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© 2020 Jeffrey Robertson

Art and creativity in foreign policy analysis

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In analysis it pays to be creative - to think outside the box. Yet, in international relations classrooms, students are too often taught not to stray from theories (which in all reality are often inadequate to predict or even explain state behavior). One way which I think can open a student's mind to alternative thinking is art. Indeed, at its most basic level the sociology of art is much like diplomacy - it has an aim to selectively explore conditions in society (reporting), it represents the artist's position (representation) and it communicates in order to establish a connection between artist and audience (negotiation).

The artwork above is an intriguing and mind opening piece that has done the rounds on the internet. The “Beijing 2008 Mahjong Game”, an oil on canvas by Liu Yi (2005) is reported to allude to the East Asian great game. The woman with the tattoos on her back represents China. On the left, focused intensely on the game, is Japan. The one with the shirt and head cocked to the side is the United States. Lying provocatively on the floor is Russia. And the little girl standing to the side is Taiwan.

The character's glances, body positions, hand positions and implements, clothing, mahjong tiles, as well as the surrounding decor all convey meaning regarding the relationships between China, Japan, Russia, the United States, and Taiwan. However, teaching in Korea brings the most mind-bending question for students... in Liu Yi's East Asia, where the hell is Korea???

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