What are magicians to you?
Rabbit-from-hat-pulling, woman-sawing, goatee-beard-wearing, over-secretive, modern-world-irrelevant male narcissists” you may well say.
I would beg to differ.
The creative process that magicians hide under their capes can be the key to us all understanding more about our own capabilities. Having spent the bulk of my life in their midst, I have come to understand a little of what they are all about.
They are some of the most supportive, fun, open, and creative individuals I have had the pleasure to meet.
I spent 18 years working in one of the most interesting, weird, surreal and hidden places in London, Davenports Magic, founded in 1898. I worked in the business, and traveled the world attending magic conventions, entering competitions, and rubbing shoulders with some wonderfully creative individuals.
Here is what I learned:
Magical creativity is hidden. The audience does not see what is going on, they do not see the ingenuity behind the magic trick (or ‘effect’ that we magicians prefer to say). The fruit of the magician’s labor is the amazement of the audience, not their understanding of how it was performed or created. It is really one of the least narcissistic art forms.
Magicians are literally performing miracles under our noses. Using little more than playing cards, coins, pieces of paper, etc, they can transport us into an alternative universe.
They can make us question reality, question what we see, question our own understanding.
I will now reveal the big secret of all how all magic effects work …
Sorry to disappoint, but that is it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Magicians know how we think we understand reality. They play on flaws in this understanding to achieve their aim. We may think that we see the world as it is, but not so. Magicians understand what we see is fragile and tentative.
Magicians feed on how we constantly assume our version of the world into existence.
Our common genetics make us follow the same patterns of assumption. You will not believe how many magicians practice on their dogs. When their families have finally had enough, their canine companions end up as their surrogate audience. You will also not believe how difficult it is to fool a dog! The dog’s assumption of reality is different from us humans.
The easiest people to fool are scientists, especially drunk ones.
The scientist will always try to come up with a convoluted explanation of how the magic effect works, playing into the simplistic hands of the magician. Scientists are heaven for the magician.
The magician has a small, but effective arsenal of techniques that play on the flaws in human perception. Many of these flaws are verbal. We have in-built ways of reacting to what others say to us. We cannot help ourselves; it is automatic. These flaws make reality easier to handle and can be very useful.
Often, after having demonstrated and sold a magic effect to a new customer, they would open the packaging with immense excitement to find out the secret. I would see the disappointment in their faces when they discovered such a mundane object. The penny would drop how the magic effect really worked, and the deflated individual would slowly make their way to the door.
They would return later, after having fooled their family (probably not the dog), with an understanding of the ease that such a mundane object can fool an individual. They were hooked, they had to learn more and more about how pliable the human mind really is.
The world of magic can be very insular and often focuses on simply playing on people’s ability to follow a pattern of behavior. A pattern that is oh-so-easily disrupted.
But if we were to turn the magician’s creative process inside-out, back-to-front, upside-down, we would arrive at what is stopping our own creative process.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, our old friend…
We assume the world as it is. We assume without thought, the compartments that we put the pieces of our reality inside. We used to see the telephone and camera as two distinct objects. Wood floated, metal sank, so make ships out of wood. Our messed-up bedroom was just that, certainly not an art exhibit.
It is when we can understand and start to question our basic assumptions that we start to see the world differently from everyone else. When we can bring unrelated items together when we can re-utilize objects for different purposes.
But first, we need to understand it is possible.
As the magician creates a miracle under our nose, the converse is also true. We can perform our own miracles by questioning our own assumptions, however obvious they may be.
Let me finish with a story of magical creativity:
The oldest magic trick was performed with three, upturned cups that were used to hide balls underneath. The balls would ‘magically’ move from cup to cup. A supposed depiction of this can even be found on the wall of an ancient Egyptian tomb at Beni Hasan.
For millennia, the effect was performed the same way, with small variants, but nothing major. It was always immensely popular with magicians due to its apparent simplicity and visual nature. For millennia magicians tried to think of different ways of performing this effect. Different color balls, metal balls that clattered the sides of the cups, producing objects larger than the cups themselves.
But still, the holy grail of magic eluded even the most creative of minds. That is until Jason Latimer came up with the idea of using clear cups.
This concept swam against the very premise of the effect, that the cups ‘hid’ the balls underneath. Jason took the biggest step in magic — he questioned the core element of the oldest effect. He came up with a quite astounding and award-winning routine.
So, I would suggest that you look at your own creativity, understand the very nature of the core assumptions, throw them away, and see what is left.
You might just find your own magic.