Aesthetic Go

So, you have probably noticed there’s a fair amount of go media on the Interwebz – between go channels like Dwyrin and Haylee, forums like Life in 19×19, journals like The American Go E-Journal, we’re kind of spoiled for choice. Only I’ve noticed something. Maybe this is just my bias talking, but it seems to me that the vast majority of that focuses on the more cognitive aspects of the game – solving problems, understanding sequences, order of play, basically “how to play go well/better”. Which is obviously fine and dandy, nothing wrong with that at all, it’s a legitimate part of the game and culture. But as any go player will tell you, there’s whole other aspects other than that – the sheer aesthetic aspect of go.

The sheer pleasure of playing with a nice set, the sound of the stones, the tactile feel of the stones in your hand or running your fingers through the bowl, the visual shape, the flow of the game – all of these are a huge part of the game, and are (to varying extents) accessible and understandable to those who don’t necessarily understand what’s going on on the board. But it seems to be drastically under-respresented!

Yes, there’s always pretty pictures, but let’s be honest, the beauty of go is something that can’t easily be represented by still images, any more than a symphony can be depicted by a picture, or even a silent movie. You can, if you’re very skilled, kind of gesture at the idea using those media, but it’s too fundamentally different. The medium is the message, indeed. If we’re familiar with the game, we can look at the patterns and appreciate a brutal attack, or a harmonious balance, or a clever parry. But if an unfamiliar person looks at a picture, they’re likely going to see complexity and confusion. At best they’ll see some kind of symmetry or maybe the play of light and shadow on the board and stones, but nothing that really draws them in. At best the result will be “oh, that’s kind of pretty” and move on – at worst people will feel walled off from a game they likely would actually really enjoy. And let’s be honest, go is intimidating enough without adding more barriers.

As you all are aware, I have the artistic abilities of a rabid koala on tranquilizers. I do my best with PacifiGo, but aesthetic creation is just not an area I have any skill in. I do my best with site design and such, and the best I can say is “well, it doesn’t make people’s eyes bleed too much”. But there are go players who have artistic ability – who have that ability to take an idea or a sense in their head and translate it into a visual or auditory work and transmit that to another person, to craft words so that the feelings and ideas are conveyed, to elicit the subtleties of emotion with sound, to create films that convey complex ideas through sequences of pictures and sounds.

But on the other hand, I really do think this is something that would strongly improve go’s accessibility, to present it as less an intimidating puzzle for smart people to smart at each other over, and more as it is – an experience shared between two or more people, as a work of art, as an act of creation. So, as the saying goes, “somebody has to and no one else will“.

So, what kind of aesthetic creations do you think would be a good way to communicate the beauty of go? How would you go about doing it?

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