Chess and Art

Known as the game that is “beautiful enough to waste your own life for”, chess has inspired many artists to portray it in their work throughout the decades. But could chess be, in its essence, an art? Harold Osborne (1964) mentions the concept of intellectual beauty and states that chess can be regarded as an art form since it allows for the creation of intellectual objects characterized by beauty.

Surely enough, no chess player will be able to deny that, in his lifetime, he has encountered a breathtaking combination or a stunning move that struck an impression on him, as powerful as one that can only be created by remarkable artwork.

These beautiful moves and combinations that have the unique ability of bringing tears to the chess aficionado’s eye have inspired some of the greatest artists in the world, and that’s exactly what this article is all about.

Perhaps the best-known example of a connection between chess and art is that of Marcel Duchamp, one of the greatest and most revolutionary artists of the 20th century, who, in 1923, left behind his successful career in arts to pursue his passion: of course, the game of chess. He became a chess master and eventually retired from tournament play and dedicated himself to correspondence chess and journalism.

Some of his most famous quotes about this mysterious connection between chess and art are "I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art—and much more.” and “ I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”

Literature, of course, is one of the fields in which chess is commonly represented, as an inspiration for poets and novelists alike. Perhaps the most famous chess-themed novel is The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov, whose main character, Aleksandr Luzhin, sees chess as a refuge from his daily life and becomes obsessed with the game.

In poetry, Jorge Luis Borges’ inspiring poems are some of the most beloved.

And, of course, we must not forget the Wizard’s Chess, the magical version of the game that appears in the renowned Harry Potter series, inspiring many young children and teenagers to learn the game.

In painting, besides the well-known artwork by none other than Duchamp, from 1911, the French painter Henri Matisse also used chess as an inspiration for two of his paintings.

Last but not least, chess is also a major inspiration for the seventh art - some of the world’s greatest films feature games of chess, chess players or other themes related to the game. For instance, the highest-rated movie of all times on IMDB features chess as the favorite hobby of the main protagonist Andy, who used to carve pieces during his time in prison. In Blade Runner, a chess game played out between two of the main characters is inspired in the Immortal Game.

More recently, a few movies inspired by true chess stories have been created. Bobby Fischer’s unique life and character are seen as enticing and mysterious by many artists - a very recent film, from 2014, portrays his World Championship match against Boris Spassky, played right in the “heat” of the Cold War.

Even Disney could not help but get on the chess wagon - the true story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess player with a truly inspiring life story, has inspired the 2016 movie Queen of Katwe.

Of course, many other pieces of art which have been inspired by the most noble of games have been left out of this list - but this is a good selection to bring out the art lover in you and start exploring the many faces of chess.

1 comment

  • mimoart

    Nice article on the comparisons between chess and art. I feel the same way both as an artist and chess player. I actually just created a drawing that illustrates this comparison between chess and art here:


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