How can you compromise your artistic integrity…

posted in: Integrity | 0

…if you are not an artist to begin with?

Alan Moore, the crit­i­cally acclaimed writer, who is best known for his comic books such as ‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘Watch­men’;  is often described as the greatest comic book writer in his­tory. Moore trans­ports his audi­ence into his world that he cre­ates word by word. He sus­pends your dis­be­lief with ease, and every sen­tence he writes pulls you in deeper and deeper. In a doc­u­men­tary about Moore and his work, he said:

“It is not the job of artists to give the audi­ence what the audi­ence wants, if the audi­ence knew what they needed then they wouldn’t be the audi­ence; they would be the artist. It is the job of the artists to give the audi­ence what they need.”

I believe this is one of this sin­gle most impor­tant quotes relat­ing to my pro­fes­sion I have ever read, and let me explain why. Peo­ple gen­er­ally think if some­thing is tried and tested, then it is bet­ter. It is this pre­con­cep­tion that grasps a hold over the major­ity, and whilst the major­ity stick to what they know, or what they’ve been told works, the inno­va­tors are con­stantly cre­at­ing new ideas and new ways of doing things, and even­tu­ally some of those new ways and ideas will become tried and tested and become ‘the stan­dard’. I believe con­form­ing to tried and tested is mediocre, and if peo­ple always stuck to tried and tested our soci­ety would not have pro­gressed, mod­ern advance­ments would not exist. I could go on list­ing every­thing that you enjoy, or that you know or use in your day to day life that would not be here, if it were not for peo­ple who dis­re­gard the tried and tested for­mula. To use another bril­liant quote that sums it up bet­ter than I have…

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The mis­fits. The rebels. The trou­ble­mak­ers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things dif­fer­ently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the sta­tus quo. You can quote them, dis­agree with them, glo­rify or vil­ify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imag­ine. They heal. They explore. They cre­ate. They inspire. They push the human race for­ward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty can­vas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been writ­ten? Or gaze at a red planet and see a lab­o­ra­tory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of peo­ple. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the peo­ple who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

This is taken from the ‘Think Dif­fer­ent’ ad cam­paign in 1997 for the Apple com­puter, it sends tin­gles up my spine when I read it, I think it’s beau­ti­ful, true, pow­er­ful and a moti­va­tional trib­ute to those who strive to be an artist (albeit try­ing to sell these cre­atives a Mac). Using these two quotes I think we can under­stand that any­body can become an artist, and that the term artist is not con­fined to painters or design­ers, musi­cians or magi­cians, but to any­one who breaks away from the sta­tus quo, who chal­lenges to be dif­fer­ent by break­ing the tried and tested rules and cre­ates new art, cre­ates ground-breaking dis­cov­er­ies, pro­vokes pos­i­tive advance­ments and change.

Sadly, in my field and many other enter­tain­ment fields there are enter­tain­ers but very few artists.

In the magic field (and can gen­er­ally apply to other art forms) what sep­a­rates the artists from the other magi­cians is the ded­i­ca­tion to the approach and out­come of his or her work; it is mainly the thought, the process and the orig­i­nal­ity that makes them artists. Many ‘alter­na­tive’ magi­cians may sim­ply dress dif­fer­ently (and prob­a­bly would describe them­selves as artists) or do magic that you’ve never seen before (because it’s been found out of the back of magic book from the yes­ter­years, and copied ver­ba­tim) but they still adhere to the tried and tested for­mu­las in their work. They say ‘you can’t pol­ish a turd –but you can roll it in glit­ter’, and all these peo­ple are doing is rolling the shit in glit­ter — they are NOT being an artist. They are dis­guis­ing their inabil­ity to be an artist. If being an artist where that sim­ple, we’d have a lot more artists in the world.  The vast major­ity of magi­cians are stuck in a rut, every trick that they do and every line that is spo­ken dur­ing a per­for­mance is tried and tested mate­r­ial. Of course it works, but I believe the client and the audi­ence are being short-changed, even if they have never seen a magi­cian before, they are not get­ting any­thing new, and you are not pro­gress­ing as per­son or a per­former. As Robert-Houdin said, “A magi­cian is an actor play­ing the part of a magi­cian,” – and this type of actor has been type­cast again and again, with the same tired rou­tines and dialogue.

Peo­ple gen­er­ally don’t like change. Change con­fuses, change takes get­ting used to and change can make us feel uncom­fort­able. This is why we have main­stream, and alter­na­tive. Peo­ple that enjoy change, cre­ativ­ity, dif­fer­ence, push­ing bound­aries, explor­ing the unknown and sim­ply giv­ing new things a chance, gen­er­ally will reap the ben­e­fits of new expe­ri­ences in the ‘alter­na­tive’ that could lit­er­ally change their very world.  The main­stream will always be tried and tested, which is okay if you know what you like and are not inter­ested in any­thing else, or per­haps alter­na­tive just isn’t ‘your cup of tea’, but I think peo­ple that only like main­stream are miss­ing out heav­ily. Gen­er­ally main­stream comes to you, it’s every­where you look, how­ever to find the alter­na­tive you usu­ally have to look a bit deeper, I think only enjoy­ing main­stream is also a sense of com­pla­cently and lazi­ness in not look­ing for what else is out there.

When magi­cians are booked to per­form, usu­ally the client has never booked a magi­cian before, and going back to Moore’s quote, the client (the audi­ence) doesn’t really know what they want, they may have an idea of what they think they want but it is our job as an artist to tell them, in our pro­fes­sional opin­ion what we think is right. If the client has seen a magi­cian before, at say per­haps a wed­ding – at cer­tain time of the day – they might ask for this for their wed­ding, as it’s been tried and tested and it worked. How­ever, per­for­mance is not always a one size fits all, and what has worked before might not be right for another event. The magi­cian will sim­ply take this book­ing, the artist would prob­a­bly also take this book­ing, but not with com­pro­mise. Magi­cians often like to blame the audi­ence and blame the client if the per­for­mance did not go as planned, or if there were prob­lems. Break­ing away from what’s tried and tested means direct­ing the client towards what is tried and tested and has worked for you per­son­ally, rather than what has worked for oth­ers; or direct­ing them to what else will work in your pro­fes­sional expe­ri­ence.  If com­pro­mis­ing what you think works best, because the client thinks there plan will work bet­ter, is def­i­nitely ask­ing for prob­lems and ulti­mately you are to blame, not the client if prob­lems do arise –that is not the way of an artist. The magi­cian is think­ing more about the pay­check than the process and the out­come of his or her work. An artist will make very few com­pro­mises, as the artist knows bet­ter than the client (in terms of his or hers prod­uct) and it is that ded­i­ca­tion to the out­come of the work that cre­ates a bet­ter per­for­mance, and ulti­mately gets more work. I can appre­ci­ate that this method of work­ing with clients may put some off and they may not all appre­ci­ate your advice, but it is far bet­ter to work with clients who are pre­pared to let you have artis­tic free­dom to do what you do best to make sure that you can deliver the great­est pos­si­ble per­for­mance.  I think we are nearly all guilty of tak­ing work that we know sim­ply isn’t right for us, or work that ensues many prob­lems sim­ply because of that paycheck.

Some­body that knows tricks is a magi­cian, not an artist. An artist under­stands their work in a dif­fer­ent capac­ity. Orig­i­nal­ity is a win­ning fac­tor, but I do not think being a com­plete orig­i­nal is nec­es­sary to be an artist. Some of the best ideas have come from cre­at­ing an alter­na­tive and or mak­ing things bet­ter, so you must first have a deep under­stand­ing of what works to bend the rules and try alter­na­tives. Jack Cardiff, the leg­endary cin­e­matog­ra­pher said, if you want to be on the cut­ting edge of your art form you have to be pre­pared to pay to pay the con­se­quences for it, because you are chal­leng­ing every­body when you start break­ing con­ven­tions and you have to be aware that some peo­ple may attack you and try to bring you down because of this.

I think we already have a great advan­tage over most art forms any­way, because most peo­ple have never seen a magi­cian live and com­bin­ing that with Moore’s idea, we have to under­stand the audi­ence are gen­er­ally pretty clue­less. We ulti­mately are very wel­come to have com­plete artis­tic free­dom to show them what we can do, gen­er­ally their pre­sump­tions are lim­ited to top hats with rab­bits or float­ing six inches above the ground. We have so much scope to play with, and most magi­cians do not utilise this. How­ever, most magi­cians take advan­tage of this, and give the audi­ence the same old tired, tried and tested work because the audi­ence doesn’t know any bet­ter. On the other hand, some magi­cians get a bit too caught up with this idea, and think that just because some­thing is com­pletely orig­i­nal it must be great. An expe­ri­enced artist is more qual­i­fied to know if what they are doing is on the right tracks, rather than the gen­eral audi­ence. To make things even more con­fus­ing, just because some­times the gen­eral audi­ence doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t great. If some­thing is com­pletely rad­i­cal, it may take a while for the audi­ence to warm to this change and appre­ci­ate your art.

Most magi­cians (and other enter­tain­ers) who adhere to tried and tested are known in the indus­try as hacks. I think that is that quite a harsh term and delib­er­ately avoided it as I don’t believe most of them are doing it inten­tion­ally, they just sim­ply do not know bet­ter. It is those who delib­er­ately steal oth­ers rou­tines, jokes and dia­logue (I hate the word pat­ter with a pas­sion) who are cer­ti­fied hacks. Hacks can do okay for them­selves, might have reg­u­lar work and fan base, but it is the true artists that become world famous and it is true artists that become respected and admired.

How would you like to be remembered?

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