Cleverness

"A weak trick remains a weak trick, no matter how brilliant or devious the method."

Ken Weber, Maximum Entertainment

I remember once performing an effect for a prominent amateur magician. I didn't expect the trick to fool him and it didn't. When 1 finished, he said enthusiastically, "That's a really clever method."

"And it's a really strong effect for lay people," I responded.

"But it's a really clever method," he said admiringly.

"And it's a really strong effect," I said.

"But it's a really clever method," he retorted.

Admittedly, this is not Oscar Wilde/G.B. Shaw caliber repartee. But that's the point. The impasse in the conversation reflected the chasm between his perspective on magic and mine. For many magicians, methods develop a seductive quality. Hie method justifies the effect rather than the other way around. I've been to more than one magic lecture where the audience initially responded apathetically to a certain effect but fell in love with it when they learned the ingenious method.

Efficiency

•In magic, the law of maximum effect is more important than that mum effort.' ArtUro de Ascanio,

The Structural Conception of Magic

Some will tell you that the best effects are those that achieve the mo« impact for the least effort. This is really a twist on the easier-is-bettcr phi. losophy. At least its a step in the right direction in that it also factors in audience impact. This philosophy underlies such magic clichés as, "I've streamlined the handling" (code for "I've made the trick easier") or, "That' a very efficient method." "Streamlined" and "efficient" are engineering terms. However, magic is noc engineering. Energy efficiency is not the goal.

Magic is a craft. Most magicians even pay lip service to the notion that it's an art. In art and in craft you don't measure success in terms of input vs. output. Art and craft both require you to strive for perfection. All that matters is the quality of the output, regardless of how much input it takes to achieve it.

Of course, no sensible person would deny that if you can make a trick easier without weakening the impact, that's a good thing. If, as sometimes happens, you can make it easier and at the same time make it stronger, that's a great thing. But those are the easy cases. Lets turn to a tougher example.

If you're one of the many magicians who affirm that magic is an art, let me test your sincerity. "Think of any item in your repertoire. If you could make this trick 10% stronger, but doing so would make it 50% harder, would you be willing to do the extra work? An engineer would answer no—highly inefficient! An artist would answer yes. Even a true craftsman with no pretensions to art would answer yes.

Admittedly, I'm espousing a highly idealistic position, and idealism has its limits. If I thought of an improvement that would make a trick 5% stronger but 300% harder, I would probably say, "The old way is good enough." Nevertheless, this theoretical example shows the artistic shortcomings of applying an engineering model to magic.

"The "efficiency" approach tends to produce two problems. First, in practice, pursuing the most effect for the least effort often degenerates into pursuing the least effort, period. Better I think to pursue the most effect, period. If occasionally you can achieve that with little effort, consider it a lucky break.

Second, so-called efficient methods tend to be direct methods. In my experience and observation, the phrase "direct method" is a synonym for "obvious method." You may find this a surprising notion, so I hope you'll give me a chance to persuade you later in Chapter Seven.

For now, I'll offer one last thought for the efficicncy experts to consider. Efficiency can only be measured in terms of a goal. Magicians tend to think that the goal is to move the card from here to there. In fact, that's only half the goal. The more important half should be to create a false impression—and ultimately, a certain experience—in the spectator's mind. The proper test of an effect's design is not efficicncy but effectiveness. How effective is it in creating an illusion of impossibility? You can't measure that with a simple input/output equation.

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