Is Magic Art?



Smack dab in the '60s, The Lovin' Spoonful asked us all a question: Do You Believe in Magic? Many years later that song is not one any kid you know will be humming around the house. (Though I did discover that it won the Radio Disney Music Award for Best Song You Can't Believe Your Parents Know the Words To. So there's that.) The song's beat is campy and cute and nostalgic, but the question that was first asked from close to 50 years ago is one that many kids would answer "yes" to.

Just last week, I had pulled up an online search while desperately looking for things to do during the full Thanksgiving week my children had off from school. I saw a link for a Sunday night magic show and dinner at the Indianapolis Propylaeum on Delaware Street. George, my youngest at 9-years-old has been intrigued by magic for close to two years. He's just like his cousin Teddy was at that age. When it comes to tricks and illusions, intrigued. Years ago, when Teddy was still riding a scooter and watching cartoons, he would put on magic shows at every family gathering. Try as we may, when he entered the room tripping over his long black cape, donning his top hat and hoisting his box of scarves, coins and the instructional booklet, there was no escaping. The trap door was shut tight and his aunts and uncles, mom and dad and grandparents, Fram and Popper, all dutifully took a seat on the couch for the show that held some successful (but most not so much) tricks.

Built in 1890, the Indianapolis Propylaeum was built in 1890, and it's listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  - COURTESY OF THE WIKIMEDIA FOUNDATION
  • Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation
  • Built in 1890, the Indianapolis Propylaeum was built in 1890, and it's listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

We decided to give the show a try, and on a dark and cold Sunday evening with a nonstop downpour, we tumbled into the old mansion. We joined the line of people checking in and learned that the Propylaeum was hosting three events simultaneously. A raucous group was gathering in a larger room for The Mystery Dinner. Families with mostly well-dressed little girls who already seemed pretty polite were being seated in a well-lit formal space for the Manners Matter Dinner. And George, who was so thankful to have dodged the Manners Matter Dinner bullet, took a seat at a small dinner table with his Fram, our friend John and me.

During dinner, two magicians came around separately to each table and performed some tricks. I don't know what it is about men making coins appear from behind ears of kids, particularly boys between the ages of 8 to 12, but it's like bees to honey. They are so there. At the table, each magician had a conversation with us and joked with George. (If any of you have a fourth grade boy in your life, they are a delight*. They are typically earnest and while still at the age where they "talk kid," they are beginning to "talk adult" too. You are beginning to have real conversations. Also, their adult teeth are too big for their young mouths and the result is a lot of unintentional smiles.) By dessert, we were all on a first name basis and the two magicians knew a little about us and we of them.

The evening's grand finale -- the hour-long magic show - was held in the mansion's third floor ballroom. There were more tricks, elaborate and with color, comedy and audience participation. Those many kids all with those big teeth and large smiles laughed and were fully a part of all 60 minutes of the show. For the next few days, George would talk about that evening -- maybe not so much about the dinner, but definitely its tricks and magicians. He wondered about the tricks, old enough with his adult teeth, to know that it's all mirrors, but he's young enough with his little 9-year-old mouth to just wonder, just maybe, if there could be a little magic left to figure out.

I often look for events and occasions where my kids lives will be enriched and they can look at the world a bit differently. That isn't how we define an art form. It is much more cloudy and mysterious than that. But maybe because magic is cloudy and mysterious it can be considered an art. There's color and music and humor and a moment when a transfixed child wonders how in the world a trick or an illusion happened right before his eyes. But then that moment passes and a child begins to move through the world again. He moves beyond that somewhat worn mansion and its magicians. They have left behind the group of 40 audience members who collectively gasped and applauded. But it all stays with them, and at least one link in his hopefully long life chain moves a little bit this way or that to make room for that kind of magic word: art.

* 90% of the time

Cover image: Magic is true! by Flickr user Xanu du, Creative Commons license.

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