Is chess an art form? A historical game in modern times

Chess can be considered an art form since it has the general qualities of art. Chess can be aesthetically pleasing, there are symbols to be interpreted, it needs creativity, it is a visual experience, and it can be publicly displayed. This makes chess qualify as an art form.

If you have spent some time looking at famous chess games perhaps on youtube or maybe even on quora, you might have realized how beautiful some positions were. It is as if there is an aesthetic element to the game.

There is actually, and a lot of people have argued throughout the years whether chess can be considered an art form or not. I am now going to participate in this discussion, I think I have the answer.

I think that this is an interesting question that needs a little bit of elaboration, I am glad to do this work more than anyone else. I am pretty sure I can make a solid article on this topic.

The points that I will be giving may not be things that you agree with, but I think it will make you reconsider. That is the point of this article anyway, to incite a discussion.

With all of that in mind, let’s get started. 

Chess is an art form because it can be aesthetically pleasing

When talking about the criteria of being beautiful to be described as an art form, chess definitely takes the cake since there are many positions that have become aesthetically pleasing.

I think that this is one of the biggest quality that a thing needs to have in order to be qualified as an art form, it has to be pleasing to one of our five senses.

It cannot be considered an art if it doesn’t have a sense of aesthetic, chess definitely fulfills the criteria since many positions are considered fascinating to the eye.

Many attacking games have ended in a finishing position that someone can call a masterpiece, the placement of the pieces is just so good that it can be considered an art.

It doesn’t have to be the finishing blows though, it can also be the combination to reach the final position. A lot of attacking schemes in chess are beautiful since the pieces have to be in the right place at the right time.

It is the kind of combination where one misplacement can make the position fall apart entirely, it is a beautiful scenery to those who watch it. This is probably one of my biggest arguments.

Chess can be beautiful both in the ending position and the combination that led to the final position.

It is the same reason why painting is considered an art, the final picture is admirable, but the combination that made the picture is just as admirable.

Chess is an art form because there are symbolisms

One of the intrinsic values of an art form is if there is a deeper meaning to it than what is seen on the surface. Chess definitely depicts a lot of symbolism about life, war, and success.

When you look at a painting there is usually a much deeper meaning than what is seen at the surface level, something that cannot be interpreted by a single glance. It is not so simple.

It usually contains a lot of symbolism that relates to other figures in life, kinda drawing a parallel to the direct meaning of the painting. I think that this quality also applies to chess, it can be interpreted in many ways.

The pieces obviously symbolize the different statuses in all walks of life, there are pawns and then there are kings. Some will be treated much better than others.

However even a pawn can become one of the most important pieces in the game, it can even single-handedly win the game even if it is not as strong initially. 

There are also many other symbols that can be interpreted game after game depending on the details, this is just an example that I have thought about while writing this. 

In this category I think that chess has what it takes to be considered an art, the sheer amount of symbolism that can be interpreted makes it more pleasing. Just like how the famous paintings have a deeper meaning once you analyze them.

Chess is an art form because it needs a certain level of creativity

In terms of creativity, there is still a lot of room for unique positions even in the era of engine and memorization. Chess is too complicated to be limited with any preparation.

Art forms do require a little bit of creativity that is unique from case to case as to differentiate them from other similar pieces. It could not be art if there are many other identical works about it.

Modern chess does not have as much creativity as primitive chess used to have because of the introduction of chess engines. Preparations are far more important than creativity at this point in time. 

However there is an argument against this, even if a lot of games are identical, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all individual games will reach the same conclusion every time. The point of preparation in the first place is to find improvements. 

One can even argue that home preparation in chess is also an art form, taking an imperfect piece that needs a little bit of adjustment in order to discover the true potential of a particular game.

Plus there is still room for creative players in modern chess, so I think that chess in general should still be considered an art form since there is creativity involved.

Chess is an art form because it can be publicly displayed

Though the initial position of a chess game may not be suited for display, there are famous positions that have been played between famous players that are worthy of public recognition.

This is another quality of an art form that some people forget about, which is the compatibility to be displayed in the eyes of the public. It cannot be an art if it cannot be appreciated by a lot of people.

As I have stated above, there are final positions in many famous chess games that are worthy of being displayed for public attention. In fact, there are many bars around the world that do this.

Some bars preserve the chessboard that has been played by a very famous chess master, sometimes even displaying one of the final positions of their games.

It’s not only limited to the final position however due to the advancement of technology, now there can be an exhibition of the combination that has been played using a digital presentation.

This quality of chess that allows it to be publicly displayed and appreciated can be argued to make the game more fitting of an art form. It is not the ultimate argument but it is something.

Chess is an art form because it can invoke emotions

Another characteristic of an art form is it can invoke a certain emotion in those who observe it and the one who actually created it. If you have played chess before then you know that this is appropriate.

It can be visually pleasing or have some deeper symbolism to it, but it can never truly be called an art if it doesn’t affect the emotions of those who observed it. 

I think this is what separates a true art from something that is just beautiful, there is something about the aesthetic of an art that it can play with one’s emotions. Chess definitely fulfills this quality with style.

I have seen many beautiful games that have left me thrilled at my seat throughout its conception. This usually happens when I watch my favorite youtuber Agadmator.

I know that you can argue that it is just an isolated case but I don’t think so, there is just something about chess that I think can invoke people’s emotions in general.

The sheer fact that a single piece can make a certain combination fail or succeed, meaning that everything has to be perfect at the present moment in order for it to work, is just so fascinating.

It leaves me with joy and I think others can feel the same way too. Chess might just be considered an art form because it is not only beautiful, it can also invoke people’s emotions as well.

Chess is an art form because it is a visual experience

There are some who argue that for something to be considered an art form,  there has to be a visual experience, chess definitely has such a quality since it is observable.

This one ties with the quality of being publicly displayed, in order for one to enjoy it they must see the actual thing with their own eyes. This one also applies to chess but I believe is just plain wrong.

Art isn’t necessarily something that you can only see, it can also be something that you can taste, hear, or even just sense, there are many levels to this. The visual aspect is not necessary.

However for those who argue that “a true art” is something that you can only see, chess still qualifies for the definition since it is something that you could actually observe visually.

Chess as an art form and the lack of intention

When someone paints, they already have an image of what the piece is going to look like in the end and they are just trying to reach it. Some say that this is an essential quality for something to be considered an art.

However I personally think that this is an unfair criterion, it doesn’t really matter if there is an intention or not as long as the final piece that has been created is worthy of being called an art.

Some will argue that chess is not an art form just because there is a lack of intention to the creation of its masterpieces. But this is not true, in order to create a beautiful game there needs to be an intention.

Sure the final outcome might not be intended from the beginning, but every individual decision that has been made is very well-intentioned depending on the position.

Plus there is also beauty in exploring an unknown possibility, creating every bit of the masterpiece on the go and just eventually having everything come together. 

Chess may not have the quality of having intention right off the bat, but it can still create a masterpiece with every individual decision that has an intention of its own.

Chess as an art form, obscure definition of art

I think there is a fundamental issue that is preventing chess from really being called an art, and that is the obscurity of the definition in the first place. Because what is art?

This question is something that has confused philosophers throughout centuries, there are many conflicting definitions out there that classify one as an art and not the other.

This is actually the issue that made it difficult for me when planning to create this article, it is so hard to define what an art is just from a simple google search.

The definition of art is murky in the first place. Chess definitely does have the characteristics necessary to be considered an art form, but we still can’t be too sure since the definition is quite obscure.

One can just say that chess is an art form as it relates to real life so much for example. The definition of art is just too vague.

In the end, I have settled on the qualities that most definitions agree with which I have presented above. But what I am saying is that these arguments might not apply depending on the definition.

But chess can definitely be considered an art form through a combination of these definitions at least, I will leave the point to that for now (until the definition actually becomes clear).

Final thoughts

Art is something that has been admired throughout centuries due to its aesthetic element that humans find admirable, it is good that chess is starting to be in the discussion. 

When I started playing the game I already thought that chess is somewhat akin to art by nature, I didn’t even think much about it. After researching I have learned that it is much more complicated than that.

But I personally believe that these arguments are valid and chess is still an art form at least in a combination of the most popular definitions of art.

You may not agree with it but it is definitely something to think about, this is an interesting topic after all. This is my take on this topic for now, sleep well and play chess.