What the Arts have to Teach us about Political Leadership and Social Change: Ambivalence, Chaos, Bush, Obama and the Primal Paradox

By John Briggs, Raymond Saner and Lichia Yiu.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This article examines the phenomena of the artist, the artist’s creative process, and the motivating purpose of that creative process as they might apply to the concept of leadership. The medium an leader-artist works with would be the connection among people, a medium dynamically complex and including participating individuals’ psychologies, their roles, obligations, prerogatives, homogeneity or heterogeneity. All these aspects and more the leader-artist seeks to organize and order. Artists develop an ability not only to tolerate but to court and employ feelings of ambivalence and uncertainty in their creative process. Chaos theory helps describe how ambivalence forms feedbacks and self organizes into a creative form, whether it is a work of art or a political decision. For this to happen, however, the ambivalence must be experienced as creative tension not conflict. The ability to tolerate ambivalence and put it to use comes from the artists need to confront a universal existential dilemma that the authors call the Primal Paradox. The paradox—whose existence and importance is recognized by most systems of thought—is that the human being is both separate and isolated in the world and yet inseparably part of the whole. While the creative artist’s task is to represent the Primal Paradox in affective forms, the leader-artist in his/her medium must negotiate the paradox to allow both the impulse for self-interest and the impulse for community to engage in an open dialogue that will find solutions and directions to social needs. The article discusses the striking differences between the leadership styles of US Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama with regard to how they have approached the Primal Paradox and the strong ambivalence generated by the vagaries of making decisions and fostering social change.

Keywords: Chaos, Chaos Theory, Creativity, Leadership, Aesthetic Distance, Bush, Obama, President, Ambivalence, Creative Tension, Primal Paradox, Artist

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.81-98. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.281MB).

Dr. John Briggs

Distinguished CSU Professor, Department of Writing, Linguistics and Creativity, Western Connecticut State University, Granville, MA, USA

John Briggs is a U.S. citizen and holds a Ph.D. in aesthetics and psychology from the Union Graduate University. He has published widely on the subjects of creativity and chaos theory. His books include: Fractals, the Patterns of Chaos (Simon & Schuster, 1992); Fire in the Crucible (St. Martin’s Press, 1988); Seven Life Lessons of Chaos (HarperCollins), and Turbulent Mirror (HarperCollins, 1990), as well Metaphor, the Logic of Poetry (Pace University Press). He is also author of fiction, Trickster Tales, a collection of stories (2005). He has been senior editor of Connecticut Review, and is a Professor of Compositional and Relational Aesthetics in the Department of Writing, Linguistics and Creative Process at Western Connecticut State University, where he has also been appointed a Distinguished CSU Professor. He and his father, a psychiatrist, recently wrote a series of articles examining the psychology of the decision-making process of former President George W. Bush and current US President Barack Obama. He is working on a book on ambivalence and the psychology of creativity

Dr. Raymond Saner

Director, Centre for Socio-Econ-Nomic Development, Geneva, Switzerland

Raymond Saner is co-founder of CSEND (Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development), a Geneva based NGRDO (www.csend.org), professor in organization and international management at the university of Basle, Switzerland. 

He has over 20 years of experience in designing and managing institution development and capacity-building projects in the public sector throughout the world. He has been a consultant to European and Asian governments, multinational companies and international organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme, the World Trade Organisation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Dr. Saner’s education in the arts includes: Acting Training, Reality Theatre (Stanislawsky and Grotowsky Method Acting); Assistant Director (Regieassistent) and author, Radio Plays, Swiss German Radio, Basle; reviewer of New York’s postmodern dance performances for “Tanz und Gymnastik”, (Swiss Quarterly); Independent Contributor & Author for Radio Features and Newspapers, 1988-current. He has been actor and member of research team, theatre play “People without work in Switzerland”, Basle Theatre, Werkstatt Bühne; author of one-hour radio play, genre “Social Drama/Realism”, Sackgasse, produced by Radio DRS; author and producer of radio feature, “Logik des Zerfalls”, comparison of Austro-Hungarian decline with postmodernism, Radio DRS Basle & ORF Vienna; “Switzerland’s challenges in regards to national identity.”He has been organiser and sponsor of art show on “Rural Realism in China with Wang Hong Jian, Henan-China, Galérie St. Léger, Geneva; organiser and sponsor of art show on “Ukrainian Symbolism with Roman Romanychyne, Lviv-Ukraine, Galérie St. Léger, Geneva; organiser and sponsor of the concert “Rain forest”, composer and conductor Oldrich de Halas, New Music and Bolivian traditional instruments for 6 musicians, La Paz, Bolivia, 2001.

Dr. Lichia Yiu

Principal, Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development, Geneva, Switzerland

Lichia Yiu, born in Taipei and a Swiss citizen, holds a doctorate in psychology from Indiana University. A former associate professor at Chinese Culture University, Taipei, she was a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University in organisational psychology. She is fluent in English and Mandarin.

Dr. Yiu has over 20 years of experience as an advisor to governments and international organisations on organisational development and reform of public administration. She recently directed a two-year, bilateral Swiss-Slovene project to reform the public administration of Slovenia and a three-year Sino-Swiss bilateral programme to modernise management training of senior civil service officials in China. She has also been a consultant to the United Nations Development Programme and other specialised UN agencies, as well as to private-sector organisations. She is Alternate Representative of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) to ECOSOC/United Nations in Geneva; board member (elected), Organizational Development & Change Division, Academy of Management; chairman (elected), Advisory Council to Board of Governors, Academy of Management, Washington, USA; head, Network “Development, Social Change and Governance”, Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, Baltimore, USA. She is a member of several editorial review boards, including The Hague Journal of International Relations, 2005- present; the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 2005- present; the Journal of Managerial Psychology, 2001- present.


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