The Art Of Chess Thought

“From my close contact with artists and chess players I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” Marcel Duchamp, 1952.

Marcel Duchamp

Artists have long loved the symbolism of the chess board and represented it in paintings, sculptures and other forms. Is this the art of chess? Actually I would describe it as the art of chess symbolism and would clearly distinguish this from the art of chess thought. The former is associated with having an ornate chess set on one’s coffee table, the latter is about abstract mathematical patterns which are woven into forms that represent human thoughts and emotions.

So I would say that the current Saatchi Gallery exhibition on The Art Of Chess rather misses the fact that there are two separate art forms associated with the game.

Where would Marcel Duchamp stand on the matter? It seems that he was actually a ‘real’ chess player and more interested in chess thought than pictorial representations of the pieces. And the following game shows him in action against George Koltanowski.

Is there a lesson here for the chess improver? I believe there is. In order to master the art of chess thought one should probably steer clear of too much confusing symbolism. Get a good Staunton set and ignore the fancy pieces, they’re just going to get in the way.


Author: NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Nigel has written a number of chess books that are available at Amazon: