Why Magic is Not an Art

Ruffled some feathers with that one didn’t I? Let me explain.

To me, there are only five fields we can really call Art.

THE FIVE ARTS

Literature. (Written or recited)
Music.
Theatre.
Dance.
Material Art
(painting, sculpture, light design, etc).

That’s it. These are the mediums which touch hearts, sway moods, transport minds, transfer ideas, and communicate in an artistic fashion. And all of the above can do so independently of any other. You can express love through dance without music. You can express anguish through music without anything visual. And you can show heartbreak through theatre without literature; we call it pantomime.

But wait Ryan, wouldn’t that make pantomime an Art as well? Well no because without characterization (theatre), or plot (theatre/literature), or rhythmic movement (dance) or background instrumentation (music) or something visual onstage (material art) pantomime is just someone who is really good at making it look like he or she is interacting with invisible objects.

That skill can be impressive. It can be cool. Hell, it can be astonishing. What it can’t be is Art. In order for a pantomime to draw an emotional connection and really move his or her audience, they must draw from the toolboxes of literature, music, dance, theatre and material art. Invisible boxes themselves can never reach that plane of Art.

And magic is the same way.

JUST THINK ABOUT IT

Think of the most “artistic” magic piece you’ve ever witnessed. Try and describe what makes it so artistic without listing elements which belong to any of the Five Arts. I don’t think you can. We are moved by Copperfield’s Flying because of his liberating movement (dance) and the background music, and we are left speechless by Teller’s Shadows due to his expressions (theatre) and the lighting (theatre/material art). Copperfield’s Flying is the greatest levitation apparatus ever conceived by mankind, but without elements from the Five Arts it would be reduced to a mere puzzle. And levitation is arguably the most impossible feat we can do.

Magic is not an Art by itself. It is a subset of the Art of Theatre, and we routinely draw elements from the other Arts as well.

BUT NEVER FEAR

That’s fine, because guess what!

You are still an artist!

Yes, magicians are still artists, but we are not artists because we perform magic; we are artists because we perform theatre! That is an important distinction because magicians already have too much of an ego problem.

Lets keep things in perspective. We are actors who are incredibly adept at deception. That’s pretty cool, but don’t think that your top change is going to win over the hearts and minds of your audience.

I wish I could tell you where magic fits in. I don’t know. I’m still exploring and learning. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t an Art, and admitting that is an important first step towards figuring all of this out.







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