Chapter 5 - Justification
From what has already been deduced in the course of our inquiry, we perceive that since, on occasion, specific rules may be disregarded, there arises a very pertinent question. How may we determine the extent to which, in various circumstances, a disregard of reasoned conclusions is permissible? Broadly speaking, of course, we may say that if we introduce details which are not in accordance with accepted rules, we must always be able to justify our action. In no case must we be content with mere excuses. To frame excuses is foreign to the procedure of an artist, because "qui s'excuse, s'accuse." His feeblest plea must never fall below the level of provable justification. Such obvious facts, however, provide but little guidance. Therefore, we must now endeavor to ascertain, with reasonable accuracy, the conditions wherein justification may be proved.
As stated in our first rule, no departure from accepted principles should be made without some special reason. Among such reasons, there is one of preëminent importance; that is, the production of some particular effect which otherwise would be impossible. The impossibility, however, should be clearly manifest. If, by any means, the production of that effect can be brought about in conformity with established principles, no departure from those principles can be justified. In any such case, the only possible source of justification is absolute necessity.
If such fundamental considerations were the only matters involved, the question of justification would be one of extreme simplicity. But unfortunately the case is far otherwise. In the majority of instances, justification cannot be pleaded on the ground of absolute necessity. Given the aid of every possible facility, a magician could seldom justify the departure from the normal principles of his art. But, as a matter of fact, magicians usually perform under conditions of an extremely unfavorable nature. Therefore, we find the most common ground for justification is not absolute necessity but present expediency. Rules are broken, not because the effect produced demands their violation, but because circumstances render such violation expedient. Thus, justification becomes subject to the force of circumstances. At the same time, it must be remembered, valid justification can only exist when the force of circumstances is irresistible.
Suppose, for example, a magician performing at a theater where every facility is available, produces an act which is artistically perfect. Then, suppose that the magician is compelled to transfer his act to another theater, where such favorable conditions do not exist; in order to produce his act at the second theater, he may have to introduce some detail which, according to accepted principles, is inartistic. Or he may have to omit some important detail, and thereby render his presentation artistically incomplete. In either case, his procedure can undoubtedly be justified on the ground of expediency. He does as he does, not because of essential necessity, but because the force of circumstances is too great to be overcome. The obvious rule is:
(8) Always remember that avoidable defects are incapable of justification.
This rule applies equally to great matters and to small, to broad effects and minute details. Although in some particular respect departure from accepted rule may be justified, it does not follow that the principle violated is thereby rendered negligible for the time being. On the contrary, the circumstances demand that every care be taken to insure that the extent of departure shall be as limited as possible. Care should be taken to add every available perfection, in other respects, with a view to compensating for the unavoidably defective procedure adopted. A specific rule may be stated thus:
(9) Always remember that a plea of justification is ordinarily an acknowledgment of error, and consequently demands every possible reparation.
That is to say, when one is obliged to fall back upon the aid of justification, one should use every available means for correcting any deficiency that may be brought into evidence. The greater the divergence from proper and effective methods, the greater the necessity for compensating perfections. If we are compelled to introduce imperfections, they should be reduced to the utmost possible minimum, disguised in every possible manner, and compensated for by the inclusion of every possible perfection of subsidiary detail. By such means, the inevitable fault may be rendered practically imperceptible.
Herein we discover the, reason why so many productions, inartistic in themselves, prove to be quite effective before an average audience. With knowledge derived from a process of trial and error, performers are enabled to disguise, to a great extent, the technical faults of their productions. Thus, in course of time, subsidiary perfections become so augmented as to render a very faulty presentation acceptable to the general public. That, however, provides no justification for avoidable faults. However good a faulty performance may appear to the uninitiated, it would appear still better were the faults removed. The majority of spectators may not know why the thing is better in its more perfect form. They may not understand the reasons which have dictated the alterations made. But the performer, at any rate, ought to know when his presentation is defective, and should understand how to remove avoidable defects.
There are always two ways of doing anything--a right and a wrong way. Any ignoramus can bungle about with a thing until eventually he makes it pass muster among those who know as little as himself. But even then the thing will not be right in the eyes of an expert. Anything done in the wrong way can never be right in itself. The only advantage about it is that the wrong way does not have to be learned. It is available to all who prefer it; but unfortunately it does not lead to perfection. Not only so, it eventually leads to far more trouble than would be involved in learning the right way first of all.
Further than this, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is a question of principle involved. An artist prefers to work in the right way, if only to show that he knows how the work should be done. Even though some particular effect could be produced in the wrong way, that would be no excuse for using faulty methods.
The end cannot justify the means, if the proper means would serve as well as the defective means actually employed. For as Aristotle says
"If, indeed, this end might as well, or nearly as well, have been attained, without departing from the principles of the particular art in question, that fault, in that case, could not be justified; since faults of every kind should, if Possible, be avoided."--Poetics, Part IV, Chap. H.To this, we may add that when, as is usually the case, the end may be attained more readily and more perfectly by adhering to the principles of our particular art, there is not even a plausible excuse for defective workmanship. Indeed, the only possible excuse is ignorance. Those who prefer, by implication, to raise that plea are of course quite welcome to that dubious privilege. An artist would rather suffer torture than do anything of the kind. "Good enough for the public" is ample justification for defects which are difficult to overcome; but, when the observance of recognized principles would be just as easy, and just as effective, "Good enough for the public" becomes the plea of either an ignoramus or a fool. In such an event, the performer may be perfectly sure that he appears in one or other of those characters. If he is content to do so, well and good! That is entirely his affair. Our present inquiry does not concern him. For all that, we can see there is no justification for the attitude he has adopted.
Although, as already mentioned, a magician's stage surroundings are of prime importance in this connection, they are far from being the only ground for justification. The diversities of taste and appreciation shown by various types of audiences may equally justify some occasional divergence from normal procedure. This has been previously suggested by our deductions concerning the subject of unity. We may now with advantage develop the point still further.
Taking a practical instance, we will suppose a magician intends to present (say) "The Rising Cards," and has at command two methods of performing that trick. One of those methods, let us say, is well known to magicians but very effective to the public. The other method does not appeal to the public so strongly, but entirely puzzles magicians. In reality, of course, he has two distinct tricks, similar in effect. That fact would be understood by his fellow-craftsmen; but, to the public, either trick would be simply "The Rising Cards."* Then the question is, which method should the performer employ?*It must be remembered that, to the public-and unfortunately, to the press either the effect, or some prominent feature of a trick, is the trick itself. We commonly hear of "The Vanishing Lady," "The Box Trick," "The Cabinet Trick," "The Ghost Illusion," "The Slate Trick," and so on. Apparently, most people cannot imagine that more than one trick may be associated with a certain kind of effect or a particular form of appliance.
The answer must depend upon the kind of audience with which he has to deal. To an audience of conjurers he would naturally present the superior method. The other would only bore his spectators. But to the general public, apart from some special reason to the contrary, he should present the more familiar yet more effective method, less perfect though it may be. To the public, either method would be quite inexplicable; and, therefore, there would be every justification for choosing that which appeals to the public more highly. Indeed, one might almost say that, in the circumstances, the use of the superior method would hardly be justified, for the simple reason that it would fail to produce its due effect.
In the practice of an art, one must always keep in view the fact that, in the absence of an effective appeal to the imagination, art is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent. It is true that a poet, a painter or a sculptor may produce a work of art which contemporary opinion may condemn, and future ages may approve beyond measure. But suppose that, disheartened by present failure, the artist were to destroy the work he had produced, the result would be precisely as though that work had never been attempted. It came into a momentary existence, it made no appeal to the minds of those who saw it, and it disappeared completely.
The work, however meritorious it may have been, was but wasted effort. It did not serve the cause of art in the remotest degree. It was but ephemeral in its existence, and failed to evoke contemporary approval. In short, it was useless.
Precisely analogous is the case of a magician who presents work which his audiences cannot appreciate. Apart from its presentation, the art of magic has no sensible existence. It is naturally ephemeral, and demands instant appreciation.
Primarily, the true function of any art is not the promotion of its own advancement, but the promotion of enjoyment and the elevation of the intelligence of mankind. In performing such functions, its own advancement is automatically achieved. That being so, it must be useless to exhibit any ephemeral achievement in art which, to those who see it, is not effective. Such presentations have no artistic value. They can neither serve to raise the level of human intelligence, nor to promote human enjoyment.
We have previously referred to the necessity for maintaining as high a level of merit as possible. But at the same time, we have pointed out there is every reason for bearing in mind the natural limitations of certain audiences. By all means let people see good work-the best they are capable of appreciating-on every possible occasion. But work which is too good for them is, practically, as valueless as that which is not good enough. Within the capacity of a magician's audience, the higher he rises the greater will be the appreciation accorded to his work. Beyond that prescribed limit, however, the higher he rises the less will be the value of his achievement.
It has been said very justly that every virtue is, as it were, a middle course between two opposite vices. Thus, courage is midway between cowardice and rashness; thrift is midway between acquisitiveness and improvidence; morality is midway between prudery and licentiousness; and so forth. In like manner, justification stands half-way between the faults of pedantry, on the one hand, and the failures of ignorance, on the other.
The rule should be:
(10) Cut your coat according to your cloth, but spare no pains in the cutting, or your procedure cannot be justified.
The foregoing considerations enable us to discuss, upon a more definite basis, the question of dual effect, already mentioned in connection with the subject of unity. We can now readily understand that, in certain circumstances, two simultaneous developments may be presented in such a manner as to justify the departure from the principles of unity. We can see that justification may be proved on various grounds of expediency. For example, one of two magical feats may add a climax to the entire presentation, and thus aid the general impression produced in the minds of spectators. Or, on the other hand, the development of one effect may involve certain periods of time which, to the public, would appear vacant, were they not filled in with the processes connected with the second effect. In any case, however, the dual presentation must not involve serious division of interest, or the total result will be neither artistic nor effective. We shall have to return to this subject later on; and, therefore, we need not consider it further at present.
We may conclude our remarks upon justification by summarizing the rational conclusions to be deduced from the facts stated. There is no need for recapitulating all the minor points we have reviewed. It is only necessary to emphasize the main features of our inquiry, as follows:
In order to know what may or may not be justified, it is essential to acquire an understanding of the purposes of art, and the manner in which those purposes can best be fulfilled. Hence the importance of systematic inquiry and the need for accurate reasoning. Every instance wherein justification has to be claimed represents a special problem, requiring to be dealt with in accordance with the facts of the case. The true solution cannot be arrived at by the aid of mere opinion. The only reliable source of evidence is knowledge. That which serves the purposes of art in the best manner available, is justified. That which does not so serve the purposes of art, is incapable of justification.
We argue that, in everything he does, a magician should be able to demonstrate the grounds upon which he claims that the procedure is either artistically correct or absolutely justified. To an artist, "good enough" is never good enough. His work must be correct; or, failing that, as nearly correct as circumstances permit.
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