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Here’s yet another message from Prof. Al Leonidas.

Dear Master Leodini,

Talk to us about my question below:

What is the difference between performing magic as an art form and performing magic with the end in mind of financial gain?

Thank you.

Prof. AL Leonidas
Sometimes there is not much difference.  You can practice your art and at the same time earn money from it, and that would not be an anomaly.

The paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso, hailed by cognoscenti around the world as works of art, fetch more money in the market than most company’s shares of stocks. These are just two examples of art that are at the same time lucrative.

You might have heard of the term “starving artist”. It refers not only to someone still struggling to find success in his field but also to someone who practices a form of art so profound that nobody can understand let alone appreciate it.

Indie movies (or independently produced movies) got their name, because their commercial potentials are so poor no smart business person will bankroll them.

Those movies have their own niche followers, usually comprising the intelligentsia or students of the art who understand them. In most part, however, they hold no commercial promise. The great unwashed are not keen to appreciate them.  Those movies may harvest medals and trophies from some prestigious and some obscure film festivals around the world, but they usually bomb at the tills, because people will not come to pay and see them.

Why is this so?

Let me hazard a theory.  When a work of art focuses on the right of the author to expression (and some other nebulous reasons) and forgets he has an audience that should understand to appreciate his expression, then his work will be beyond most ordinary people’s grasp.  It becomes unintelligible to them.  Why would people then pay money to view something they can’t understand?

If you create it and nobody comes, the work can then be called an artistic success but a commercial failure.

For magicians who must earn money from his magic, he must find the balance between practicing his art and making a living.  If he is too artsy-fartsy with his show, he will starve.  He may massage his ego by being artistic, but he will not earn money from it.

Let me cite an example.  Many years ago, I stumbled upon a discussion on an online forum of  a children’s magician wanting to add meaning to his Linking Ring routine.  He asked the members on the forum how he could justify the rings when he takes them out of its cloth bag.  Why would the ring be circular and not square? How could he explain those things to the children?

Jeez, he is supposed to be a magician.  Children look at him as somebody powerful, and yet he wants to explain to them why his rings are not square. What the…

Well, he is trying too hard to be artistic with his magic.  But here’s the awful truth: he is going to starve if he does not mend his way.

Children don’t care about Linking Rings not being square-shaped.  They just want to be amazed and have fun.  Link those rings and blow the kids away. If you get more sophisticated than that, you will lose your job, because children wouldn’t want to watch your show anymore.

Too much art is boring.  While a few can withstand watching movies of Oscar material, hundreds more can’t. While the society’s elite may sigh at a beautiful ballet dance, most ordinary folks doze off, because they wouldn’t know what to appreciate in it.

If you want to be artistic, it is not a bad idea to spend your artistic talent on making your magic commercial.  Making money is an art too.  It is as much art as adding meaning to your Linking Ring routine.

It is an art to build a show that satisfies audiences, entertains them, and makes them feel good, instead of confusing them with something artsy-fartsy they couldn’t fathom.

Most children may be boorish in their attitude, because they have not yet reached the age of sophistication.  So why perform for them a Linking Ring routine they couldn’t understand.  Just link those darned rings and get over with it.  Do it in an entertaining and funny way, and you will not only get your check but will be invited back by the parents to perform on Junior’s next birthday.

To sum up, art is more about entertaining yourself, while commercialism is about entertaining your audience.  However, art and commercialism in magic can go hand in hand.  Just strike the correct balance between the two, and you would be okay.

Stay magical,