May 5, 2021
Magic as a performance art — and a tool of charlatans and con men — has been around for centuries. The classic “cups and balls” illusion, in which balls seem to appear and disappear beneath cups, was performed by Roman conjurors in 3 BCE. For hundreds of years, books have been published that attempt to teach or explain the craft of illusion and stage magic. One of the first such books was Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584, in which the author tried to explain magic tricks primarily as an exposé of witchcraft.
Modern performance magic exists in a variety of forms, from the dramatic antics of escape artists such as Harry Houdini to the unsettling abilities of mentalists such as Derren Brown. Some magicians, such as David Copperfield, prefer grand theatrics, while others deal in close-up sleight-of-hand. But whether they perform on the stages of Las Vegas or in the streets of their hometown, all these magicians have one thing in common: They like to leave their audience thinking, “How did they do that?” Despite this common end goal, different magicians perceive their art in various ways. For some it is complex trickery, while for others it’s more akin to music, as the following quotes from famous modern-day magicians reveal.
What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.
– Harry Houdini
Magic’s an emotion that someone feels when they witness something amazing. It could be a shared experience, which is what I try to make my magic about. I want it to be an experience that we share together.
Magic is like Coca-Cola, in the hands of the poorest and richest kids. No matter who you are, magic, like music, speaks to everyone. It’s a passport into any culture or family. My motivation is to elicit other people into the feeling it gives me.
– Drummond Money-Coutts
My object is to mystify and entertain. I wouldn’t deceive you for the world.
– Howard Thurston
Magicians are the most honest people in the world: They tell you they’re going to fool you, and then they do it.
– James Randi
The inspiration for my illusions comes from many places. Most often they come from my dreams, or an everyday occurrence in life. I have always wanted to put another face on Mount. Rushmore or making the moon vanish, so you see I have a lot of work ahead of me.
– David Copperfield
One of the fundamental joys of magic is it’s an intellectual art form at one level, and as a viewer, you’re trying to reconcile what you see with what you know. The joy of it is going, “That’s impossible! No it can’t be. Yes it is! No it can’t be. Yes it is!” And these two things are colliding — what you see is colliding with what you know.
One thing you learn doing magic tricks for a living is how close every performance of every magic trick is to disaster. There are no robust magic tricks. They’re all hanging from a thread — sometimes literally.
– Penn Jillette
Magic makes you think about yourself every moment you’re in the theater because you’re asking yourself, “Where does reality leave off and make-believe begin? This guy is screwing with me, this guy is messing with my brain.” It is a fantastically interesting art form.
When a magician shows you a trick, he’s guiding how we edit reality to form this story that’s amazing. But we’re doing it all the time. It’s a great analogy for how we interpret the world.
– Derren Brown
Many of the techniques used by magicians were developed by, or in tandem with, grifters and hustlers and con artists. Magic and cons are kindred arts.
– Alex Stone
Magic, all it is, is piano-playing. It’s the exact same thing. The main difference, though, is that in magic, you’re hiding all of your skills.
– Shin Lim
We think we know how everything works, and if we don’t know, Google will tell us. But magic, when done correctly, allows you to connect with a person and show them something impossible they can’t explain. It’s a powerful thing.
– Darcy Oake