Keywords: Culture & History

The aesthetics[1] of Go are almost as important as the play in some ways.

The harmonisation of the board and pieces, the materials used, etc., can be for some almost as important as the game (i.e. never use a yuki stone set on a cheap wooden board or don't use thin plastic stones on a table kaya board, etc.).

Also, as many a beginner's book points out, there is aesthetic harmony in the contrasts of wood and stones, line and circle, black and white. -- Tim Brent

The cover of "Basic Techniques of Go" shows a flower arrangement, a calligraphy scroll, tatami mats, and a goban, thereby uniting some of the most important elements of Japanese aesthetics.

With a properly matched goban and stone set, it is impossible to lay a straight line of stones across the board without it bending in places. This accords with Japanese aesthetics, where for example in pottery if a cup is too perfect, the artisan will purposely introduce an imperfection.

In Kawabata's classic "Meijin" ("The Master of Go"), there is considerable discussion about how the challenger's play was not esthetic.

Naustin-- On the topic of the messy stones I read a book when I was fairly young about Go that said it is even aesthetic for the players to play slightly sloppily. Some friends and I were discussing this recently and one theory was that the board might appear more like a natural arrangement of stones, a pattern on a beach for example (this after one person had already stated they sometimes see go positions in arrangements of a variety of things out in the wood). This seems a reasonable idea from what I know of Japanese culture but I would be interested to hear from someone who knew more about it, if it was or not.

The aesthetic of Go has little to do with the shape of the board or the texture of stones or transient mathematical patterns and relationships between them. It has to do with the mind or awareness that is brought to the game, nurtured and transformed through the process of play and the process of training. Can we develop the mind that does not show up in order to merely win the game – but brings full psychophysical effort to the game without any expectation of specific outcome. This is the mind that participates for the mere sake of creative engagement – nothing more and nothing less. It is a dialog (wa) – not mere clever strategy. This is literally “winning mind”. The mind that wins before it places the first stone on the board – regardless of who gets the most points. This is the mind that has surpassed mere technique. It is the mind that accesses the transcendent – the sublime – the aesthetic condition. This is authentic Go. It is one game, one move, one life.

If reliably available, it is mastery of Go and of life itself. If we can do this then we have found true meaning and purpose – we can be of some benefit to others.

See also

[1] Either spelling, esthetics or aesthetics, is generally acceptable.

Tamsin: For those who want to know, "aesthetics" is the traditional (British English) spelling. You sometimes also come upon the form with "a" and "e" joined together to form a single glyph.

Aesthetics last edited by tapir on July 29, 2021 - 11:10
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