This is a somewhat unusual article and I don’t know to what extent it has any value. I am aware this beginning does not encourages you to keep reading but it is already written and there is nothing we can do about it… The thing is that I intend to question (or question myself) three of the most common advices or tips that are usually given to the beginners in magic, and with that excuse talk a bit about this and that. I honestly doubt I am competent to do this, I think it is very difficult to write about something as complex as the learning process in an artistic discipline without talking nonsense.
I can say that my learning process in magic has been is far from being a model: so chaotic, so messy, so intense bordering the obsessive, full of mistakes, dead ends and re-starts… It’s a path that somehow talks about how I really am, but if I don’t even know if that path was optimal for me, how could I pretend to speak of what may be optimal path for someone else? I can’t, but I’ll speak from my experience simply because I can not speak from somewhere else (I’ve tried it, but don’t know how to get out of here).
I am going to pose what I have called “the poor man’s pseudo-paradox of the learning process” (being me the poor man) and it reads like this:
If our goal is to find the learning process to successfully learn something (in this case magic) and we start from the premise that fundamentally we learn from mistakes, then we might think we could be totally be carefree whether if our process to learn magic is good or is not because:
– If it were good, we would learn magic that is our goal: Oki doki!
– If it were not and at some point we committed an error, being the error the fundamental way to learn, we would learn magic that is our goal: Oki doki!
As you can guess this does not work like this at all. Reason limits aside, this pseudo-paradox has many pitfalls, the two main ones and I want to address now are:
– A mistake is an opportunity to learn something, one does not automatically learn from mistakes.
– Errors do not warn you. You have to realize you are wrong, otherwise you won’t know.
So it is not that easy, we just cannot stop worrying about our learning process that way. The good news is that no matter how we do we always learn in spiral, never straight. And we will never stops learning either.
TIP #1: GO SLOW. DO NOT TRY TO LEARN MAGIC FASTER THAN YOU CAN ASSIMILATE. READ CAREFULLY THIS GREAT BOOK AND NOT GET ANOTHER UNTIL YOU HAVE FULLY MASTERED EVERYTHING IN IT.
That is certainly a good piece of advice; I wish I followed it more in my early years. What I did was pretty much the opposite; I gorged of books and videos, I was surrounded with knowledge that was out of my reach. In spite of that it helped me to learn a lot very quickly, almost by osmosis. I took a lot of knowledge but was full of holes like Swiss cheese. I also screw things up many times, I was lucky they were such great mistakes that it was literally impossible not to recognize them and to learn something out of them. Something that happened to me on a recurring basis was that after being with talented magicians I was able to be aware of my many shortcomings, able to see how far I was. I used to doubt if I should quite magic or if I should start doing things right once and for all. I confess that the process is quite exhausting.
Something that is very very important, and it is closely related to this first tip, is to have had experiences with good magic on the other side, as a spectator or an amateur neophytes. Having had them, enjoyed them and being able to remember them. That is very important because as Gabi Pareras says, those memories are our treasure. They are the last vestiges of DNA we share with our spectators. The trouble is that this advice may be a little late to the vast majority.
It turns out that in magic a very strange thins happens. In any artistic discipline (music, sculpture, painting, photography …) knowing more and better from the inside it helps us to enjoy more and better from the outside, as a spectator. That happens in any artistic discipline except in magic. As we go deeper into in the study of our art and years pass, we are increasingly further from the point where we looked the magic for the first time, which is precisely the way our spectators see it (Gabi dixit).
If we don’t take care of our “treasure” we can lose orientation at any given moment, in such a way we may totally stop understanding how a spectator looks at our magic.
After learning its secret, is it so easy to get bored of the Ambitious Card routine and start to look for amendments and new arrangements according to our taste. It just happens that the Ambitious Card is not intended for our eyes, not anymore.
However, it also happens that in order to fascinate others with our magic we are requested to be fascinated with it in the first place. If a routine bores you, you will bore your audience performing it. Then you may think, how do I deal with it? All I can say is that you have to find a way.
I have one more piece of advice to give you, one that you’re always time to follow. You better recognize those who have managed to look after their treasure better than you, those who know more and deeper than you, get close to them and absorb everything you can. “If you are the smartest guy in the room, you are in the wrong room” or the way I like to put it “If you are the smartest guy in the room you are also the most stupid guy in the room”
TIP #2: DO NOT CHANGE A SINGLE THING IN THAT VERNON’S ROUTINE BECAUSE IT IS PERFECT JUST THE WAY IT IS
It is quite common that more experienced and seasoned magicians advise this way the younger students. “You cannot touch that Vernon’s routine without screwing it up.”
This advice has several lectures, one could be “Learn from all those who have worked hard and thought well before you, don’t think of yourself as the bee’s knees, remember you’ve been here for five minutes”. This reading has an element of truth that shall not be ignored. For the good of our magic we must learn to value the classics, to approach them with humility, understanding why they are so good, trying to figure out the thinking behind each move, subtlety or gesture… What happens is that, in order to that, one not only needs to perform the routine as it is, if we want to access that insights one have to question, change and play along with the routine.
This advice can also be read as “Don’t even try to think because you may think wrong”. Often the advice is followed by the tagline “Note that I tried to change Vernon’s routine myself, I turned it upside down but after giving it a hundred twists I concluded that the best it is to perform just as Vernon does”. Maybe it is not that much about performing the routine “the correct way” than to going through this enriching process of hits and misses, a process in which we have learned for ourselves what good magic is about. I think pretending to save someone that process, even if the intentions are good, it is somehow denying his opportunity of true learning. The thing is that I don’t want to perform the “perfect” routine if I don’t know why it is so good (I don’t think I can perform it properly if I don’t know that neither).
I am an advocate of taking “perfect” routines and changing them upside down, making mistakes, making some sense out of it, performing them for real audiences, questioning what has been done and going wrong again. I think this process of experimentation is very healthy as long as we keep a critical and humble spirit. If this is done well, most of the time these monstrosities will end up in a drawer waiting to be forgotten, but they will have left a very valuable sediment. On rare occasions the process will led to worthwhile novel or personal ideas.
It may happen that you totally fu?ked up a routine without noticing (mistakes don’t warn you), you may even think you just discovered the eighth wonder (and I confess it happens to me a lot). I think it’s not so bad, most of the time either by yourself or helped by others (see tip # 1) you will conclude that it actually sucks and you will stop performing it. If you are lucky you may get to understand why it sucks so bad. A small percentage of the times it can happen that you never realize that you actually screwing the routine up, thinking that you have actually discovered the eighth wonder (OMG it may be happening to me right now). In those cases whenever you perform that crappy thing your spectators won’t be enjoying the best magic but neither then is so serious. (it’s even kind of fair performing a weak routine if one doesn’t even tell the difference)
The worst thing that can happen is that the only very thing you are thinking of during the process (far from being learning something) is the DVD you are commercializing and the gaffed card that will be included in the pack. Being the worst case scenario that that crappy routine actually hit the market successfully, something sadly common these days.
Don’t get me wrong, there are people out there doing amazing things and I think we are lucky some of them are generous and share their work. I value a lot some of the material that it is released recently… It just happen that in my opinion the majority of what is released nowadays is commercially-focused and not so good in many ways. The bad thing is not that low quality products are available, but the fact that there is too much of this material (and more it released every month); this causes great confusion making the good stuff hard to find.
TIP #3: DO NOT START DEVELOPING YOUR OWN ROUTINES UNTIL YOU HAVE SOLID FOUNDATIONS.
My considerations to this advice are very similar to tip #2, both in favor and against. My advice is yes, do not waste a minute and start having ideas and developing them as soon as you can. But do it in the most self-critical and humble way you can. It will take you many trials and a lot of work to come up with a good idea; it will also take you years to develop good and reliable judgment abilities (also known as solid foundations)
Because of the same thing it is a good idea begin rehearsing difficult techniques pretty soon, the ones that require years to master. It will take you years to master them!. You will also need to be self-critical while rehearsing and even while choosing what to things worth being rehearsed. You don’t want to invest a great deal of your time in a technique that is not useful.
Nobody asks us to be original but we should be personal (Ricardo Rodríguez dixit). Nobody asks us to revolution the magic but we should love it and aim to understand it better and deeper. Nobody asks us to reach the technical perfection but we should not stop worrying about what we let our spectators see. Nobody asks us to perform only our own creations but we should not give up contributing with something of our own, letting our magic permeates with our idiosyncrasies…
So far this small article. Excuse the mess, the subjective considerations, passions and mistakes… I hope my fears are not confirmed and you are able to get something out of these words. Ahhh and excuse the apologies too!!
Thanks for reading!