to feel like they know me on some level, and I want them to be thinking about the possibilities I've shown them. I don't them thinking, "That guy can do some amazing things!" I want them thinking, "Wow, humans can do a lot more than I realized."
 
  • Like
Reactions: T.van.Riotson
Jun 18, 2019
547
295
17
West Bengal, India
For me that is the emotional goal. Connection, rapport. I want to bring the audience into my reality and let them wander around a bit. When they leave my performance I want them to feel like they know me on some level, and I want them to be thinking about the possibilities I've shown them. I don't them thinking, "That guy can do some amazing things!" I want them thinking, "Wow, humans can do a lot more than I realized."
Thanks for the reply!

I do interpret Harris' words a bit differently. I don't see it as a goal for the audience to be literally child-like, but instead to have a moment or so where they can step away from the cynicism that growing up brings, and let themselves imagine what a world where these things are possible would feel like.
So in your opinion, does the audience, somewhere in their hearts, know what you did is impossible? Are they aware the world where magic is real, is an imagination? Or is it better when magicians actively aim to convince the audience that that world IS real (whether the magician ultimately succeeds in it or not)?

Truly great performances resonate with the audience. Some of Derren Brown's work is in this genre. In and Of Itself by Derek Delgaudio I think is the contemporary gold standard, personally. That entire show is just Derek connecting with the audience and revealing himself to them. I don't even care if the whole story is made up (though I'm sure it's not due to other folks confirming it) - it's a beautiful exploration of the human condition.
Derren Brown's specials and Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself are genuinely amazing. I really hope that somebody manages to achieve the same emotional impact in a smaller setting too. That, will completely convince me of magic's ability and potential as an art form.


Bo Burnham is a master of absurdity as a way to shine a light on life experiences that we all have but think are unique. I also really appreciate Burnham's views on celebrity and fame and such.
Side note: His album 'Inside' is really good. There's just a quality in certain people where they manage to talk about controversial issues without appearing insensitive or offending people, yet delivering the impact they desire to. I wish a lot of others realised that and didn't talk about 'edgy' topics just for the sake of it.

Connecting it to magic, which is the bigger offence, not aiming for anything higher than 'brain candy' or aiming for a lofty goal but then absolutely butchering the execution? 😅😂
 

WitchDocIsIn

Elite Member
Sep 13, 2008
5,763
2,867
So in your opinion, does the audience, somewhere in their hearts, know what you did is impossible? Are they aware the world where magic is real, is an imagination? Or is it better when magicians actively aim to convince the audience that that world IS real (whether the magician ultimately succeeds in it or not)?

I think there's very few people who believe what magicians do is real these days. If nothing else, the sheer triviality of most of what's performed today is a give away. If someone could actually do "magic", why would they bother doing what most magicians do on stage?

A good magic performance basically gives the audience permission to indulge in the fantasy. People know that what they are seeing isn't real but it's fun and harmless so they can pretend for an hour or so.

A magician actively trying to claim real powers is just setting themselves up for trouble down the line. They may be able to pull it off for some time if they're smart and skilled. But claiming true abilities is just going to encourage people to disprove those claims. Which will happen, eventually.

On top of that there's also the problem that most magicians wouldn't have the skills required to pull it off. The scripting and dedication to the character would be enormously challenging and unfortunately very few people are up to that challenge.

Connecting it to magic, which is the bigger offence, not aiming for anything higher than 'brain candy' or aiming for a lofty goal but then absolutely butchering the execution?

Brain candy has its place and value. There's nothing wrong with it. I think it's much better to knowingly create brain candy, than to think one is doing a grand, artistic performance that doesn't live up to the hype.
 
  • Like
Reactions: MohanaMisra

T.van.Riotson

Elite Member
Oct 29, 2018
58
125
Germany
www.instagram.com
I think that if an artist of any kind arouses feelings, amazement, wonder just by one watching their art work, then that is magic. I think that is what magic is about...nobody would look at a paint and go: well i know how is done, you need paint and a brush...well of course you do need paint and a brush as well as a magician needs a wand and a hat ;) is not about the secret itself as much for what the secret lets you know :) i guess...
 
  • Like
Reactions: MohanaMisra
Searching...
{[{ searchResultsCount }]} Results