Why should we bother learning the history of magic

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by j.p, Nov 19, 2012.

  1. Hi Guys,

    First, it should be noted that I love learning about the history of magic, about where certain sleights come from, etc.

    So I was having a discussion with 2 of my magic friends today. They sometimes moan about how if I teach them a trick, how I also give credit. For example if it involves a snap change, I may say 'then you do an Ed Marlo snap change'. Pretty simple stuff and it's just habit.

    One of my friends is not really a magician. I hope he isn't reading this.. He learns all his tricks of YouTube, doesn't own any magic books, DVDs, etc. He has been doing magic longer than me too. He has been doing it for just over a year and he doesn't know the names of some of the most popular and respected books (eg. Card college, expert card technique, etc.) ! I found this pretty shocking so said 'Why don't you guys really care about the history of magic?'

    They both said 'why should we care?'. Now to this I just said 'Because if you really are passionate about the art then you should enjoy and want to learn about the history'. But they just shrugged it off and said it was BS.

    So, my question to you, is why should we learn about the history? Or shouldn't we bother?
  2. For the same reason a musician learns about the history of music, a filmmaker about the history of film. Understanding the history of it makes you better at it because it expands your comprehension and is the only way you can eventually innovate. On no less than 3 separate occasions, I thought I had come up with something new. Then reading back through my copy of The Jinx, I found that Anneman had beat me to it.

    Scholarly study of the art and its history has always made any medium or genre better. Even our worst movies and music are better for the fact that we give people access to better study tools and generations of experience and innovation. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "There never was a good knife made of bad steel."

    Ultimately there comes a point where you have to just get out there and do it, but think of how much stronger you'll be with a vast library of reference material about the giants whose shoulders you stand on. Take Martin Scorsese, one of the best directors of our time. It doesn't get a lot of publicity, but Scorsese has actually produced a number of documentaries on past great filmmakers. Hugo was his love letter to the silent films that started it all and in particular to Georges Melies, the magician-turned-filmmaker who literally invented special effects.

    It sounds to me like your friend is just lazy and seeking instant gratification. He doesn't have the patience to become good at this. So I say stop teaching him.
  3. 1. So we know what mistakes those before us made and can avoid them.
    2. So that we don't publish material that already exists and claim originality
    3. There are some really good ideas in the early magic texts.
    4. I love studying the history of magic. It's absolutely fascinating to me.
    5. The magicians of the late 1800's and early-to-mid 1900's were arguably some of the best magicians ever, period. They had elaborate shows with tons of crazy cool stuff. If we learn from them, we're learning from the masters, and isn't that who you want to learn from in the first place. That time period is also when most of famous illusions were invented. The zig-zag lady, vanishing elephant, the Kellar levitation and others that I can't remember off the top of my head.
  4. Philosophers still learn about Plato and Aristotle, physicists still learn about Isaac Newton, etc.

    If you don't have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, of how things developed, you're starting from behind the eight ball. You won't have the benefit of the decades of experience and countless performances that honed the work (and more importantly, the thinking behind the work) of those that went before.

    Knowing the development of things helps us understand how problems have been addressed by later revisions. Every trick, every routine has a weakness; by learning how that weakness has been addressed by experienced performers and honed by repeated performance, we can learn how routines are strengthened, how these problems are negated, and how to properly think like professionals with more experience than us.

    It's possible that I could have discovered all the tips and insights that I have read, but it would have come much slower and at a greater price. Experience is a terrible teacher - it gives the test first, and the lesson afterward, and I think I owe it to my audience to be as well prepared and as well trained as I can be.
  5. As a film major, I support this 100%.
  6. History repeats itself. That is how we move forward as a society. We learn and grow from our mistakes and our previous successes.
    I understand both sides of the fence because when I first started out during my first year or two I didn't really care who had created the sleights or effects either. Now it seems more important to me and I have a respect for those who came before me. Do I feel that all of us should be history buffs on every magical statistic, sleight, effect, etc. No....but at least try to learn the history of effects / sleights that you are using. Also, most of what we have as far as effects today, came from history / older variations of classics.
  7. Well, it seems to me like they shouldn't bother learning. Clearly they don't care much about magic and only use it as a way to be 'cool' or 'unique'. It's just a flashy shirt to them. Learning the history will do nothing for them.

    However, by studying what can be done and what has been done, as well as the mystique and folk lore surrounding magicians, one can begin to understand the real potential there is in magic.
  8. "Whoso neglects learning in his youth, loses the past and is dead for the future." Euripides
  9. mmm...It´s a little tricky...I do know some about magic´s history...but when I perform to strangers I NEVER give credit or say where you can learn it...anyway...I think is great you learn that...

    Also...I wouldn´t insist if they don´t want to learn it..to each it´s own..you can tell them once or twice..but in the end...it´s their choice...
  10. Some of you will find that if you try to go get a "mentor," especially someone who is in their 50's and up, they will most likely want you to take notes during your lesson and learn the history of the move / effect. That happened to me twice and I did not fight them on it.
  11. Ok. . . I'm taking that personally. . . ;-)

    J.P. I applaud your enthusiasm and would encourage you to continue with the discipline you've embraced. In my 40ish years around magic, history has been the constant, be it my ties to Blackstone, Jr or my chief Mentor Kirk Kirkham, I've been surrounded by magic history as well as privilege and out of that I have found myself to be both, respected and welcomed into various circles because I actually know what I'm talking about 99% of the time. Understanding history or more concisely, the evolution of magic and more so, the effects & moves or techniques we employ empowers us when it comes to improving upon other effects or developing our own. I've been totally blown away by some of the simplest methods that I knew, but because of how they were used, I didn't recognize them.

    Magic is filled with schlock performers and I will lay money on the fact that they are poorly read on the subject let alone practices. Put another way, they are LAZY! They want to learn tricks rather than magic and so they will always be the guys sitting on the side and getting nowhere, fast. Don't let their voluntarily demise affect you.

    Ok. . . as to your question. . .

    The simplest truth is that you can bring the horse to the watering hole but you can't force it to drink. You can inspire him by demonstrating the advantages of drinking said water and show how it makes you a superior resource within the craft, but some horses are simply stubborn and don't recognize the power of those life-giving waters until it's too late.

    Start doing material from those books you mention but DO NOT teach them the routines or methods; tell them they must earn the knowledge by getting the books and studying the material. That may seem "harsh" and even "challenging" but it needs to be a bit on the "tough love" side of things in order to help them wake up to reality.

    You mention that the one guy learns everything from Youtube. . . point out to him how wrong that is and how it hurts magic as a whole. Try to get him to see how such piracy & exposure injures the very art form they have fun with. . . ask them how the expect to fool and entertain others when it's so easy for them to get the secrets? Help them see that fewer people know the deeper secrets & techniques of magic because they're in books and far less accessible than all the on-line and questionable sources.

    Basically, guilty the dude into growing a pair and actually learning magic. . . another route, if you can find the cash, is to gift him or both of them, the DVD of the Tarbell Course or copies of the original Mark Wilson Course in Magic. . . sometimes, if you give them that little kick in the pants such as this, you can launch them into "right thinking". This being the holiday season the gesture is appropriate; talk to your parents if need be, tell them why this is important to you and see if they will help you (financially) in making these gifts possible. If you give a solid enough presentation I'm certain they'll see a way clear to help you out; don't beg or be a royal pain, just be honest, passionate and sincere when it comes to why you want to help these friends.

    Best of luck!
  12. Thanks for the replies guys. He showed his true colours today when he was asking me to send him some theory11 tricks, for free, via email. Needless to say, I said no. My other friend is better and despite not knowing as much about magic history as me, he knows a lot more than the one I'm talking about. He told me that he already has 10 downloads. All pirated. And of course, he hasn't learnt them. Also his showmanship and performances are terrible. I know that it really sounds harsh but if you guys met him you'd agree.

    However, I am going to try for a few more days to get this guy on the right side. His sister (he is younger than me, 13, I think?) doesn't buy magic for him off theory11 (which is where he wants effects from mainly) because they don't accept Paypal. In all honesty, I think that this is fair enough, but you can get books, tricks from other websites, DVD's, etc.

    He really reminds me of someone we had on the forums a few days ago who made a post called 'Introducing CardTrickter!'.
    Today I was quizzing him on random peope in magic. Not in a horrible way at all, just to see how much he knows. Turns out he didn't know who Dai Vernon was :'(
  13. Alternatively you can tell him that most YouTube tutorials are made by a bunch of lazy wankers who couldn't convince a toddler to believe in Santa Claus. You get what you pay for.
  14. IF this sister wishes to buy things using Paypal, she can get the Paypal debit card; that's what I use for most all of my purchases on line, especially when dealing with companies that aren't locked into Paypal (which, to my mind, really curtail income potential).

    As I said earlier, be an example of quality when you are around this thief, so he can see the difference. Though it may seem cruel, embarrass him by taking some of his pet tricks that he loves showing off, and up-staging him when it comes to variations that he will undoubtedly like, but he can't learn without purchasing the right materials. . . while there's a lot of exposure stuff out there, most of magic is actually quite secure, so pointing him to resources he can't find on a Torrent Site will certainly drive him crazy; especially if you do so frequently, pointing to the same source.

    This is something you can do even if you distance yourself from him. The public isn't dumb, they will come to the person that exhibits the greater sense of confidence, style and quality in their work. Since you're still in school use the history of magic as part of class reports where you will be demonstrating and talking about it; this builds on your own image in school but likewise paints you as being the "real" magician vs. the other guy -- you become the example to follow.
  15. This whole post is awesome. I was really disappointed in myself when you originally posted this, and the only answer I could come up with was cliche and unmoving, not even worth posting. Thanks a lot to everyone who contributed, I'm glad I know now why, instead of just what I should be doing.

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