This is a great piece on the difference between art, skill and performance. As someone peripherally involved in the world of magic, I can agree with a lot of Jason Fagone is saying here.
There’s something to be said for having a skill set, for being able to do something better, faster, higher (and any other superlative you care to add) than someone else. And that is impressive, most certainly, for as long as it holds on to that superlative position. As soon as the next person comes along who can out do what you do, then you have nothing except the knowledge you “used to be” that person who could do that. That may be enough, certainly. It depends on why you’re involved in the art to begin with. But if you want to make that art into a living, then just being a superlative isn’t good enough – not for the long haul. The catch here is if you want to have a career, you need to be able to entertain with your art. You need to be able to engage with an audience.
Some of the most successful performers I know can do amazing things, skill wise, but when they’re performing, they give the audience what they want to see. Sure, they know they’re better than that. And maybe, sometimes, they can put that in the show. But at the end of the day, it’s still a job. A great job to be sure, but a job nonetheless. And you still need to perform for the paying crowd in order to keep doing it.