GeniiCon 2017: Paul Harris believes the key to elevating magic as an artform is to respect its lineage

October 6, 2017

Magic has an interesting problem: very few members of the public actually know the origins of many of the tricks that they love. Paul Harris, magician and inventor of many of those tricks, discussed how to solve that problem in a special conversation with Michael Weber at Genii Convention 2017.

“With magic, it’s assumed that the person performing [a trick] is the creator,” Harris says. “The act of highlighting magic as an artform is done through informing the public that there’s a lineage.”

He then gave an analogy, referencing the hit television show, America’s Got Talent. One of the magicians who won the coveted Golden Buzzer performed his trick 100% out of the box—the patter, the method, everything—but his illusion was presented as his own. Meanwhile, singers, actors, and other talented performers specifically mention their influences, who wrote the song they’re about to sing, and so on. While presenting in the trick in this way makes the magicians stand out, it also means that the audience remains disconnected with the larger history of magic.

Harris doesn’t know quite how to solve this problem, but he has a few ideas. Say you go to the Magic Castle, Harris explains, and “at the end of each performance they gave out a little sheet that showed who the magician’s teachers were, who his influences were” like a playbill would at a theatre. Or maybe an act could tell people the trick was, Harris describes, invented by Tony Slydini, who spent years learning the trick, who then taught his student, who spent years learning it, who then taught the current performer—that way the audience knows that the trick has roots spreading through decades of time.

Harris is hopeful that future magicians will figure this out, though. “There’s more being done in magic in the last ten years,” he says, with David Blaine’s live show and the myriad television shows and YouTube channels highlighting the art of magic. Now they just need to connect with the history and show it to the world.