Card flourishes have always gotten critique from older magicians, often the purists who claim that any open display of skill takes away from the magic. It's a fair argument and one that I will get back to later, but I really don't think we should disregard card flourishes as quickly as so many of us tend to do.
I'm in a slightly unique position in that I was once a very active part of the card flourishing/cardistry scene, and I am not anymore. I still go to meet-ups, I still have lots of friends, I still even shoot videos of other cardists, but I don't actively practice or take part in it myself anymore. There are many reasons, but the main ones are that I wanted to focus on the magic, and I really didn't have a lot of spare time due to studies etc.
Just like there are many magicians that disregard cardistry, I feel that there are also a lot of cardists that disregard magic. Maybe they are very young, like in their early to mid teens, and they identify more with the young/fresh culture of cardistry. That's totally understandable, and I can't hold it against them for not knowing better and disregarding something they know literally nothing about.
The point I am trying to get across is that these are separate disciplines and art forms and there shouldn't be a need to disregard or talk trash about whichever one you are not affiliated with.
It's true that card magic was the origin of playing card flourishes, but it doesn't mean that cardistry belongs to card magic or that cardistry owes card magic anything. It's grown to be a young, interesting, expressive and unique art form all of itself. And a lot of the people that are into that scene, are so incredibly passionate, creative, driven and smart. And I think magicians can learn a lot from observing the cardistry community, just like cardists can learn a lot from observing the magic community.
Magicians can learn about things like practice and dedication. Creativity. Thinking out of the box. Having an image, identifying with a brand. Creating groups and teams to work in.
Cardists can learn about things like origins and crediting. Respecting the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Cardists can learn about presentation and showmanship, making their art interactive and being able to break the fourth wall between the performer and the audience.
I think if magicians and cardists collaborate more, they could come up with some absolutely wonderful things together.
I think there is definitely a place for cardistry in magic, and there is definitely a place for magic in cardistry. But I think those areas are quite limited and you should know when to use those tools and when not to use them.
I see some magicians who do lots of fancy cuts and flourishes, and then they do something like Ambitious Card right afterwards. Even using flourishes within the context of the routine. While there is nothing wrong with that, I do think that it takes away from the magical atmosphere of the piece. If performed really well, Ambitious Card can be more than just a puzzling "wow how did you get the card to the top so quickly".
It has the potential to be an absolutely impossible piece. If performed with no open display of skill, no flashy card twirls or flashy turnovers or anything.. If performed with great thought and consideration in terms of justifying movements. If you have a natural choreography, where every move or sleight is concealed as a natural slow action, then the impact and effect becomes something else entirely. It stops being about skill, because at that point you are apparently doing everything slowly and openly. It becomes inexplicable, impossible. It's not "How do you make the card come to the top", it's "How is it POSSIBLE that the card is back on top? We SAW you put it in the middle and you did NOTHING". I feel this is where magic's greatest strength lies. Something that cannot be is much more intriguing and interesting than a how did you do that so quickly, which borders more on puzzle/skill than magic.
I feel in magic today, there's lots of tricks but very little magic.
However, there are ways to use cardistry within the context of a magic performance to accentuate the magic. But I think it should be used in such a way that it is understood that this is not the method behind the magic. This is not how the card gets to the top - this is literally just a flourish to enhance the performance. What purpose does the flourish have? Does it show that you are talented with cards? Is it a way of shuffling or mixing the cards between tricks? Does it add anything? Do people need to know that you are good with cards? Does it hurt the magic if they know that you are good with cards? Can you find another way to show that you are good with cards? And so on. Asking questions is a very helpful analytical tool to help work through what you are doing.
I've written an essay about creating a clear distinction between skill based magic and impossible hands-off magic. Some of the ideas from that essay are in this blog post. I hope to publish the essay in full in a booklet/lecture notes/book that I am working on. In it, I describe how I have successfully made skill-based pieces coexist with hands-off pieces in my show, without either of them ruining or negating the other. I'm really proud of my thoughts on that topic.
Likewise, in cardistry - it should mainly be about the open display of skill, but if you throw in one little magical effect, a moment of impossible, it can lift the cardistry to new heights. Just look at my friend Aviv's newest video (below). In his video, Stolen Moments, he does insane feats with playing cards, but some of them actually border on magical. Especially the spinning card that stops. That's my favorite. And I feel his magical approach to some of his cardistry is what makes his style so unique and so wonderful. It makes it seem like there is more to cardistry than we can see. An element we don't quite understand. And purely from a narrative/storytelling/presentational standpoint, it just makes it so much more fascinating, rich and intriguing. Makes us want to see more. Obviously that's what we should strive for in magic, too.
So there you have it. That concludes this blog post.
As always, thoughts and comments are more than welcome. That's what the comments field below is for.
Thanks for reading.