I want to do for magic what Duchamp did for art—break it.
— Derek DelGaudio
A person who performs tricks that deceive the eye. This definition of an illusionist might suggest that this activity has no place in a book about art and Simple Reality, but we need to look more closely. There might be something going on here that we do not “see.”
We will let Derek DelGaudio, one of the masters of the art of illusion, make our point for us. “His conviction—one he articulates with winning passion and occasional Shakespeare-quoting grandiosity—is that magic offers a means of exploring ideas just as complex, and of provoking emotions just as powerful as those encountered in any other art form.”
We agree that illusionists are artists and can reveal some critical insights regarding the distinction between reality and illusion; illusion is their forte after all. But the illusion involved in deceiving the senses is not the same as using the senses to create an illusion which is what most of us do. There is a vast difference between being “tricked” into thinking we saw something that didn’t happen and choosing to “trick” our own mind and senses into believing that we are involved in a story, with an identity and behaviors which have no basis in reality.
What drives a person to become a magician, what attracts them to the profession of prestidigitation? It’s the same thing that causes most of humanity to create a false-self survival strategy. “It’s because you were in circumstances so bad you needed to escape.” DelGaudio fled to the world of card-sharps and illusionists. Most of us don’t have to escape to find a world that will help us self-medicate, we were born into that world.
Performers like DelGaudio give us an evening of distraction from our suffering. But the next morning most of us wake up and continue the pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power and the creation of more suffering. The evening before and the morning after all involve illusion.
In truth, most of us are masters of the art of legerdemain but the only one being tricked is ourselves.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.