There was a wonderful magic store I loved to visit when I was a teenager. The salespeople were working magicians so they demonstrated the magic tricks for potential customers as well as made sales. The store’s policy was to perform tricks only when purchasers were seriously interested in buying or had just purchased.

Each visit, I pretended to shop long enough to see a few demonstrations for other customers. Eventually, I would carry out my brilliant plan (at least brilliant in my own teenage mind) to trick the staff. I’d pick out three sleight of hand tricks and pretend to have trouble deciding which one I wanted to buy, just like I did at my previous visit.

“Well,” I’d say, “I guess the only way to find out which trick I want to buy is to see them all three performed first.” The magician/sales person would perform each trick and wait for my decision. Sometimes I was bold enough to drop the trick I was least impressed with, and ask to see the two remaining tricks performed again. 

Every time I left the shop, I felt like a winner on multiple levels. First, I had a new magic trick. Second, I knew how to sell the trick, because I just saw it done in front of me. Third, I felt like I’d just pulled my own trick over on professional tricksters. I saw a magic show for the price of one small magic trick! And fourth and most importantly, I learned how the tricks were done. I know how they work!

In reality, they knew I’d buy something because I always did, and they would make a profit on the sale, small as it was. They really did know how to sell the trick, and the trick was on me!

Magic tricks and illusions have always fascinated me, but what I find most fascinating is learning how they are done. That’s enough. Learning the secret behind the magic never kills the mystery. In fact, knowing how magic is done makes the trick more intriguing.

I think that is why I find such satisfaction in art. It’s all about tricking the viewer with something that looks hard or, if we’re lucky (or really good), impossible. We create our version of reality and perform it for the viewers. And we are as much the salesperson as the magicians in that shop were.

If we practice and learn our craft, and do our tricks professionally, we will get the same reaction from our viewers as magicians do from those who witness their magic. There will be “wows” and “how’d he do thats” a plenty. And people will want to buy our magic too. We sell our trick, even if it’s not for sale.

I still have my collection of magic tricks from that shop. Sometimes I take them out pretend to be a real magician. Only I can’t do the tricks like a real magician, because I’m not one. But I’ve learned what makes them work, which means I know how much behind-the-scenes effort it takes to make my magic believable for the media I chose. The effort’s worth it!

Let’s make stuff and see what happens!  

There’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat . . .
Starting on a hat . . .
Finishing a hat . . .
Look I made a hat . . .
Where there never was a hat.

(Stephen Sondheim’s 1984 musical, “Sunday In The Park With George,” about 19th-century artist Georges Seurat)