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Part 4: Astonishment, magic, and those who captured imaginations….

art of astonishment part 4

Art of astonishment part 4

A more modern taste of ‘real magic’ came courtesy of karate expert and sleight of hand artist James Hydrick. In 1981 Hydrick was invited to appear on American National Television to demonstrate his skill of using ‘telekinesis’  to spin a pencil using the power of his mind.  Hydrick performed a similar trick using his supposed magical and superhuman abilities to turn the pages of a phone directory without touching it. This garnered a huge and almost cult-like following. Again people could not these feats of impossibility could only be attributed to ‘magic’.

The following year – debunker of psychics – James Randi – invite Hydick to appear on That’s my Line television show and for Hydrick to replicate the trick under test conditions. (The phone book surrounded by pieces of Styrofoam) to check if Hydrick was simply blowing. Sadly, after an hour and half and several excuses Hydrick had to resign and this signalled the end of his following, TV career and cult-like following. Again – what originally appeared like magic that captivated the nation, was nothing more than a trick.

To an extent these two examples show that people want to believe in magic. I mean real want to. They want to be astonished. Without being heavily duplicitous claiming powers we don’t, I feel we can at least reach out with our magic and allow those to believe and be astonished who journey with us on that path to magic. To astonishment

As profound as this may sound, this is to some extent the beauty of magic. There is nothing else which can compare or take us back to this state of astonishment in our conscious state. Regression therapy or hypnosis may take us there, but we are in a different state of consciousness and are therefore unable to fully appreciate that moment of stillness in our mind. We may be able to thumb through a box of old photos and reminisce on the memories of our childhood but there is nothing that really transports us metaphorically to that infantile state of astonishment.

I believe there are 2 schools of thought with regards to what is the art of astonishment in magic. The first is less my viewpoint than the latter but has it’s own positives.

Effect Vs Trick

Audience sees and effect.

Audience sees a trick – it will always be a trick. Trick has so many connatations to deceptions, deceit  and an attempt to outwit someone.

I believe a ‘trick’ will always leave a sour aftertaste in the spectator’s mouth of having bee ‘tricked’, duped, or fooled. If this is the case then sadly the magic has been performed incredibly badly, and is so far removed for the ideal state of astonishment which magic should attempt to achieve.

For some, the art of magic is not merely to be puzzling, but impossible. This level of impossibility for some in turn leads to that feeling of astonishment. But for me, that is still too complicated. Theere is still too much chicanery and trickery involved in the ‘impossible’. For something to be labelled as impossible still requires a cerebral interaction – a conscious state to question – query, know that it is a trick, look for the possible solution – not matter how believable able or believable and buy into the self-made answer (which is inevitably wrong) but helps us to make meaning of the world around us.

Part 5 will look at astonishment and the psychology behind why we are astonished or not…… keep your eyes peeled 😉 and feel free to share with your friends…

What is astonishment in magic for children: Part 3

The art of astonishment part 3

The art of astonishment part 3

The field of magic can be a fickle and judgmental business with some entertainer looking upon the world of children’s entertainment with scorn from the lofty heights of adult magic. I do not shy away from the fact that I also perform children’s magic and offers different and arguably greater rewards to share in moments of astonishment. If we, as magicians create magic to create astonishment and enjoy that experience from the participants / spectators then we have a more open blank canvas to work with in the form of children – in that (as mentioned previously) their world is still unfolding before their eyes. It is here, that I must interject and say that performing for magic is certainly not easier because of this. In fact it is a completely different dynamic. For children the magical prestige at the end, will certainly garner a higher level of gasp of astonishment – for children it is the entertainment ride and fun on the way to this plateau of astonishment which is the most important element of performing to children.

If you asked “Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in mind reading?”

(to a child:)

The answer would be an unashamed ‘Yes’. When we start absorbing information at our infantile years we can see a bird in the sky. We know a bird flies. We see adults walking around. We know adults walk. Over time we too, stop crawling, start toddling and eventually start walking. We know we can walk but we know we cannot fly. (Except Superman) If we then see someone fly based on our knowledge of the world that human’s cannot fly, this by deduction must be magic.

As we grow older, our reality and beliefs are shaped into what is normal and what is not normal. Everything else, is either impossible – or if you see something as impossible (and discard the belief-limiting sceptical shackles which regards it as a ‘trick’) you a left with pure ‘magic’.

Indulge me for a second.

In 1848, 3 young sisters by the names of Kate, Leah and Margaret Fox, garnered worldwide public  acclaim for delivering public séances, and being able to produce rappings and tappings of spirits. Over the years, they held many séances – usually extremely frivolous, giving advice about stocks and shares, love or marital affairs, and alike. Over time, however, their relationships lead to heavy drinking and quarreling and in 1888, after many years of members of the public believing in the magic and mystery shrouding these tappings – their performances were exposed as fraudulent and the sisters exposed how they had been able to create the sound of the raps by cracking their knuckles, joints and toes and the control of the muscles below the leg of the knee which control the tendons of the foot and in turn allow this action of the toe and ankle bone. These techniques were not commonly known and as a result – were perceived as magic or more…..

Keep your eyes peeled for part 4 in my look at astonishment in the world of magic. Next post will look at some people who have attempted to show magic as real to the world. These have cause outrage and upset when debunked, but intrigue, excitement and even a cult following before their lies and myths were blown….we want to believe yet we also want to know the explanation to magic. Part 5 looks at some people, who, just for a moment, made the world believe in magic and Psychic phenomenon.

What is astonishment in magic for adults: Part 2

Art of astonishment part 2

Art of astonishment part 2

If you asked “Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in mind reading?”

(to an adult:)

If the answer is yes, then that is fantastic that you have been able to retain that glorious level of imagination that has sadly dissipated from the mind of others. If the answer is no, then I’d be willing to bet that if I asked the same question to your seven year old self – the answer would be very different! This, is because, over time we lose our infantile state of astonishment and childlike sense of wonder and most importantly imagination. Our minds are sullied when we are told there is no tooth fairy, father Christmas, Leprechauns, and magic and mind reading.

Magic becomes fiction. If the climax of the effect ends with a question of ‘how did you do that’ part of them has failed to understand but the other part of them scrabbles to make sense of the world again. Nobody watches Toy Story and says – it was a great movie but I don’t think Woody and Buzz were actually real – I think they may have used special FX. Nobody was angry with Steven Spielberg for not using real animals! The premise of fiction is that it is possible to communicate the truth through fiction. If a magician is trying to fool the audience or trick the audience, then they are delivering and executing their performance exactly wrong.

For me, I can honestly say I struggle to watch a lot of magic. Why – because there is a lot of bad magic out there. Not in so much of the effects themselves (which are mere finger flicking pieces of skills – which have a time and place) but in so much of the execution by a fumbling fool of a magician who is performing in favour of his own self-importance and wanting his ego-massaged at the sacrifice of delivering pure astonishment.

That said, when magic is delivered with the aplomb, finesse and beauty which it can be – and take you to a level of astonishment – there is nothing finer – even for a magician whose recognised sleights of hand, slight of tongue in the form of linguistic based mentalism effects. Cynicism is sadly a seductive state of mind which others are easily infected by.

For a magician, whose career or hobby is shrouded in elements of duplicity, misdirection, stories and essentially fiction as well as countless other factors all tightly woven to produce a small few second window of astonishment – astonishment (at least for me) becomes harder to find. But when it does, (for me) it lingers longer, sweeter and more glorious as once my mind has bathed in the sea of astonishment, scrambles to find the box of magical techniques, ruses and skills inside my mind. It really is a thing of wonder and astonishment to me, and nothing finer……

As I mentioned before, as a child, the world is amazing. We rush to our mum’s open arms with a huge sycamore leaf. But then we see another, and another and another and as autumn draws to a close, we are no longer seduced by the amazing big leaf or leaves. When we taste something new – our taste buds our fired into life discerning the subtle flavours, textures and tastes but as we get older and new experiences become less and less we find it harder and harder to become impressed, amazed and astonished.