I’m a magician and proud of it. But….cups and balls magic trick

There was recently a great National Public Radio radio show about magic that I loved. Link.

In this very cool call-in show, one of the many topics they cover is whether or not magicians are artists.

I’m not sure… in many ways I think that comedy and humor is more of an art than magic. The problem with magic is that it can be a bit like “paint by numbers.” Sure, there is some skill and stick-to-it-ness that is required to finish a complicated paint-by-numbers painting. But is it really “art” to paint in the the right colors?

Don’t get me wrong… I love magic. I love magicians. And, as I pointed out, I AM a magician. (Or at least a magician speaker — I use magic tricks to in my keynote speeches all the time.)
But is it really an art?

I suggest that the “art” is in the presentation. Any smart 13 year old kid, if he or she practiced enough — and had the right props — could do the same tricks as David Copperfield. But they will never be as good as Copperfield. Why not? Because they are not artists. They are just magicians. Copperfield is an artist for his performance skills…. but not because he can do kick-butt magic tricks.

Proof? I’ve seen a dozen or so movies where actors play the part of a magician, and more often than not these actors create way more of a presentation than most magicians I’ve seen. These actor-magicians are awesome. Not because they are magicians, but because they are not magicians. They are artists. They don’t give a darn about the tricks…they care only for the art.

What do you think? Art or Paint-By-Numbers?

Comment and let me know what you think.

7 replies
  1. Michael Taggert
    Michael Taggert says:

    Hi Brad I have benn following your speking Career for about a year now. I am trying to make the move into this market. More on that later. I am huge advocate of the acting side of magic. You are most correct in the thought that many people simply learn routines verbatim and then call themselves magicians. artistry is a journey to perfection in the creative. In order to achieve the status of a master artrist one has to make the journey. In that journey we take what is semingly finite and transform it into the infinite.
    I know this is a bit out there but that is the part that so many ar missing.
    whenI help you to believe that the possiblity exists that what I have just performed could be real. I have achieved a state of wonder and Thus achieved true magic before your eyes.
    Michael Taggert
    Magician extraordinaire
    Washington DC

  2. Glenn Bishop
    Glenn Bishop says:

    Hey Brad,

    You asked me in my blog to make a comment about are magicians artists. In my opinion magic is a craft that can become art. But only after the craftsmen put the time in to learn the craft and then through the experience of performing – learn how to present the craft as a performance art. My opinion is that magic is only and art when it is performed by an artist.

    In my opinion all magicians start magic by learning it as a craft. And some through doing shows later learn to present the craft of magic as a performance art.

    Some magicians are artists.

    Some magicians are showmen.

    Some magicians are entertainers.

    Some magicians are all three.

    And some are none of the above.

    How to get there – It seems a lot of work and the experience of working in front of live audiences doing a lot of shows over a long time is part of the journey.

    Good luck on your blog Brad.

    Glenn Bishop

  3. steve aldrich
    steve aldrich says:

    It’s art. What a dumb question. Crappy magician’s don’t diminish the
    artistic merit of good magic any more than crappy musicians diminish the
    merit of good music.

    steve aldrich

  4. Joe Miller
    Joe Miller says:

    Hi Brad,

    To put a little input into your questions…
    I think one should have an idea of what a piece of art is. It is my humble opinion that a work of art is a piece that people want to own, or a performance that people want to see. That is usually expressed in the form of a paid performance… “paid for” in some form or another, not necessarily money.

    No matter who you’re performing for, the structure of a performance must communicate that something magical will be happening shortly.

    Now, for those who want to stick around to watch the performance, there is an expectation. If the expectation is met, or exceeded, then they will comment positively on the experience as a whole. This would be a measure of any existence of “art” in the performance.

    If people contact you to see your performances a second time, then you are an artist, and the magic you present can be taken as an artistic expression of the craft. Are all magicians artists? No. Another example might be worth posting.

    Two magicians at a party. One pulls out a packet trick from his pocket, and performs the trick with skill. The second guy has brought nothing “magical” with him. But, with little effort, he accumulates some “stuff” from the surroundings, and performs a single trick with skill. Each performance was astonishing, and well received by the spectators.

    Of the two magicians illustrated above, which is the artist? In my humble opinion, the second performer is an artist quite simply as a function of “being.” In the illustration given, the second performed a magical piece with raw material. He thinks on his feet, drawing from craft-knowledge.

    Is magic an art? No. Is a set of paint brushes an art? No. Magic is a craft… a set of tools, and principles.

    Are all magicians artists? No.

    Are some magicians artists? Most definitely.

    Have a great spring,


  5. P Vincent (The Witster)
    P Vincent (The Witster) says:

    Hey Brad

    Thanks for visiting Witsterblog ( and your kind comments.

    All I can say is I know good magic when I see it. I’m entertained, and neither feel embarassed for the magician or angry that I’ve just wasted my time. From my experience, good magic is artful, bad magic is artless.

    The Witster

  6. Gregg Tobo
    Gregg Tobo says:


    I agree that comedy and humor can be more artful than magic. I find humor to be artful when your humor allows me to a glimpse into your mind, into your thinking, into how you see the world.

    A good piece of art allows me to see directly into the artist’s soul. A great painting (but not a paint-by-number attempt) allows me to see the world through the eyes of the artist. To be considered an artist, I believe you must reveal yourself through your art.

    Sadly, magic seldom rises to the level of art.

    In fact, too often, the performance of magic has the opposite effect. Rather than revealing, magic tricks tend to obscure or hide the performer. The performance of magic presents a fascinating facade, a handful of stardust in the eyes that prevents me from connecting with the magician.

    Magic labors under this handicap: that very often, the props and the objects are more interesting that the person handling them.

    In a way that is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because as a performer, you can be devoid of personality (you could be an adept automaton!), but if you handle your props well, people will still be entertained. They may not remember you, but they will have the experience of being amazed by the impossible occurrence they just witnessed.

    The good news is that magic can survive very well without ever rising to the level of art.

    But this is a curse because as a performer, it is too easy to set your goals too low. If people applaud and gasp with amazement, you may congratulate yourself (and your audience may congratulate you!) on being a great magician. But you’ve fallen woefully short of the mark of being an artist.

    While this is a great handicap for magic and magicians, it is not insurmountable. Magic can rise to the level of art, provided the magician will strive to express him or herself through the art, and not play second fiddle to technique.


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