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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Should there be a set standard in magic? (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Kathryn Novak
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This is something that's been bothering me for a long time. Each magician seems to have different criteria that in their eyes have to be met for a magician to be great or excellent. Should there be a set standard by which all magicians should judge another magician's level of effectiveness, and what should the criteria be?
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Payne
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To paraprase a Supreme Court Justice
"I cannot tell you what bad magic is, but I can tell you when I see it"

If anything is going to kill magic quicker than bad magicians it will be bad magicians setting standards.

What will these standards be?
Who will set them?
What happens to those who fail to meet these standards?

Last year at a convention, after watching what I thought was a particularly atrocious and misguided illusion act, the guy sitting next to me commented on how good the act was cause he really liked those "big tricks".

Which of us was correct in his evaluation of the performance?
"America's Foremost Satirical Magician" -- Jeff McBride.
KC
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The only one that could set a standard and enforce learning good magic would be the local magic shop, and refuse to sell learning material that is too difficult for the customer/magician at the moment. Unfortunately, webshops can't have that criteria for who buys from them (as long as the credit card is valid).

It would be impossible to set some kind of standard for good magic. There are biases and so forth. The only thing you can hope is that the teacher can guide and teach his/her student.

And there's probably not enough honesty between magicians and their acts to make bad magicians into good magicians. If you see a sub-par performance by someone you know, you'll comment to them on one or two things that you liked or thought was good, instead of giving him pointers and advice so the other 95% of his show may reach an acceptable level.

At a recent magic club meeting, a guy was showing me a 4 ace trick. He had the four aces in a fan above the rest of the deck. As he started the trick, he openly pushed four cards off of the deck to get a break. I just had to stop him right there.

3 seconds into the trick, he telegraphed what was going to happen. I told him to either learn the pinky count or to do a wrist kill. Maybe I was being too critical of him (it would probably fly by a lay person), or maybe he wasn't trying (because I am another magician), but I thought that it was just horrendous.
Tom Cutts
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History will be the judge...

Who would tell a painter that his endeavors are not up to the par of the artist community?

I know and embrace your intent IceRaven but, perhaps, one has arrived at acceptable prowess when one stops judging others and really only judges themself. OK, so sometimes your self judgement WILL be "Is it worth my time to sit through this?"

That is valid. It would not be worth my time to sit through the greatest card cheating exposure presentation. It simply doesn't translate into anything I would benefit from greatly. I might get a presentational idea from it but I can get those by just paying attention to life.

Worry only about how YOU are doing by your own standards. The rest is just "dancing about architecture".

Tom
Vaclav
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No. For not everybody likes the same thing. The only judge should be the audience.
Vaclav
Jeb Sherrill
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I'm very much with Tom on this, though I have the feeling that IceRaven is as well, and her question was intent on flushing out this kind of response.

I have certainly seen my share of absolutely terrible magicians. I've seen everything from Uncle Ted's 21 card trick, to Bob amateur, doing the latest packet trick, to Johnny Pro, doing a highly commercial, but totally sleight-vacant box trick.

After a good deal of judging, critiquing and outright self-righteous bashing, I'm forced to look at myself and wonder what gave me the bloody right to judge anything, anyone performs?

Just what is a "bad magician"? How many time have magicians seen my show, and labeled me a "bad "magician". Perhaps they were finger flingers, who felt I didn't use enough sleight of hand. Or magic creators who felt I should have made up my own patter instead of using what came with the effect, or my own effect all together. Perhaps they were Pros that felt I wasn't commercial enough, that my patter flat out sucked, and thought I was nothing but a finger flinger with no commercial value.

Who is right, and why do we spend so much time labeling others "bad magicians" (whatever the heck that is)? Why don't we spend more time on self reflection? This is a of course a problem all of humanity faces, and not just magicians, but we do have to face it. How dare I call ANYONE a bad magician, considering what my magic looked like when I just started out. And if anyone did pop out of their mother's tummy with a book of card sleights in one hand and an appearing cane in the other, doing magic for the doctors that made them bow low with reverence; then how about just thanking the powers that be for such talent, and using it to help others, instead of screaming at everyone about how bad they are, just because they haven't reached your level.

There are plenty of problems in magic, and I'd be the first to admit it, but perhaps by putting the term "bad magician" out of our vocabularies, turning the critical eye on ourselves, and giving the next guy some credit, and assume he's really trying, and not just being a lazy "bad magician"...well...


Sable
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Peter Marucci
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Groups that have set standards -- like doctors, lawyers, architects, etc. -- also have the force of law behind them, so that you can't just hang up a sign saying "doctor" when you aren't, because the folks in blue uniforms will come for you.

However, other groups can, and do, print up business cards and call themselves professionals at the drop of a wand, or whatever. But this isn't restricted to magicians; it includes musicians, salesmen, designers, florists, and so on.

Yes, there may be a professional organization for each of these groups and, yes, that organization may have standards.
But until those standards and that organization have some legal force, it is essentially meaningless (other than to give the public a false sense of security).

Payne's post, above, is right on the mark!

Just one example: Houdini said the mark of a "real" magician was the ability to do the cups and balls.
After 50 years and countless thousands of shows, I DON'T do the cups and balls.
Does that mean I shouldn't be doing magic? After all, who's going to argue with Houdini? (Well, nobody, since he's dead; but you get the idea.)

Just the question of "what are the standards" should keep magicians debating for the next century!
Geoff Weber
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There was once a time when groups like the IBM and the SAM required an audition before they allowed membership. This in a sense did establish a standard, because it meant membership to the organization could than be taken as a seal of approval. A savvy customer looking to hire a magician, could ask, (if they knew to ask), if they were a member of said organization. I think that the requirements for joining these days are much less stringent, so I wouldn't take it as any kind of quality assurance anymore.
Peedlkyle
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I don't' think so. At least not by other magicians. A magician cannot judge one of his own because it is human nature to be biased towards what you like to do.
I think a spectator has the right to judge. After all, we are trying to make them happy. If they aren't enjoying themselves they can label you a "bad magician". But since I don't like stage magic, I can't go around labeling stage magicians as bad because they do what I don't like. And an expert sleight magician can't call me a bad magician because I can't do everything he can.
On the other hand, you have different fingers.
markjens
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This really is one for the ages. There will always be the question of what defines quality, as well as who should be the judge. We have all seen our share both ways, but notoriety has shown us that the ticket buying (or TV watching) public isn't concerned with the quality of a double lift or coin vanish. Our culture has allowed those that are able to be 'marketable' to determine what the public sees. Unfortunately, there is much of the public who thinks that Las Vegas is a den of iniquity rather than a hotbed of magical activity. Perhaps we are partly to blame for not being more 'out there.' Perhaps the public doesn't see enough local talent, and are enamored by any character they see on the television. How many 'regular' folk do you know that actually consider a walk-around magician when planning a birthday party or a holiday affair? If we are really concerned with peoples' view of quality magic, let's show them some! <end rant>
p.b.jones
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HI,
Also, we have to consider not all magicians have the same goals. One might want to perform for audiences, the other might be using magic as a hobby and hardly show there skills in public at all. What if the person that studied magic for a hobby and was really fanatical about it, was not really that good in a presentational or technical sense. Does this make them a bad magician?
A poor performer maybe? But the person might be very serious about the magic and have a strong interest just the same.
Phillip
Jonathan Townsend
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Standards are funny things. They are almost never objective. In science, when making a mesurement, one finds one has two measures, the intended result and some inherent error. The error side of a measure of aesthetics is unbounded due to the subjective nature of the experience. What seems to be a "10" in one situation might be a "-10" in another. This is well founded by the common observation that what is funny for one person might be tragic to another.

Ordinarily the line:
"Jane you ignorant s*ut" would not seem funny. Yet millions of people have cracked up at the sound of it. The key is context. *Some of the BBS readers may not get the reference to the classic Saturday Night Live routine with Jane Curtin and Dan Akroyd. The audience for SNL found their parody debates VERY funny. The line quoted above is in itself offensive to many. What standard can we apply?

Taking the 'high road' let's try this...
Since magic is an art, and art is subjective, any fixed criteria would exclude novel works of merit AND include works constructed to suit the criteria yet without merit outside of the criteria.

A good internal perspective can sometimes be had when you recall the source of the quote about 'knowing it when seeing it' while remembering that a picture of a bacon double cheesebuger held by an attractive woman would be considered in very poor taste outside of our society.

Ordinary people seem to have a good handle on what they find entertaining and of interest. Unfortunatly focus groups for magicians seem unpopular.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Jeb Sherrill
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Quote:
We have all seen our share both ways, but notoriety has shown us that the ticket buying (or TV watching) public isn't concerned with the quality of a double lift or coin vanish.

Mark, I'm not picking on you, because I do think I know what you really mean, but this is the kind of thinking that gets us into great trouble.

To even consider internal standards, we must first separate Public magicians from Magician magicians. If the public has even the faintest idea what a "quality" double lift, or coin vanish would be, then we aren't doing magic anymore.

Magic for magicians in general, isn't really magic anymore. We astound each other with skill, technique and inovation, not magic. Yes, I've seen some magicians who "blew me away", so to speak, but it still wasn't "magic" anymore. We may not know how it's done exactly, but we know how it could be done, or how it must be done, or at the least that it must be done "somehow".

We might think the public knows it must be done "somehow" too, but it's different. Our idea of "how did he do that" may be a hazy picture. To the public, it should be a blank screen.

Standards in magic are a quaint, but mostly useless concept, unless it has serious parameters. If a magic club wanted to make certain that a future member, was in fact a magician, they might make him/her, perform a trick. I happen to agree with this, and most clubs used to do it. It wasn't so much a test of skill, or performance ability, but a test to see if the person was serious about magic. Now if I was a talent agency, screening magicians, I'd have a completely different set of criteria. A person could walk in with a Square Circle and t-tip, and if they could entertain people, I'd hire them. On the other hand, a master prestodigitator could walk in and show me ten different passes and a bare handed coin matix that used only four coins, and if he put me to sleep doing it, he'd be out on the sidewalk.

Perhaps the question should be: Standards for what kind of magician, and for what reason. Besides, don't we have standards already? They're just internal and unspoken.

Sable

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Stephen Long
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And that's just the thing, Jeb.
We do have standards, don't we?

For example, everyone here is probably in agreement that Copperfield (whether you like him or not) is a fantastic magician.
This is thought by both the public and the vast majority of magicians.

But what makes him good?
And here lies the problem.
The elements that make a good magician (as Jeb has mused over) will be different for each of us.

It would be nice to think we can start putting this all into some sort of perspective:
"The flawless double lift and perfect retention vanish maketh not the magician." - Me
Most hold this to be true.
The method needs to be put into context via the effect and the presentation.
Are we getting somewhere now?
No.
Because people will argue over those who do this most sucessfully.

If magic is an art then let our spectators be the judge of whether we are "good" or not.
When performing, perform not just at the audience but with them.
Perhaps then we will get a better sense of our audiences, and maybe then we can start to know just how "good" we really are.

We, as "magicians", cannot answer this question.
But interesting to ponder nonetheless.
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ColinB
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Last year, I went to a "new" type of magic club/group that has actually spent a lot of time and effort putting together a portfolio of performance tasks and tests that everyone has to perform before the group - the performers are then critiqued openly by the group leaders and anyone else who wants to throw in an opinion. The idea is said to provide a clear track to improving magicians' skills and entertainment ability.

The group leaders seem to have the ultimate ambition that this will be a new benchmark to rate aspiring magicians, the grades used as a guide for anyone looking to hire someone. They hope to sell this magic club format to other magic groups in the US, thus spreading the recognition of this grading system.

One such test requires a magician to stand up and tell everyone how he first got into magic. I saw a polite, middle-aged guy explain candidly how he became fascinated by magic as a child, how he enjoyed performing as a hobby and hoped to perform on a semi-pro basis table-hopping at weekends. His dissertation was not without humor and he came across as a genuinely nice person. The man then sat down while two group leaders (neither of whom perform professionally, as far as I know) openly pulled him to pieces over the fact that he hadn't performed the task properly in their eyes - both repeatedly used the phrase "You cheated us" -and so the guy received a low mark/failure rating or something.

I've not been back since.
Peter Marucci
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Exactly the problem, Colin.

But let's assume for a moment (and it's a BIG assumption) that standards can be agreed upon by all magicians (a group that couldn't agree on what day it is!).

So how are they enforced and by whom?

Since the standards (or rules, or regulations, or whatever) have no force in law, the whole thing is pointless.

Anybody who wants to perform magic can get a box full of tricks, tell the standards' group to take a hike, and go out and get hired as a magician.

And nobody can do a thing about it!
Jeb Sherrill
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Exactly right Peter!

And who are we to police other magicians anyway. We are entertainers, like any other entertainers. Each person who goes, buys a "box of tricks", and decides to go out get a magic job; has the same right as anyone else to fall on their face, or become the next Copperfield.

I heard a Pro once argue (rather savagely) that children should not try to get shows, because they weren't good enough yet, were giving magic a bad name, and of course (bottom line), were taking jobs away from "real magicians". As if anyone was going to judge all magic by a 12 year old doing card tricks. Geez, what is magic comeing too? Smile

Sable
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Kathryn Novak
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I think that sometimes I ask questions I already know the answer to, it just takes my brain time to process that answer. I am against setting standards to judge others by, I have been for a long time. It's why I hate it so much when magicians (or people in general) bash one another. The result is almost never good. I have to wonder, though, how magic contests like F.I.S.M. judge the magicians. They must have some sort of system in place, otherwise nobody would be able to win.
If anyone sees my sanity, please return it to

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Jeb Sherrill
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F.I.S.M. does indeed have a set list that judges follow (as far as I understand it) and needless to say, the fairness of it is debated from here to kingdom come. In fact, there are whole threads on the subject.

Sable
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Paul
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re;
Does that mean I shouldn't be doing magic?

Yes, Peter, lol.

Paul.
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