The Art of Magic
My induction into the world of magic occurred 30 years ago via, a boyfriend who at the time was a rising star of the junior members of the Hollywood Magic Castle. We were dating and I would see him perform at the Castle and hang out at Hollywood Magic store with the likes of Max Mavin, Christ Hart, Lorenzo Clark, George Tovar and many others that came through the doors of Hollywood Magic. He would talk a lot about “real magic” and being a “real wizard”. Having come from a Catholic background I had no idea what he was talking about at the time but he gave me the book, Illusions, by Richard Bach which opened a portal into another world for me. The relationship didn’t last but my love for magic and performance ensued. I would eventually create, “Pinky the Clown” performing magic for little tykes.
The million dollar question in the world of professional performance magic appears to be, is magic an art, craft or neither? There are two components that must be examined independently of each other in this question. The first component is magic and the second component is art. In order to be able to say that magic is art or that magic is not art one needs to define what is magic and what is art. In this article I will look at the idea of magic and art in society and culture and in their inception. And then we can examine where is the intersection of magic and art if at all.
While pursuing my M.A. in Religious studies I took a course called, “Gender, Magic, Witchcraft and Religion.” For the first class my professor asked me to perform my kids party act to open up the discourse on what is real magic? In religious studies magic and religion go hand in hand. Emile Durkheim, in The Elementary forms of Religious Life states, “that magic is full of religion just as religion is full of magic.”  He also states that, “the magician is for magic what the priest is for religion.” Durkheim is referring to magic as ritual practice but the birth of the performance arts had their inception in the early religious rituals of the shamans. Joseph Campbell states, “The myth makers of earlier days were the counterparts of our artists.” Mr. Campbell is referring to shamans. Bill Moyers posits the following question to Campbell, “In these early elementary cultures, as you call them, who would have been the equivalent of the poets of today?” and Campbell responds, “The shamans.”
The shamans were the first storytellers and the first performers acting out myths to inform the tribes. These first performances were the religious/spiritual rituals in which the shamans led the community. Theater grew out of myths, ceremony and ritual which took place in daily life and theatre evolved from the performance of ritual in which the community was not a participant but a spectator. “According to the historians Oscar Brockett and Franklin Hildy, rituals typically include elements that entertain or give pleasure, such as costumes and masks as well as skilled performers.
As societies grew more complex, these spectacular elements began to be acted out under non-ritualistic conditions. As this occurred, the first steps towards theatre as an autonomous activity were being taken.” The shaman/priest was the magician. Magician Christian Engblown states, “That when you have the ancient shamanic drawing in a cave depicting the end of the world, that’s magic.” Now some of you may be saying but magicians are not shamans. Shamans by definition travel between altered states of consciousness to do acts to the benefit the community or society. (We will come back later to this idea of altered states of consciousness as it pertains to the ideas of art and transcendence.)
Mircea Eliade states, “For of course, the shaman is also a magician and medicine man; he is believed to cure, like all doctors, and to perform miracles of the fakir type, like all magicians, whether primitive or modern.” In ancient Egypt and biblical days the priests were magicians. Go back to Moses battling it out with the magicians of pharaoh in his attempts to free the Hebrew slaves. In Exodus 8:7 it states, “But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.” In Acts 8:9-13 we find the following, “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” Johnny Thompson, has stated that, “At one time we held a lot of power until they caught a guy switching bricks at the last second, a gold one for a real one, you know. But till then we were held in pretty high esteem now we have had to turn it into an art form instead of a religious form.”
In the 1850’s Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic combined magic, religion and politics to stop a simmering war. The country of Algeria was rebelling led by the Marabouts, a religious sect with supposedly magical powers. They wanted the country to break its ties to France. By request of the French bureau in Algiers, Robert-Houdin, was asked to prove that French magic was stronger than that of the Marabouts. “Performing for the local chieftains, Robert-Houdin caused a warrior to seemingly lose his strength. By suggesting that the warrior could no longer lift a lightweight box, the warrior couldn’t. And at the end, the warrior shrieked and ran from the stage. He was secretly shocked with a jolt of electricity.” The rebellion was effectively quelled by Robert-Houdin who was acting in the role of shaman/magician. Magic is the seeming representation of supernatural powers by a shaman/magician. These representations were elements of religious/spiritual rituals performed for the community. Religious ritual paved the way for the development of theatre. The shaman or the magician can be said to have been the first performer, who engaged in a form of storytelling which sometimes made use of magic.
But how do we define what is art? Art is form and content, which means that all art consists of these two things. Form is defined as the elements of art, the principles of design and the physical materials that the artist uses. Content is idea based and has to do with what the artist meant to portray, what he did portray and the spectators reaction to the work. Art can be painting, sculpture, poetry, music, dance, theatre but not all of painting, sculpture, poetry, music, dance, or theatre is necessarily art.
These are definitely the components or elements of a work of art and in that sense magic does utilize many of these elements. Magic encompasses all of the performance arts. Dani, DaOrtiz, states magic, “plays with concepts of the arts, plays with colors, music, dance. A lot of art in one art of magic.”  A magic show can be visual, use props, music, dance and choreography so in a sense one can say that magic is art but we have also stated that not all so called art is “art.” What then elevates a piece or a work to that which we call “art”? Tolstoy states that , “Art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man. Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produces or is producing, the art , and with those who, simultaneously, previously or subsequently, receive the same artistic impressions.” “It is on this capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.”
The artist is the person who has the ability to rip out his heart and soul and to place it on a silver platter and with arms outstretched to his audience say, here take this and consume it, devour it. Think of the art work of Frida Kahlo, who took her pain and transformed it into art. Yes, the ability to transform pain both physical and emotional is the transmutative power of the artist. We take the pain of being in relationship with life and turn it into art–whether in song-poetry-music-writing or magic. We are sharing our pain or our point of view with other’s so that they can go yes–yes that ‘s it what you created is what I am feeling –what I too have gone through but I did not know how to say it……..that is the power of the artist—It is not celebrity or fame —it is the power to connect with another human being on a soul level such that not only are you transformed by the creation of the art–the releasing of the pain into something beautiful but also the observer is too transformed and taken to another level of spirit. That is what I feel artist’s are about—well at least that is what I intend in my art with the end result of looking for the higher spiritual truth that is contained in that pain. Art can then be defined by having the quality of transcendence from the mundane to a higher spiritual realm.
The question then remains is magic an art? Does magic have within it the element of transcendence? Brad Henderson states that ,”magic is inherently pornography because it’s so easy to get a WOW or an AHH. That the lowest form of magic and all magicians care about is reactions. It’s about how you make people feel. And if it’s just the wow, then you are a pornographer, a magic pornographer.” Jay Scott Berry has said that, “Magic is, by its very nature, is a mind expanding art form. Even the simplest illusion demonstrates that the boundaries of perception are not necessarily the boundaries of reality.” Starhawk defines magic as, “the art of changing consciousness at will”. But how would this idea of transcendence translate into magic. Lupe Neilson states, ” Eventually, the goal of any great performer … is to transcend the mundane and create a sensation of true Wonder.” 
Such is the art of René Lavand. If anyone can claim the title of master artist in magic it would be René Lavand. He does with one hand what I could not even conceive of with two. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the Hollywood Magic Castle. I am fortunate that I speak Spanish and was be able to understand him in his native language as his words were sheer poetry and the translator missed the beauty of his words. I was in awe and wonder. I left that show feeling as if the magic was real.
And therein lies the key to art. Art is the experience that the participant walks away with. It is that moment in time however brief where one feels connected to the mysterious, to the divine via one soul to the other. Magic is the most ancient and mysterious of arts. It was via the shaman/magician that the tribes connected to the mysterious. This tradition continues with modern-day artists. Yes, Magic can be an art in the hands of an artist.
The best thing that we can do as artist is to rip off our masks and to expose the soul that lies underneath and there we find the words, the songs, the music, the art, the poetry and the magic. And in that communion and sharing we uplift the planet and others. Our experiences are merely the point of reference for our art. It is in that creative space that we find resonance and transcendence with life.
Ivonne Perez Montijo, M.A.
 Durkheim, Emile, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, p. 58
 Campbell, Joseph, The Power of Myth, p.85
 Campbell, Joseph, The Power of Myth, p.85
 Brockett and Hildy (1968; 10th ed. 2010), History of the Theater.
 Eliade, Mircea, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
 Starhawk, The Spiral Dance p. 7