Imagination, Solitude and Creativity

Selecting the topics for these [articles] hasn’t been an easy task. But I’ve been guided in the selection by some of the questions that typically are asked by the magicians who attend the seminars that I’ve conducted. I began doing small seminars in January of 1983. I suppose in large part because l had lost faith in the educational value of the traditional magic lecture format which encourages a lecturer to give a performance instead of encouraging serious exploration and thinking about magical questions.

Over the years, I’ve conducted more than one hundred seminars in America and Europe for groups of usually a dozen or so magicians. I begin by explaining that in a lecture, I get to talk about whatever I choose, but in a small group, we can talk about whatever you choose.

I then give everyone some time to think and write down the questions that they would like discussed. Some of the questions are about specific effects or magical techniques, such as forcing or card controls, but most of the questions, interestingly, are concerned with much more provocative topics such as uncovering our character or ways of approaching people in close-up magic, and difficult audience members, or questions that concern the business side of magic.

And almost always one topic appears with surprising regularity. And that topic is creativity. Most serious magicians want to be more creative with their magic; they don’t want simply to be imitators. Most serious magicians would like to do something magically that is special, even unique. Bur they feel blocked in these creative endeavors and the harder one tries to become creative through an act of will power or conscious effort, the more blocked we seem to become.

And so we ask: ‘How can we become more creative with our magic’ Is this your question too? May I ask you: Is this a serious question for you, an important question, a question whose answer you urgently desire, or is this merely a passing question, a question whose answer you would only store in your head for use sometime later?

The problem with “later,” of course, is that it exists only in the head and not in reality. I am convinced that some of the questions in life require a sense of urgency if they are to be answered at all. And so, I ask you, do any of these magical questions fill you with. a sense of urgency, a deep desire that you find the answer so that you can get on with your magic and grow, or are these simply interesting but ultimately unimportant questions? Questions whose answer wouldn’t really make much difference in your life anyway.

As I said on the first recording [of the Growing in the Art tape set], whether you agree with me or disagree with me is rather unimportant. I’m asking questions, and I’m giving my answers to some of them. I sometimes think of my writings and even of these recordings as a spiritual autobiography wherein I tell you how I have personally answered some of the big questions about magic and magic performance. I would therefore find it rather depressing if you were simply to agree with me.

The questions that we’ve been asking [in] these [articles] in the last analysis are questions for you to answer in your own way, according to your own experience and insight. My aim has been to raise a variety of questions that I think deserve the reflection of all of us who love the art of magic. So, how can I become more creative with my magic? Where shall I begin?

Since most magical knowledge is transmitted to us via the printed word, and now the videotape, the first thing I can do is not do what the book or tape says! Sometimes I might try doing what the book or tape says not to do and see what happens. Just because something is in a book doesn’t make it true. With magic books, even, it doesn’t always mean that the author can perform the material!

In the big picture, everybody doing what the books says produces a sameness and monotony that not only begins to affect our audiences, he also affects us. If I’m just doing what everybody else is doing, if I’m not growing, then I become affected by the sameness and monotony I see all around me. And thereby, I begin reinforcing those feelings that I am a dull and uncreative person. And, yes,1 do think that audiences also get this sense of monotony, that magic is all pretty much the same.

I’m reminded of a story told to me a few years ago in Seattle by my friend Kirk Charles. Kirk was in the audience watching a magic show, and there was a young girl about ten years old sitting next to him. As one of the acts on the bill began their Substitution Trunk routine, an effect that the audience had just seen an earlier act on the bill perform, the little girl looked up at Kirk and said, “Do we have to watch it all again.?” You know, I often ask myself that very question when I watch magic shows at magic conventions.

The truth is, so long as I am doing what the book says, saying what the book says to say, I am being uncreative and dull; that is the fact of it. And so, if I want to start becoming creative, it seems to me that one place to begin is with those books I’ve been reading and with the routines that I’m trying to learn from them. Try doing something different and see what happens. You might fall flat on your face; on the other hand, you might discover things that are of deep and personal value for your magic and also for you as a performer of magic.

My own view, and I suppose it is slightly subversive, is that many of us turn to books in the first place because we do want to be more creative, and we simply don’t know where else to turn.

And we’ve been taught, conditioned our entire lives, to turn to books for answers. I think that books can stimulate ideas, but I seriously doubt that we get many important answers from them An author can stimulate us to think, even to think in new ways, but if there are going to be any important answers for us, these will have to be provided by us and that means that we will need to begin exploring our own imaginations and our own dreams.

Originally published in Growing in the Art of Magic

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