Magic by Misdirection? By Andrew Paul Smith

21:29 | 28/01/2023

Magic by Misdirection? By Andrew Paul Smith

Magic by Misdirection? By Andrew Paul Smith

Misdirection, the magic word that magicians use to explain what should be more aptly titled the art of attention control, or as I have sometimes been known to refer to it, attention management, is a subject that crops up from time to time whenever magicians gather. Firstly, I am in no way an expert in this subject and would never profess to be (and this certainly isn’t an intention I have for this blog). There are far more scholarly performers than I whose work more ably explains, outlines and discusses the many finer points of misdirection, which I will cite at the end of this blog, but as the purpose of this blog is to share information about a subject that interests me and might prove useful to those that read it (and I think about often), I have documented those more important thoughts I have in the words that follow and hope to spark some interest. There is no particular order and I am sure you’ll have your own opinion, but the point is that it's being thought about, and that's what counts.

The Map Is Not The Territory

A popular concept taken from the world of NLP, the idea of the map is not the territory is an interesting one to bear in mind when thinking of misdirection and one that from the very outset, should always be kept in mind. As I briefly noted above, different people have ideas about misdirection and not all may agree, and that's a good thing. The theory of the map is not the territory in its most basic form is that thinking outside the box and being open to different ideas offers you a broader range of source material to which you can adapt to your own way of thinking and that sometimes not following a popular theory about something, misdirection in this case, can offer benefits other than those of just following the norm.

There Is No Magic By Misdirection

More specifically, there is no magic by misdirection alone. Attention control on its own doesn’t really work to produce magic effects. Sure, there are effects out there that many performers would like to claim can work solely on misdirection and attention control, but I am not sold on the idea and think their success rate of working is likely very slim. To be clear, I am mostly talking of effects where the main outcome of the trick is reliant on misdirection, not those where parts of the routine being performed can be successfully brought to a conclusion through strong use of mis-directive techniques. When done well and used correctly, these can have a devastating effect, it is those where misdirection is the ONLY device used to achieve an effect, that I strongly urge against performing in serious company. I hope to be proven wrong one day and I am sure in the literature I have missed something (I’m guessing by the master that is Tamariz) and modern performers are pioneering this sort of thing all the time, but I have yet to witness it and be sold on the idea.

Learn From Life

Our life is replete with experiences and examples of misdirection that we can learn from to help us improve our magic. Theories in print or in digital form relating to misdirection can be a little confusing when read or viewed. It is at times during my everyday life that the concepts I may not have fully realized before click and make sense, and that is usually because something that has happened to me, has made the idea I may be trying to understand fall into place. I’ll give you a basic example that happened only just today. A concept applicable to magic is that of an audience being led from one object to another by the mere act of how important that item is to either the magician or the effect being performed. The audience places high importance on an item if it is highly important to the magician or to the effect, and likewise, it is more ikely to ignore or dismiss an item if the performer pays no attention to it or it is seen to play no part in the effect that is being performed. This is a basic concept to most magicians, and one that performers likely use without even knowing. I am often amazed by the power big companies such as Tesco, Morrisons and Asda use to influence us to buy the latest goodies they have displayed in their branches. My experience of this was driven home when in my local Morrisons store. I had only gone in for a few essentials, but the bombardment of different strategically placed goods on my journey around the store meant that the shop succeeded in allowing me to leave with a lot more groceries than I had previously envisioned. Why did this occur? Because these giants are masters of controlling our attention to make sure things that are of importance to us (be that on a want or need basis) are constantly placed in ways that make them stand out as important. The control doesn’t just stop at the placement of these items either, but the way they are displayed, described and of course priced. If you want to get a great insight of this in action, check out customers in the store your in the next big shop you make, you may be surprised at what it reveals.

Learn From Your Experiences

It is not good trying any concept out unless you learn from it. As in the map is not the territory, be open to new approaches and ideas but if you try them and they do not work, try to walk away with some idea as to what might have gone wrong and identify ways of changing it or replacing it. Any key idea in magic and performing isn’t formed in a vacuum, so walking away from any experience should offer a positive outcome, even if during the trying of it it might not seem like it worked.

Be Practical

Any form of theorizing has to be tested, otherwise you have no personal experience as to if it works or not. The best theories in any walk of life should have a practical grounding or they remain just theories. You do not have to take the plunge and implement them all in one go, and not even if it is at a paid gig. Try them out when performing magic for friends and family. This serves a dual purpose. Your friends and family often provide a safe environment to try these ideas out, but occasionally they can also be the most honest. Either way, this is a good position to be in as both can provide key insight as to what is working and what is not. Remember, it might seem negative at the time, but reviewing it can only provide positive steps to move forward.


If these ideas interest you, learn more. There are great resources out there that you can build on that are far more in-depth than those I have briefly shared. To set you on a road to future reading, here are a few recommendations.

Strong Magic by Darwin Ortiz

Designing Miracles by Darwin Ortiz

The Magic Of Ascanio Set by Acasnio/Etcheverry

The Works of Juan Tamariz

It is also worth noting the works of Jamy Ian Swiss, Roberto Giobbi and Tom Stone for related material. Remember, there are many more scattered through our rich sources of information, the key to remember is that the map is not the territory.

Until next time, keep safe and well.


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