The Arts-based Approach in Peace Work: Dynamic Peace and Dynamic Art (2016)


Kyoko Okumoto - TRANSCEND Media Service


In order to understand the concept of peace within the context of action, this paper proposes a new definition, “dynamic peace” as opposed to “static peace.” With it people can grasp the meaning of peace in a more realistic way. The “actors” play the role of dynamic peace workers. With this new definition, this paper proposes a practical approach to peace work using the arts. Within this approach, “dynamic art” may be defined as “art that reveals and highlights conflict.” This arts-based approach is enriched by creative dialogue, and its actors become peace workers who are in essence “citizen artists.” The analysis is based on the methods and theories of Johan Galtung, and his TRANSCEND Theory is applied here to the relation between the arts and society. It is very clear that there must be active feedback between the arts and members of society in order for dynamic peace to be successfully achieved.


This article stemmed from an exploration of the question: Can the arts contribute to peace creation? In order to achieve the goals of peace creation, “peace work” demands a new perspective, which is based on current Peace Studies, but which criticises and relativises the theory of international security in mainstream political science. It challenges and transcends some basic concepts by presenting new agendas with new conceptual work. This article presents a framework for the arts-based approach in peace work, focusing on the significance of conflict transformation, proposing “dynamic peace” and “dynamic art,” and emphasising the role of “citizen artists” as “peace workers.”2

Definitions of violence and peace

For peacebuilding out in the field, diverse arts-based approaches have already been experimented with in conflict zones worldwide. However, there is very little research which has attempted to record, analyse and theorise such practical experiments. The primary reason preventing researchers of Peace and Conflict Studies from developing new theories is the specific and complex circumstances of each target case. To rectify this, the current study utilises the basic concepts and analytical tools of Peace Studies. In order to realise the rich and substantial meanings of “peace work,” a process which is as nonviolent and as peaceful as possible needs to be developed. The following is a brief framework of definitions of violence and peace.

D/S/C Violence and Peace & N/P Peace3

Violence Direct Violence (DV) Structural Violence (SV) Cultural Violence (CV)
Peace Direct Peace (DP) Structural Peace (SP) Cultural Peace (CP)
Negative Peace (NP) Absence of DV (ceasefire, a desert, cemetery) Absence of SV (no exploitation, no structure) Absence of CV (no justification, no culture)
Positive Peace (PP) Presence of DP (cooperation) Presence of SP (equity, equality) Presence of CP (culture of peace, dialogue)

Art that promotes violence and art that creates peace

In order to examine the effectiveness of the arts-based approach in peace work, some forms of art are investigated utilising Peace Studies concepts such as direct, structural and cultural violence, direct, structural and cultural peace and conflict transformation. In fact, the art forms in relation to peace and violence can be classified into two groups: “art that promotes violence” and “art that creates peace.” One art form from the latter group, “art that reveals and highlights conflict” or “dynamic art,” is examined more deeply later. First of all, the following shows the two main categories of art in relation to violence and peace.

Art, D/S/C Violence/Peace and Peace & N/P Peace:4

Art that promotes violence Direct Violence (DV) Structural Violence (SV) Cultural Violence(CV)
Art that creates peace Direct Peace (DP) Structural Peace (SP) Cultural Peace (CP)
Negative Peace (NP) Absence of DV Absence of SV Absence of CV
Positive Peace (PP) Presence of DP Presence of SP Presence of CP

In addition, when art affects society and its people somehow, it functions as below.

Art, D/S/C Violence and D/S/C Peace5
I: Art = Cultural phenomena = Direct/Structural Violence/Peace  ⟹  Human beings
II: Art = Cultural phenomena = Cultural Violence/Peace  → justification →  Direct/Structural Violence/Peace  ⟹  Human beings

The diagram above shows that art has an impact on society and human beings in mainly two ways; one is direct, and the other is indirect. Direct influence is practiced by direct/structural components of art. Indirect impact is achieved through the cultural aspects of art.6

The nature of conflict and art that utilizes its power

In addition to definitions of peace and violence based on Peace Studies, a definition of conflict should also be examined. Conflict occurs when each actor/party possesses its goal(s) and acts on it (them), but there is incompatibility or contradiction between/among those goals. Conflict is a natural phenomenon, and can be an opportunity to transform the society that actors/parties live in. Conflict can be at the micro (individual) level, mezzo (societal) level, macro (national/ international) level and mega (regional/ideological, etc.) level.

The reason why looking closely at conflict is essential here is that the category, “art that creates peace,” as referred above, embraces “art that reveals and highlights conflict” as explained later in this paper. Conflict is dynamic and organic because it always changes and its change processes can affect society and its people either positively or negatively. When conflict impacts on people positively, they learn how to create something constructive and start transforming society for the better. When it negatively affects society, people may victimise each other in various ways.

Therefore, the key is to learn how to use conflict wisely—by peaceful means. Conflict transformation is such an important tool for people to learn in order to live peacefully together. In this way, society would be able to reduce violence and increase peaceful elements. Art can be used in the change processes of conflict transformation. This article frames this kind of art as “art that reveals and highlights conflict.” Its purposes are:

  • to reveal and highlight the essence of conflict,
  • to make covert conflict overt,
  • to play a role in making people realise its existence, and
  • to create within the audience the attitude and behaviour for conflict transformation, when a peaceful spirit works along with a critical mind, and when creativity and dialogue emerge freely.

The concept of dynamic peace

Conflict is dynamic. Traditionally, peace has been regarded as static. Static peace was the image people kept in their mind and society presumed it as an expected form. However, in reality, peace does not always maintain such a form, and it appears as dynamic as well because peace embraces conflict transformation, in other words, change processes of conflict/peace work.

In order to understand the concept of peace within the context of action (peace work), this paper proposes a new definition, “dynamic peace,” as opposed to “static peace.” With this definition, people can grasp the meaning of peace in a more realistic way.

Dynamic peace is based on two concepts: process and direction. Dynamic peace embraces the process—“where” and “when”— and direction—“who” and “what”—of peace/conflict work. Dynamic peace involves the process and requires a “place,” and it corresponds to both time and space. Process is essential in conflict transformation and peace work because both need to be dynamic in their movement. The concept of direction highlights society’s questioning of the value of peace. It also needs actors and their actions for conflict transformation. These concepts broaden the concept of peace and encourage society and its citizens to seriously question what is required for their lives—conflict transformation. Therefore, as a result, the concept of conflict makes us realise that peace is dynamic in its nature rather than simply static.

In this way, peace that includes process and direction of conflict transformation becomes regarded as naturally dynamic. This study is based on the importance of a “peaceful spirit” that is accompanied by a “critical mind,” in addition to the “actors” who play the role of dynamic peace workers. This new perspective transforms traditionally defined peace (static peace) into the new concept of dynamic peace.

Dynamic peace and the role of dynamic art

Art is dynamic as well (otherwise, art may not be art in its essential form and becomes “dead”). Therefore, dynamic peace can be achieved by the arts-based approach in peace work, especially by dynamic art. This is one of the approaches “how” to transform conflict after all. With this new definition, this paper proposes a practical approach to peace work using the arts. Process liberates peace, and direction demands that we question our values continuously. Within this approach, dynamic art can be defined as “art that reveals and highlights conflict.”

Additionally, “why” do we need the arts-based approach in peace work? It is simply because society desperately needs conflict transformation. What is important is not theoretical categories themselves, but the process of categorisation where people get together and discuss/dialogue which category the particular art work belongs to.

Also, people can work together to figure out how to change the world they live in. They might be able to figure out how to apply the arts-based approach. Some might use it in such a way that they heal the trauma of the past war/direct violence. Some might use it as a powerful tool of resistance by performing in order to highlight the problem. Some might build bridges between/among the international community and the oppressed and voiceless.

Peace workers as “citizen artists”

The arts-based approach is enriched by creative dialogue, and its actors become peace workers who are in essence “citizen artists.” Essential elements used for peace are: (a) “peaceful spirit” and “critical mind,” (b) expressiveness of art and communicativeness of art, and (c) creativity and dialogue in peace work. When all these elements work together organically, the arts-based approach reveals and highlights conflict, functioning fully and successfully as peace work. The actors, “peace workers,” then become “citizen artists.”

A citizen who lives as an artist maintains her/his freedom, a window for dialogue, when a peaceful spirit resides in a critical mind. This artist becomes a “citizen artist” when she/he gets involved in art that reveals/highlights conflict, and when she/he lives with the spirit/mentality. Then, the citizen artist becomes the subject of peace work, and transforms the society.


The goal of peace work is to have peace workers as citizen artists practice their creation of the value of peace. This is always an unfinished process. Furthermore, it should be emphasised again that the process itself is the most essential. In this process, peace work carries with it peaceful value. In other words, peace work is not only a means to achieve peace, but also is peace.

Currently, the security approach is part of the mainstream discourse in international politics. Nevertheless, each one of us, all citizens, needs to practice peace work by nonviolent intervention, without relying exclusively on politicians and diplomats concerning matters of peace and conflict. While politicians and diplomats play an important role, it is also necessary or even more significant to shift the perspective to members of the civil society. Integrating the arts in peace work allows peace workers to flourish as citizen artists.

When we need to understand peace as dynamic peace, it is the job of Peace Studies to make people realise peace in the context of action. When we grasp peace not as static but rather as dynamic, we will succeed in understanding peace more in reality. One of the tools that realises such a concept is dynamic art, which functions as art that reveals and highlights conflict. In addition, the author discusses that this arts-based approach will be achieved by citizen artists who are active peace workers, after all.


  1. Originally published as Kyoko Okumoto, “The Arts-based Approach in Peace Work: Dynamic Peace and Dynamic Art,” in Hamashita Masahiro Sensei Taishoku Kinen Ronshu: Nikkan Bigaku Kenkyukai to Ayunde [Essays Compiled for the Occasion of Professor Masahiro Hamashita’s Retirement: Journeying Together with Japan-Korea Aesthetics Studies Meetings]. Edited by The Committee for “Hamashita Masahiro Sensei Taishoku Kinen Ronshu,” published by Professor Uozumi’s Office, Kobe Kokusai University, December 30th, 2016, pp. 84-88.
  2. See the author’s article “Funsou Tenkan to Geijutsu: Doutaiteki Heiwa wo Mosaku shite [Conflict Transformation and the Arts: Exploring Dynamic Peace]” (Heiwakenkyuu [Peace Studies], Waseda Daigaku Shuppanbu, 2012, pp. 69–89, 172), and the author’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Heiwa Work niokeru Geijutsu Approach no Kanousei: Johan Galtung niyoru Roudokugeki Ho’o Pono Pono: Pax Pacifica karano Kousatsu [The Arts-based Approach in Peace Work: Analysis of Johan Galtung’s Readers’ Theatre, Ho’o Pono Pono: Pax Pacifica]” (submitted in November, 2010, and degree received in March, 2011) which was edited and published as a book (Houritsu Bunka Sha, 2012).
  3. Johan Galtung, Table2.3. Peace: negative and positive, direct, structural, cultural (p. 31) in “Introduction: Peace by Peaceful Conflict Transformation—the Transcend Approach,” Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies. Eds. Charles P. Webel and Johan Galtung (Abington: Routledge, 2007, pp. 14–32), revised by the author.
  4. A rearranged version of the diagram above (D/S/C Violence and Peace & N/P Peace), revised by the author.
  5. Created by the author.
  6. For examples, see “Heiwa Work niokeru Geijutsu Approach no Kanousei” (2010, 2012).


Kyoko Okumoto is a Prof. of Peace and Conflict Studies at Osaka Jogakuin University, Japan. As the TRANSCEND International Northeast Asia regional convener and a Board Member of TRANSCEND Japan (a former president), she has been researching and practicing the TRANSCEND approach for nearly two decades. She facilitates numerous peace training workshops at various places at all levels, mainly in Asia – from high school to university to elderly communities. She is also a chairperson of Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) and tries to explore ways to build more peaceful societies where people can have creative dialogues among themselves and with their neighbors and communities.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 May 2017.

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4 Responses to “The Arts-based Approach in Peace Work: Dynamic Peace and Dynamic Art (2016)”

  1. Burt Berlowe says:

    Thanks for writing this. I appreciate the connection between the arts and peace but wanted more specifics. I am a an author and peace journalist who specializes in writing and publishing stories of compassionate rebels — ordinary people who are working for peace and justice around the world, some of whom have used their own artistic skills to work for peace. I also belong to a peace and justice writer’s group in Minneapolis that does exactly what you discuss — utilizing our ability as creative artists to promote peace and have just published a new book of essays by people who are doing just that. Would love to share some of our work and/or to know more about other connections between the arts and peace in our culture.

  2. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    When there is peace, art prospers. When there is art, peace prospers. May Prof. Okumoto’s Peace work be successful with the beauty of art!

  3. chamila mallawaarachchi says:

    dear sensei
    i’m really impressed about the art-based approach in peace works as i come from formerly war affected country. there are art-based programmes in building peace by bridging the gap among different ethnic groups in my country (Sri Lanka), but neither fruitful nor well-organized. i would like to know more elaborately how art-based approach can manipulate in peace work.

  4. Gary Corseri. says:

    Certainly Professor Okumoto gives us much “food for thought” here. But one wonders if some condiments would not add to the savor?

    We are addressing 2 complex, even evasive, issues: “Peace” and “The Arts.” One can talk about and dissect and theorize…, but wouldn’t some hard-edged, diamond-cut examples be instructive?

    Various thinkers and artists–in the Bible, the Koran, Buddha’s sermons–from Euripides and Shakespeare, Milton and Blake, Brecht, Tolstoy, Remarque and Rilke, Issa and Akutagawa, Li Po and Tu Fu have wrestled with these issues and rewarded the seeker with stunning prose and poetry. Great painters, too, have left us “dynamic” peace works in paintings by Picasso and Goya…. And we have music from the “1812 Overture” to “The Chorale” to John Lennon and Pete Seeger….

    How can we crystalize the theories so that they become indelible in our minds and hearts?

    “Form follows function,” Frank Lloyd Wright declared. Art has manifold functions: to celebrate; to alert; to awaken; to soothe; to alarm; to unite–among many. Can we illustrate the “forms” of our theories with examples of great art work across cultures, throughout history and to the present?