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Magic (illusion)

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Magic or conjuring is a feat of illusion that naïve observers would consider to arise from supernatural powers. The practitioners of this are called Magicians or Illusionists. Often, when a magician prefers not to be referred to by either of those names, he refers to himself as a conjurer.

One of the meanings of magic refers to the use of trickery to perform feats that seem to defy conventional explanation. Almost all types of trickery are used in magic, including feats of physical dexterity, specially constructed props and mathematical results.


Exposure and magic

Magic is usually performed before an audience which is ignorant of the type of trick being used. The purpose of a magic trick is to amuse and create a feeling of wonder; the audience is generally aware that the magic is performed using trickery, and derives enjoyment from having the magician use cunning to deceive them. Usually, magicians will refuse to reveal their methods to the audience. The reasons for these include:

  • Exposure obviously "kills" magic as an artform and transforms it into mere intellectual puzzles or riddles. Once the secret of a trick is revealed to a person, he or she can no longer fully enjoy subsequent performances of the trick.
  • Keeping the secrets obviously also provides a financial incentive for magicians who perform for money.
  • Magic is a mystery entertainment.

Membership in professional magicians' organizations often requires an oath not to reveal the secrets of magic to non-magicians. This is known as the "Magician's Oath". However, it is considered permissible to reveal secrets to individuals who are determined to learn magic tricks and become magicians. Thus, the secrets to many common tricks are available to the public through numerous books and magazines devoted to magic.

Furthermore, some magicians have taken the controversial position that revealing the methods used in certain tricks can enhance the appreciation of the audience for how clever the trick is. Penn and Teller frequently perform tricks using transparent props to reveal how it is done, for example, although they almost always include additional unexplained tricks at the end that are made even more astonishing by the revealing props being used.

Categories of magic

Magic performances fall into three broad genres:

  • Close-up magic, which is performed with the audience close to the magician, possibly in physical contact. It usually makes use of everyday items as props, such as cards and coins. Exponents of close-up magic include Michael Ammar, Jay Sankey and Ricky Jay.
  • Parlor magic, which is performed for small groups of people slightly separated from the magician. This type of magic often makes use of portable props specially designed for performing magic.
  • Stage magic, which is performed for large audiences, typically within an auditorium. This type of magic is distinguished by elaborate, large-scale props. The most famous magicians in the world, such as David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, and Penn and Teller, are best known for their ability in stage-magic.

Magic specialties

Within magic, several specialties or niches have been created:

  • Bizarre magic, which uses metaphysical, horror, fantasy and other similar themes in performance. Bizarre magic is typically performed in a close-up venue, although some performers such as Docc Hilford have effectively presented it in a stage setting. Charles Cameron has generally been credited as the "godfather of bizarre magic." Others such as Tony Andruzzi, Carl Herron, Tony Raven contributed heavily to its early development.
  • Mentalism, which creates the impression in the minds of the audience that the performer possesses special powers to read minds, predict events, and other similar feats.


One principle that underlies many magic tricks is misdirection, which is the act of drawing the audience's attention to one location while, in another location, the magician performs a crucial manipulation undetected. For example, during a simple coin trick a magician might pretend to transfer a coin from his left hand to his right, while actually keeping the coin in the left. In order to create misdirection, the fingers of the right hand will appear to close over the coin, and the fist is prominently displayed to the audience; the left hand hangs loosely, as though it were empty.

Some think Misdirection is all on a physical plane, essentially getting a spectator to 'look elsewhere' rather than at the 'secret move'. It can also mean to re-direct or re-structure the spectator's perception of the action taking place. For example, telling a person to look into the empty box when really a secret compartment hides something. the word 'empty' used to restructure their perception of the box. Another example is when placing something from one hand into another accompanied by the appropriate phrase and expression when really the item is not placed where it is said to go.

Many different techniques are used to create misdirection, and all require great amounts of practice to perfect. One technique is the use of natural-looking and confident movements, which the magician uses to disguise any surreptitious manipulations (as in the previously described coin trick.) Another technique is the use of a confident flow of chatter from the magician, known as "patter." Patter may take the form of a story, or it may simply be the magician (selectively) narrating the actions being performed. Either way, it directs the attention of the audience wherever the magician wishes.

Another technique of misdirection is the use of optical illusions to hide or displace the location or size of objects. When the sides of a box are painted with concentric rectangles, or a hollow tabletop is beveled so that it is thicker in the center than at the edges, such containers appear to be much thinner than they actually are. These are often used in stage illusions, since they allow an assistant to hide in a space that appears to be too small to fit in, or to turn sideways and assume different positions in a box when there appears be too little room to move.

Apart from misdirection, some magic tricks can be classified by the type of technique used. For example, card magic includes a set of standard techniques for pretending to shuffle a set of cards, concealing cards in the hand (referred to as "palming"), and so forth; coin magic has a similar set of techniques for hiding and transferring coins. However, the majority of magic tricks cannot be classified in this way, and are sometimes referred to as "general magic."

See also

Notable magicians (see list of magicians for a more extensive list):

Other topics:

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45