I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Why I Love Magic

by Declan Dineen
Oct. 5, 2014

Justin Bieber’s face explains it all. Network Awesome asked me to write about why I love magic, and the best reason I can think of is Justin Bieber’s face. We’ll get to that later, let’s start at the beginning.

I was at a party around 10 years ago when I first became a magician. I had just started to learn a few card tricks, nothing brilliant, but I had a deck of cards in my pocket. I took them out and started to shuffle them.

As I shuffled I turned to my pal Dave and said, ‘Dave, name any card you like.’ Dave said, ‘OK, umm, 7 of Hearts.’ I nodded, like I knew what I was doing. I stopped shuffling and placed the deck face down on the table. Everyone was watching now. I reached over and turned the top card of the deck. It was the 7 of Hearts. Everyone went crazy.

Here’s the thing: It was sheer luck. A once in a lifetime moment. I tried my best to hide the fact that what I just did was a complete freak of fate. I became a God that day and I’ve been chasing the reaction ever since. I got into magic in a serious way and I’ve grown to love and appreciate it in ways I never expected.

Let’s talk: Magic is amazing.  This seems a stupid thing to point out, but it really is. Watching it on TV or online you only really get half the experience. Being part of a trick with a magician in a live setting is electric. There is no other performance like it. When the world as you know it ceases to make sense right in front of your eyes it’s an intoxicating and powerful experience.

I uploaded a playlist of some of my favourite magic acts; one of them is a 40 second clip of Dutch maestro Tommy Wonder performing the vanishing birdcage. The video is amazing for sure, but imagine, just imagine being there in that moment. Standing right next to him as everything you’ve ever understood about how the world works is suddenly wrong.

You get a certain element of it through the people’s reactions. This is one of the reasons David Blaine became such a phenomenon. By taking magic away from the theatres and casinos and just performing for regular folk on the street, it gave it a new rawness people could relate to.

Also vital was that as soon as the trick was done the camera turns to the crowd, and we see grown men and women freaking out on the streets. The crowd were the stars, and through the magic of mirror neurons, we feel as they feel. Mirror neurons are also responsible for why cookery shows are so engrossing. We get all the pleasure of feeling like we’re creating something without having to lift a finger or get flour in our hair.

Hold up, you’re thinking. Mirror neurons? That all went a bit nerdy. You’re right, but it illustrates another reason I love artful deception: Magic is Science. Well before Steve Jobs started talking about how Apple are at the intersection between technology and liberal arts, magic has always been there. There’s a reason most magicians are skeptics or atheists, it’s because if you really set your heart to learning the tools of deception, you can see how many other people use similar effects in almost all aspects of society. Magic is politics, magic is advertising, magic is religion.

Indeed, the very first published book which showed magic as a practical skill rather than otherworldly force was Scot’s Discoverie of Withcraft, published in 1548. It was written as a treatise against what Scot considered the unfair, irrational and unchristian treatment of women accused of being witches. In a bold move for the times, he argued for less superstition and offered a chapter in which he explains how some of the magical effects supposedly created by witches could be completed by anyone. 

Magic is engineering. All those great stage illusions. The woman being sawn in two, the magician vanishing from the box, Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty vanish. All amazing feats of design and engineering. Apple use similar tricks to stage illusionists when designing their hardware. Using tapered edges and metal banding to make an object appear thinner than it really is.

In a much broader term, the early magic engineers were some of the first people to start to truly experiment with new camera technology. French magician George Melies began to tinker with the newly invented camera to try and conjure impossible images. He also invented movie FX.

Magic is a skill. It doesn’t have to be art. There are countless thousands of magicians around the world, but very few of them are artists. For many, the simple pursuit of learning how to vanish something, or how to complete the encyclopaedia of card moves is reward in itself. Just search YouTube, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of clips of kids illustrating their perfect moves, their invisible passes. One of the great ironies of magic is that the more skilled a magician is at sleight of hand, the less likely anyone is going to notice.

Magic is a paradox. It’s completely based on lies, and yet it’s the most honest art form. The magician tells you he is going to lie to you, and then he does. This opens up all kinds of interesting intellectual debates about the nature of truth, and objective truth versus subjective truth. It also illustrates to me how limited and faulty my own mind is. Our memories and our senses is just a tiny snap shot of reality, everything else is made up. Granted, you may not get all this from a guy pulling a set of flowers from his sleeve, but the potential is there.

Magic is versatile. It can be all of those things above. The true artists of the profession use all of them, and bring their own personality to the table, interpreting magic through one of those prisms. Penn and Teller tend to explore the intellectual and scientific. Ricky Jay, an avid collector and archivist, tends to use the history. Jeff McBride, the full campy wonder of him, goes for the beautiful and the skilful. Derren Brown goes for psychology. But everything is in all of it.

Justin Bieber’s face says it all though. One of the clips on my playlist is of Justin Bieber guesting on a Spanish entertainment show. He’s being shown a card trick by the great Spanish magician Luis Piedrahita. Towards the end Justin starts acting up for the camera. He’s Bieber, he answers to no one. But there is a moment, a brief second where he can’t hide his astonishment. You can see it; you can pinpoint the moment, .5 minutes and 6 seconds into the video. He physically reacts to what he’s seen. Using 52 patterned pasteboards Luis has created something impossible and Bieber gasps. That is magic in it’s purest form. Inescapable.

Declan Dineen is a writer and magician based in Glasgow, Scotland. He does a lot of seemingly random things: writing & directing films, performing magic shows, playing with location based tales on foursquare or trying to meet all his twitter followers - but they're really all just different ways of telling stories.