How do some people become regarded as skillful? What qualities do others look for in order base their judgements?
The outward display of skill occupies a fraught space in modern magic, the style utilized in The Magic of Social Life.
One reason is the place of struggle. Magicians need to reconcile easiness and difficulty in their performances. On the one hand, appearing confident and at ease is a way of displaying skill. On the other hand, though, the appearance of strain and trouble provides grounds for audience to believe magic is challenging to undertake. It is also a key basis for building drama.
In the Struggle video, a group consisting of members of the University of the Third Age (Exeter), an undergraduate student and I discuss the place of the appearance of strain in magic to talk about the wider relevance of impression management in social life.
Another reason the display of skill occupies a fraught space is the place of ‘naturality’. A frequent goal for magicians is to make their actions appear as expected, ordinary and justified to spectators. In other words, natural. This is done through undertaking highly choreographed and rehearsed actions designed to make a calculated impression on audiences that nothing of note is happening. Thus, in trying to appear as natural as possible, modern magicians often seek to render their own physical skills invisible.
The manner in which magicians can work not to only hide their methods, but hide that there are methods, marks them out from many other professions.
And yet, while audiences might not know or be able to spot how magicians do what they do, they can suspect that there are methods at work based on manual skill. The suspicion that undetectable skills are at play sets the basis for speculation and imagination.
The Skill video with students at the University of Exeter explores how the display of skill is linked to judgements about the skilfulness of varied forms of performance.
For alterative orientation to the display of skill from what is traditional in modern magic, check out some of these videos related to the performance art of cardistry.