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Chess, and the benefits of positive criticism: displacement activity #25.

Updated: Apr 19

When I first started painting I found that years of pent-up creativity needed to be released; my paintings were enthusiastic, impulsive and rapid and while the process gave me pleasure, I realised that they needed to have elements that were tightly controlled if they were to be taken seriously.

After attending many private views and in a discussion at an Artists Network South West meeting in Spike Island, it was suggested that one can’t be considered a painter in anything less than 5 years! However, what really surprised me was the lack of honest criticism artists were prepared to give one another (I suspect that the artist psyche is a delicate one and easily damaged). However, I persisted but without ever receiving the level of criticism I was used to as an architect; every line is scrutinised and intellectual rigour is essential of the initial vison is to pass unscathed through the hands of a planning system that prefers banality, clients that don’t know what they want and contractors that are intent of f#cking things up because you wouldn’t alter the design so that they could make more profit.

Having completed a series of paintings, modifying them to my satisfaction so that they can be seen as a body of work, I returned to the thought that to become proficient at anything takes time and was reminded of a period when, as a child, I would play chess with my father.

Quite how he got so good at it I have no idea; an army chef he consistently beat me and during the period when we lived in Germany, I remember him playing with my grandfather and a local artist, where matches could take days.

As a student I tried to pick it up; during my year out (practical experience training was a required part of my architectural education) I would occasionally go with a friend to a pub in Hamilton and play, but I was never any good. I think I was too impulsive and was reminded regularly that alcohol and clear thinking don’t mix. Having then watched The Queens Gambit on Netflix, I found that while have a set and board, I had no one to play with so I was delighted to discover where there are literally millions of people playing chess regularly. I found, however, that playing against a computer gives you the ability to lose without any of the irritation of losing to a person; it’s a loss informed by analysis that shows where you went wrong and gives lessons on how to get better.

So, since March 2023 I’ve been playing, online, at least once a day and while my official rating is low, I have, learned a few openings, understand mid-games and calculate moves a bit but am still so impulsive that I rarely get to the end-game.

I still lose regularly but I am now, making fewer errors and blunders and my accuracy is improving. Oddly I find that I play better against stronger players and I am learning that taking one’s time leads to a more enjoyable game.

I just wish that the Art world was like this: criticism is not intended to knock you down, it’s a mechanism for improvement and, ironically, it’s the only thing I miss from architecture.

So here are some of my chess highlights: enthusiastic but could do better, probably an accurate reflection of my painting ability too.

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