A lot of the magicians interviewed draw a distinction between hobbyists, or birthday party performers, and the people who "raise magic ... to an artistic level." This distinction bugs me -- particularly, it bothers me because in more mainstream artistic professions, we acknowledge that practitioners are artists even if they aren't creating their own art, even if they aren't very good at it.
Acting is a good example. A performer who is in a school production of Romeo and Juliet is participating in the creation of art. If they do a bad job, then they do a bad job. But you can't fail to create art of some quality if you're trying to do something artistic. Reproducing other peoples' art is art. Reproducing banal, overwrought art is art. Doing magic tricks that you learned in a book, badly, is still art.
art v. pornography
One of the magicians said, "If a person doesn't feel, there is no art." He dismisses pornography as not artistic, because it's too visceral, and drew the analogy between that and magic. He called most magicians 'magic pornographers.'
This highlights the biggest problem I have with arguments about what is or isn't art -- people dismiss the kinds of emotions that seem to relate most to our bodies, or our visceral experience of life, as not-art. People say that cooking isn't art, that porn isn't art, that, apparently, magic isn't art, because the emotions and experiences they evoke are present, rather than evoking something less present, some sort of sense about the future or the past.
I guess what they're defending is a sense of art as immortality -- for example, they dismiss any artist that does other people's tricks, and argue that what makes a trick artistic is trying to put your own emotions, your own story, into it -- but I think we're seriously missing out if that's all that we consider art.
Art doesn't have to be a unique expression of the person creating it. Art can be a more general expression of an idea, by someone who just wants to help that idea along. Amateur magicians who want to help create a sense of wonder in the world are artists because they're working to encourage and promote the importance of an emotion.
Not everyone has something new to say, and there's power and significance in creating art that's just there to say "I agree," or "Hey, remember, this is important." That's why cooking is art. That's why porn is (granted, sometimes extremely problematic) art. That's why magic is art.[1. I should note that there are certainly examples of self-immortalization in cooking, porn, and magic. Unfortunately, the case that usually gets made in this argument is "That's not really porn," or "That's not really just a magic trick," and I imagine there must be cases where someone or other has argued, "That's not really food."]
I think that we have an intuitive understanding that art is important, and I think that dismissing things as being not-art is an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility for one's relationship with culture.
That is all.