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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Right or Wrong? » » Magical Criticism (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Stephen Grey
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Washington DC
25 Posts

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I discovered that a recent thread about bad magicians has suddenly been removed. I found this a good thing and a very toubling thing.

While I don't condone outright bashing, I DO think that we as a community are missing something by not turning a critical eye to our work. I have been an actor, director and a magician for over 20 years. Too often legitimate citicism is met with flames of "You're just jealous," and while I think that often is the case, I also think that we need a place for HONEST critical commentary. When I don't like a particular magician's work, it's not just my opinion. I can usually provide some substantial critical rational to back me up.

Years ago Beth Sheligo and Marc DeSouza did a lecture called "Life's Too Short to Watch Bad Magic" It introduced the idea of magical criticism, not to belittle each other, but to improve what we do and how we do it.

If we continue to ignore; tolerate; or worse yet, praise bad magic our work will never grow. If we stifile or belittle those who have legitimate artistic criticisms; and don't offer them ourselves, we are shutting ourselves off from a learning oppurtunity. No one likes to listen to a critic, and it's easy and tempting to be one. If we can do both with an educated perspective, and not a reactionary one, we can gain quite a bit.

Praising and supporting each other for the sake of "brotherhood" does wonders for improving the brotherhood...but very little for improving our art.

Your thoughts??

Stephen Grey
Patrick Differ
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Inner circle
1540 Posts

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I'll chime in.

I'm all for constructively critical remarks, especially on my own work, but I don't do it, nor do I ask for it on internet forums. The problems I've seen doing it this way are multiple, the biggest problem being that the internet really isn't the best tool for this type of activity.

Forums are too limited. Most of the time, the only way to communicate is through the written word. And we all know how easily the written word is to misinterpret. All it takes is one misinterpreted idea and the whole thing goes boom! And not just that. Many so-called critics are just political peddlers of truth statements. They make their criticisms with emotional or "novelty" ploys in attempts to gain power and control, with little or no respect or regard for the truth or the rational strength of their argument.

Another thing to remember is that forums are often privately owned. This is not a bad thing. It just means the site owner/operators are often very concerned about the product that they are offering. If they don't want criticisms or foul language or any other one thing or another on their forum, then it is so because that isn't the product that they wish to offer. It is like if you owned a magic bar and you didn't want gangster bikers in your club. Why not? Because it is your store and because it isn't the product you wish to offer in your store. (Pretty simple if you ask me.)

The only solution I offer is that you create your own store where you get to control the product and make your own rules. Here's a way to state your opinions and criticisms in your own way and with your own rules. The trick to this is to market yourself well enough that the community can know of your contributions.
Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly,
Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to show when you are there.

Oh no, no, said the little Fly, to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne'er come down again.
Jonathan Townsend
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Eternal Order
Ossining, NY
26967 Posts

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I don't know where to begin about "bad magic".

Which is worse; obvious condescension on on the part of the performer, ie a palpable disdain for the audience or ... mere incompetence as regards getting through the tricks?

Which is worse; lack of direction and knowledge or misguided application of knowledge?

Given the choice I'd prefer to hear from the parties involved that they are 1) open to criticism and 2) that the criticism clearly delineate the subject of the comment and also that any comment be made in the form of an observation followed by a suggestion. What does not work and what might work better?

Then we get to issues of ecology. No idea how to broach that subject.
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Patrick Differ
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Inner circle
1540 Posts

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PM
Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly,
Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to show when you are there.

Oh no, no, said the little Fly, to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne'er come down again.
Foucault
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Elite user
New Jersey, USA
424 Posts

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All too often, a thread about "bad magicians" will devolve into "I hate Jay Sankey, because he's so obnoxious", or "I hate Michael Ammar - he has the personality of a feather duster", and that isn't useful for anyone.

We can certainly learn from constructive criticism of our own magic. I'd find it very useful for someone to watch with a critical eye when I perform, and give me some advice on how I could improve what I'm doing. In fact, I hope I can arrange this at some point in the future - I'm just a beginner, by the way. I can only see this being useful being done in person, however. As Patrick says, these forums are too limiting for that purpose, I think.

I also think that it's perfectly natural to find it hard to take raw criticism about something you've worked hard to put together. If you start by saying "I hated that", "Why did you do this?", "You're doing that wrong" or "You're just a clone of magician X", the subject is probably going to put up their defenses, and those criticisms will not penetrate at all. You stand more chance of helping a performer by "sweetening the pill" a little, I think. Point out what you liked, what the person did well. Then you can offer some suggestions on ways to improve certain aspects. Destructive criticism is much easier to give than constructive criticism; however, destructive criticism is more likely to make the subject either give up or stubbornly refuse to acknowledge any problem, while the constructive variety is more likely to help the subject to improve.

Then there's the concept of using a performer as an example of "what not to do." I can see it's tempting to do this, but again, it's open to abuse by those who use it as a vehicle to bash performers they don't particularly like. The irony here is that under these circumstances, we're ususally discussing a well-known professional, and if they're a well-known professional, they must be doing something right, right?

If we're going to use a particular performer to illustrate a point, I think it would be far more useful to point out to someone what they do well: "Look how Magician X handles the audience at this point."
Jonathan Townsend
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Eternal Order
Ossining, NY
26967 Posts

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Did you just insult feather dusters? My swifter is not amused by that remark either and just suggested I go looking for "easy to master cleaning devices".
...to all the coins I've dropped here
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