…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?