There’s a now famous anecdote about Larry Jennings performing for a guest at the Magic Castle. He was doing a trick that required a pass, and was very much enamored with his handling of the move. At the point where the pass was employed, however, the lady he was performing for looked away. Larry reset the cards and admonished her for looking away, and then directed her to watch his hands closely because she wouldn’t see a thing.
Now, I don’t want to come off as if I’m trying to diminish the accomplishments of Larry Jennings – he’s actually one of my all time favorite magicians and his card creations are unparalleled. I was reminded of the story because Suzanne alluded to it briefly in her post from yesterday. It’s a helpful story as it demonstrates a common failing among magicians who do sleight of hand: Move love.
I guess it’s not unusual for a sleight of hand artist to become captivated by the moves he employs, considering the amount of time he invests in perfecting them. It would almost seem a cruel bit of irony that something for which the magician has worked so hard is something never meant to be seen. What we must all keep in mind, however, is that those moves, clever and hard won though they may be, are always but a means to an end. Our primary focus needs to be on the wonders they’re used to create.
I think if you change the context you can see just how absurd move love really is. Imagine a carpenter who loves his tools more than he cares for what he’s building. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be in a house he constructed. More, you’d probably think a guy who wouldn’t let his hammer and saw out of sight because he cared for them so much was insane. The long and short of it is they are tools. They might be especially good tools, but they’re tools all the same.
Sleights are tools, nothing less and nothing more. They might be tools which you have to give great quantities of time to possess, but they’re still tools. We use them to build. Otherwise they have little use at all.
If this seems like mere common sense, it is. And yet all over the Internet there are videos of magicians demonstrating moves. Did you see it? No? Invisible, huh? Wow, you realty nailed that! Magicians see moves being exposed and are up in arms on the magic forums. This is the end of magic! Those damn kids are ruining my art. Oh dear God I can’t believe he exposed that. What can we do? Can we sue him?
In other words, magicians are obsessed with secrets – which in the case of the sleight of hand worker means moves. They horde their secrets and guard them zealously and sometimes attach near mythic significance to them. They covet the other guy’s secrets and sometimes steal them. To what end? Often to no end at all. The secrets aren’t put to any use. They’ve stolen the show and become a thing unto themselves.
It’s been said that more books have been written about magic than any other performing art. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’d wager it is. Of all those thousands of books, how many touch on entertaining an audience with magic in any but the most peripheral way? I’d estimate that 95% — and that’s a conservative estimate – are devoted to secrets, they’re books of tricks. The small handful of books that concern themselves with performing often become classics – not because they necessarily offer exceptional advice, but because there’s so little competition! Those who’ve come to realize that the secrets alone aren’t getting them anywhere hunger for guidance, but such guidance is in woefully short supply.
New magicians come along and see the sometimes fanatical attention given to secrets and think that’s what magic’s all about. The cycle continues. Too few break free.
I’m sure I’ve said all this before in one way or another, but it bears repeating. Be on your guard. Keep the moves in their proper place. Give your love to doing magic and not the means whereby it’s accomplished. See you next time.