There has always been a certain rivalry between magicians and mentalists. Magicians tend to frown upon mentalism because many proponents of the art portray themselves as real and their performances are often accepted as such. They consider this to be dishonest. Mentalists, on the other hand, tend to look down upon magicians as mere tricksters who are far removed from what they do. They see what they do as child's play and not serious entertainment. Both viewpoints are entirely erroneous.
It has been the author's contention for over 35 years that mentalism isn't too strong, but rather a lot of magic is not strong enough. This has been proven over the last few years by the idiosyncrasy that when a magic effect becomes too strong, it is usually moved into a different category. Metal bending is considered telekinesis rather than legerdemain. Moving an object on the table is the work of a psychic, not a magician. Even when a mentalist does an effect that is clearly a magical one, such as linking together three wedding rings, it is considered in a different light. David Blaine's levitation stunt was considered to be something far removed from standard magic.
Magic must have meaning. It has to accomplish something desirable. When a mentalist stands on stage and apparently reads someone's mind, he is demonstrating an enviable trait. Adult audiences can visualize a power that could be immensely beneficial in their own lives. In contrast, when a magician turns a red silk handkerchief into a blue one, although it may represent skill, it does not characterize a power that the average adult would desire. This is what is lacking in a lot of magic and this is where the magician should concentrate his efforts when creating new material. He must touch upon themes that have real meaning in life. He must demonstrate abilities the average person can understand and would want for themselves. When this is accomplished, magic moves up one gigantic notch.
There are all types of magic in the world. We expect a children's magician to use brightly colored props and themes that are appropriate for younger audiences. We know that a manipulative act is the result of great skill and appreciate it for that reason and the beauty it creates. We understand the dangers of the escape artist and thrill at the stunts he does. We appreciate the skills of the close-up card and coin worker and the brilliance of his moves. There are hundreds of different styles of magic for different audiences and purposes.
The same can be said about mentalism. There are hundreds of performers who excel at many different types of the art. They work in different ways for different audiences to achieve different results. They dress differently, act differently and claim different things. Some tell stories, some are comedians and some play the part of a professor.
The author sees a trend where more and more magicians are studying mentalism. As this happens, the dividing line between the two branches will fade. Already we see this happening on magic specials. The merging of the two will not lower the impact of mentalism, but will raise that of magic. More and more entertainers will understand what makes mentalism appealing and will apply it to other areas of magic. Likewise, mentalists should appreciate these efforts and understand that our art is not stagnant and must change.
There is always good and bad in the world. Our outlook and attitude is determined by what we dwell on. By keeping a positive approach to magic and keeping our sights on its ethical and continuing evolution, the future can only be bright.
Good luck to all of you.
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