Q: "What exaclty is Mentalism?"
I get this question a lot while performing professionaly. Most of my spectators have pre-conceived ideas and don't know precisely what we are talking about when discussing Mentalism. Is it hypnosis? Is it decoding non verbal tells? ... I have discovered this world can be as intimidating as it is intriguing, so let me answer your questions.
To put it simply, Mentalism is nothing more than a branch of Magic which creates the illusion of para-normal activity or skills. In the introduction of his classic Blue Book of Mentalism (1976), Max Maven categorized mental illusions into four main families of effects :
_ predictions, also referred to as precognitions. The magician is able to know events before they occur.
_ thought readings and transmissions. The focus of the trick is a simple thought, and the magician acts as a sender or a receiver depending on the illusion.
_ clairvoyance. The magician obtains informations from objects that no one else can obtain.
_ telekinesis. The magician has mental power so strong, he can animate ojbects.
So Mentalism is a general "category" of magic effects in the same manner as Stage Illusions, Comedy Magic or Manipulations. I really love Banacheck's definition of Mentalism: using your five senses to create the illusion of a sixth one.
Q: "And when it comes to your professional work?"
I have always presented Mentalism both close-up and on stage (although I am most often asked to perform for larger audiences from the stage, anything from two or three effects to a full show). I also conduct Mentalism workshops both for adults and teens interested in the subject. I use cards, coins, books, but very often a few pens and pieces of paper are more than enough to accomplish devastating effects.
Q: "Nothing to do with mediums and psychics then?"
This is an interesting question. You should be aware, when illusions are well presented and conducted in a deceptive way, people will swear they have witnessed extra sensory powers. Sadly, some performers claim they actually have such "gifts" or "skills". The most famous example is probably Uri Geller. For years Geller pretended he had supernatural powers and could, for instance, bend metal just by concentrating. It took Gérard Majax and several other magicians years of work to expose Geller's trickeries and destroy his claims to such skills.
Yet some psychics and fortune-tellers continue to claim magicians need gimmicks to perform illusions while they are true mediums ! ...
Real scientific experiments have been conducted to find out if some people really had psychic powers, starting in the 1960's under the influence of Joseph Banks Rhine (1895 - 1980) from the Duke University in North Carolina (from whom we get the term "ESP" or "Extra Sensory Perception"). Scientific test results must be analysed and interpretated with extreme care as blatant cheating and lack of scientific rigor have been reported in the past. It is no surprise Rhine's lab was closed after he left.
To my mind, what best describes ESP scientific experiments is the following scene from Ghostbusters (1984). I could watch this for hours !