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Negotiated solutions of complex problems with art: Picasso, Chaplin, Wittgenstein and the Beatles

Legal problems are often complex problems. Management of legal problems may be through litigation or through personal communication with creative lawyers who can think not only in terms of rights and duties. Creativity in art is much like creativity in the negotiation of solutions for complex problems. Complex problems are characterized by the amalgamation of numerous elements over time: the lack of useful standards for predicting future results; multifaceted dimensions in space and time that exist beyond linear and simple right-duty, cause-effect, or precedent-consequent frames; the involvement of multiple parties and authorities; and differing values and opinions about the same.

Legal approaches to the management of complex problems are often unsatisfactory because of the complex nature of human problems. The use of law for the resolution of conflicts is useful only for simple and linear conflicts where the issues involve the determination of rights, duties, privileges, no-rights, powers, liabilities, immunities and disabilities. In reality, few human problems are truly simple and linear.

This essay intertwines the creative endeavors of Picasso, Chaplin, Wittgenstein, and the Beatles—Picasso’s genius for painting; Chaplin’s genius for film making; Wittgenstein’s genius for philosophical remarks; and the Beatles’s genius for songs—to show how artistic and philosophical creativity can be utilized in reaching negotiated solutions for complex problems. We can learn much from art. A person may expand his or her knowledge of conflict management through art appreciation. Art depicts universal experiences that may be appreciated by all and may serve to educate us about creative processes.

This amalgamation of elements takes the form of a puzzle about the parallel relationship between art creating processes and their response to chaos, and strategies for seeking negotiated solutions to complex problems, which are also a response to chaos. Each piece of the puzzle may have multiple meanings, as do the words of a poet. And, to understand creativity, we must understand the character of the artist.


Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) primary artistic fields were painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking and ceramics. He also had a film career. Picasso always played himself in his film appearances. He was born in Spain and lived most of his life in France. He had black eyes. He was the first artist to enjoy the obsessive attention of the mass media. Picasso’s oeuvre filled the world, and he left permanent marks on every discipline he entered. Picasso produced over 147,800 works of art, becoming the most prolific artist ever. Picasso had four children by three women. He died of a heart attack while he and his wife Jacqueline entertained friends for dinner. His last words were: Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.

Picasso was an original artist. In 1907 he painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a radical departure from the artistic ideas of the preceding ages and now considered the most significant work in the development towards cubism and modern abstraction.

Picasso was also a pacifist. His outcry for peace was expressed in the large-scale painting Guernica (1937), created after the German bombing of this Spanish city, that remains the most powerful political image in modern art. Picasso painted several famous doves of peace. One was the black and white lithograph that the French poet Louis Aragon selected for the poster of the 1949 World Congress of Partisans of Peace in Paris; another was the color lithograph used as the symbol of the poster of the 1962 World Congress of Disarmament and Peace in Moscow.

Picasso was regarded as a boy genius and was not considered a philosopher or a mathematician but his work was intuitively bound to the perceptions that reality is not figure and void, it is all relationships, a twinkling field of interdependent events. This view of reality is important for understanding complex problems where the core concerns involve human relations, and simple paradigms as duty-right or cause-effect or precedent-consequent are not sufficient for their management.

Watching Picasso’s film, The Mystery of Picasso (1956), is instructive about the use of creativity in conflict resolution. The French Director Henri-George Clouzot said he often wondered what it would be like to sit in a room with Mozart (1756-1791) while he composed The Jupiter Symphony or with Rimbaud (1854-1891) as he wrote Le Bâteau Ivre. He couldn’t do anything about Mozart or Rimbaud, but Clouzot was able to convince Pablo Picasso to work with him.

In The Mystery of Picasso, Clouzot recorded a master at work. Audiences can see a dozen paintings take shape, stroke by stroke, from blank canvas to finished work of art. Most of the movie is made by a stationary camera focused on a translucent piece of paper. Picasso sits on the other side of the paper and draws and paints. The camera records the painting on film, essentially taking the point of view of the canvas. It is as though Picasso is painting on the other side of the movie screen.

Picasso’s creative process is enlightening. He starts simply, as a conflict solver should start his intervention. He draws a cartoon sketch or geometric intersecting lines, in plain black, on the white canvas. On some of the simpler pieces, he simply adds several layers of color and a few layers of texture. As he works, these sketches and forms evolve; he paints over the original, adding color, adding light, shadow and depth, or even changing the form itself by painting over a part of it. There is a parallel between Picasso’s evolutionary art creating process and the evolution of complex problems, where metamorphoses of changing realities occur.

Sometimes the camera follows Picasso stroke-for-stroke, sometimes it follows the painter in stages — showing first a set of black lines, then suddenly adding all the yellows, then all the blues, then another set of details, and so on. This exercise clearly illustrates that perception of one and the same thing may depend on the moment. This process teaches a conflict solver that one must remain aware that conflict evolves and unfolds over time; that what one sees at one point in time, may be different from what one sees at another point in time. Before adopting a definitive opinion about a complex conflict, the conflict solver must understand the temporal element of the conflict.

As Picasso’s paintings evolve, he follows no set rules, just as there are no set rules for conflict management processes used for resolving complex problems. Picasso himself was reported as being astonished at watching the processes he followed in his paintings. So often, the former complexity is only hinted at by what remains on the canvas. Running the film backwards is a way of deconstructing Picasso’s painting to see what went into it. The Mystery of Picasso is available on DVD.

For conflict resolution, one may learn from Picasso’s work the sense that the path to be followed for creativity is staked on sensation and desire and transpires over time. The aim should not be to force coherence but to build upon intuition and feeling. Frequently the path for the management of a conflict goes through a similar pattern of metamorphosis.

Picasso wrote: Everyone wants to understand art. Why don’t we try to understand the song of a bird? People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree. The same happens with the resolution of complex problems when simple explanations are requested. This simplistic expectation is not realistic. One must focus in changing forms and relationships rather than in explanations. In negotiated solutions the guide should be motivation and sense rather than rule and info and data. Picasso wrote that when thinking about the motivation for producing a piece of art, You should have an idea of what it is you want to do…but it should be a vague idea.


Charles Chaplin (1889-1977) was born in London and became one of the most famous actors. Chaplin was also a notable director and musician in the early to mid Hollywood cinema era. He had blue eyes. At the age of five Chaplin took to the stage. He is considered to be one of the finest mimes and clowns ever caught on film and he greatly influenced performers in this field. He acted in, directed, scripted, produced, and eventually scored his own films. Chaplin was also one of the most creative and influential personalities in the silent-film era. Chaplin’s high-profile public and private life encompassed highs and lows with both adulation and controversy. Chaplin was married four times and had a total of 11 children. He died in his sleep from old age at his home in Vevey, Switzerland. In 1978, Chaplin’s corpse was stolen from its grave and was not recovered for three months.

Chaplin’s principal character was “The Tramp” (known as “Charlot” by movie watchers and experts). “The Tramp” is a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman. The character wears a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes, and a derby; carries a bamboo cane; and has a signature toothbrush mustache. His films show, through the Little Tramp’s a positive outlook on life in a world full of chaos.

Up until his last movies, Chaplain never shot with a working script. He would start with a story in his mind and constantly retool it, often shooting hours of scenes that wouldn’t make the final cut until he was satisfied. He spent his nights during filming critiquing the rushes with his assistant directors. Actually, he and Picasso shared the same technique: no predictable road to follow. For complex problems, a conflict solver must learn first to be spontaneous and intuitive and then to build discipline and persistence as the process evolves.

The movie Modern Times (1936, available in DVD) shows several elements that may be crucial for conflict management. First, it is critical to remember that words and actions can only be understood in context. Perceptions of situations and the situations themselves are two different realities. In this film, Chaplin illustrates in a number of memorable routines and scenes the struggle against the dehumanization of man by machine in a context of humorous misunderstandings and conflicting perceptions.

For example, in the factory work scene, Chaplin is conditioned to see only nuts and bolts so he is sent to a mental hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. Cured, but without a job, Chaplin leaves the hospital to start a new life. The doctor tells him: Take it easy and avoid excitement. On the street, he cooperatively picks up and waves a red warning flag that has fallen off a passing truck, and is mistaken for the rally leader of a flag-waving demonstration of communist agitators who have just rounded the corner behind him. He is promptly arrested by police and hauled off to jail in a police patrol wagon. Once again, we are reminded that we do well to remember that the interpretation of events depends upon the context in which they occur.

Chaplin demonstrates that comedy is actually a serious study, although it must not be taken seriously. The same happens with conflicts. In comedy, as in conflict management, there must be an ease and spontaneity of acting that cannot be associated with seriousness. Likewise, Chaplin illustrates that the others’ point of view must be considered if one wants artistic success or a negotiated solution.

Through humor, we see in what seems rational, the irrational; in what seems important, the unimportant; in what seems inefficient, the practical; in what seems absolute, the relative. Humor also heightens our sense of well-being and preserves our sanity. Spontaneity is the greatest requisite of comedy and the most secure path for negotiated solutions.

Chaplin’s works included musical scores he composed for many of his films. His comedy is based upon actual life, with twist or exaggeration, to bring out what is real. Chaplin said that he didn’t want perfection of detail in the acting. A perfect picture would seem machine made. He wanted the human touch, so that the viewer would love the picture for its imperfections. Similarly, negotiated solutions to complex problems may not be perfect for everyone, but they must have a human touch and being acceptable for the majority of the parties.


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was born in Vienna and is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. His entire work consists of remarks, full of metaphors and fables that have illuminated aspects of distinct fields such as philosophy of language, logic, mathematics, psychology, methodology, epistemology, and ethics. He never liked the intellectual atmosphere, and in fact encouraged his students to find work outside of academic philosophy. After exhausting philosophical work Wittgenstein would often relax by watching a western movie, where he preferred to sit at the very front of the cinema. This taste was in stark contrast to his preferences in music—he rejected anything after Brahms as a symptom of the decay of society. Most of Wittgenstein’s romantic attachments were to young men. He died from prostate cancer at the home of his doctor, in Cambridge. His last words were: Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.

Wittgenstein’s life was hardly conventional. He was the youngest child of a very wealthy Viennese family whose artistic and cultural life was intense. The family was often visited by artists such as Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Wittgenstein first learned mechanical engineering in Berlin. Then he went to England to study aeronautical research at the University of Manchester. Later he shifted to study logic at Cambridge University. He entered the Austrian army during World War I and was taken prisoner by the Italians in 1918.

Wittgenstein gave away his inherited fortune. After the War he worked some years as a village schoolteacher in rural Austria. Later he worked as a gardener’s assistant in a monastery near Vienna. He considered becoming a monk, and went so far as to inquire about the requirements for joining an order. At the interview, however, he was advised that he would not find in monastic life what he sought. He designed his sister’s Vienna home and took up sculpture. Wittgenstein romanticized the life of laborers and considered the idea of immigrating to the Soviet Union. In 1939 Wittgenstein, who was by then considered a philosophical genius was appointed to the Chair in Philosophy at Cambridge. He acquired British citizenship soon afterwards. During World War II he served as a dispensary porter at Guy’s Hospital in London.

Young Wittgenstein’s central proposition was that language was a picture of the world. This was the core of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). The essence of this work can be summed up best in Wittgenstein own words: What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence. Similarly, in a conflict resolution process it is often best to keep silent.

The mature Wittgenstein thought that the challenge for philosophy was to make clear the uses of languages. Fables comprised a large part of his lectures. Similarly, the use of metaphoric reframing is very effective in conflict resolution when trying to change views. Wittgenstein developed the concept of language-game in order to show how the meaning of words was determined by the context in which they were used. Language is a form of reality, it is a part of a culture, and therefore it is not a private phenomenon. For him language games could not exist separately from how we live, think and feel. This view is passionately represented in a documentary about the thinking of Wittgenstein ( Wittgenstein, Directed by Derek Jarman in 1993, available in VHS) in which he explains to Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes and two young students what is the task of philosophy.

Philosophy was conceived of as a therapeutic activity for the misuses of language. The work of the philosopher is to reconcile different understandings of words in order to clarify philosophical problems. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. In philosophy, problems arise when language goes on holiday. This occurs when words that have one meaning in a particular language game are used in another language game.

If one asks the question, “Where is your sadness?”, a philosophical perplexity emerges. This is because the word sadness refers to a non material thing, while an answer to the question “where is” supposes a material thing that occupies some space. If one is not aware of different language games, problems are generated. Solutions are not found with new information but rather by elucidating the existing information.

So, Wittgenstein’s way of thinking about conflict management doesn’t require new information, but the activity of arranging what we know. Additionally, to understand what troubles us, it is important to know the state of affairs before the conflict emerged.

A common challenge in complex problems is changing prejudices that are embedded in traditions and values. This is difficult task because it requires new understandings of the world. To this end, one must learn to unlearn. The space of what is wrong has to be emptied so it can be occupied by what is right. This change in awareness can be done via entertainment, humor and fun.

We often establish rules for processes, and when we follow the rules, things do not turn out as we had assumed. Then we are entangled in our own rules. This is a typical element of a complex conflict. No one method or one set of rules is universally useful, but rather a myriad of methods, like different therapies. Wittgenstein’s devotion to music remained vitally important to him throughout his life. He made frequent use of musical examples and metaphors in his philosophical writings, and was said to be unusually adept at whistling lengthy and detailed musical passages. He played the clarinet.

The only known fragment of music composed by Wittgenstein was premiered in London in 2003-–all four bars of it scrawled on a notebook in 1931. It is a piece of music that lasts less than half a minute. The two-line score title is Leidenschaftlich (in English, ‘Passionate’). It is like the continuation of an incomplete sentence, as if he had started to say something and hadn’t the words to finish it, and turned to music. When language obfuscates, the composer turns to the multi-faceted language of music, simultaneously making many statements. And so it is with complex problems; their solutions require a polygonal approach for discovering possible options.

The Beatles

The Beatles are the most dominant popular music artists of the second half of the twentieth century. The band was formed in 1960 in Liverpool, England and disbanded in 1970. Their influences on popular culture extended far beyond their roles as recording artists, as they branched out into film and even semi-willingly became spokesmen for their generation. The members of the group were all from Liverpool.

John Lennon (1940-1980) was a singer-songwriter, poet, artist, and peace activist. Lennon started writing and drawing early in life. He often drew caricatures of his school teachers. He even created his own comic strip. Lennon’s extraordinary sense of humor was well recognized. He was a master to turning things upside down to create humor. It showed up often in the Beatles’s music and many television appearances. On one occasion, when asked if Ringo Starr was “the best drummer in the world”, Lennon replied, “He isn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles”. He was married twice and had two children. He was assassinated in New York. Paul McCartney (1942) is listed as the most successful musician and composer in popular-music history. Aside from his musical work, McCartney is an actor, a painter and an advocate for animal rights, vegetarianism, and music education; he is active in campaigns against landmines, seal culls and Third World debt. He has five children by two women. One of McCartney songs is: Picasso’s Last Words.

The lyrics are:

The Grand Old Painter Died Last Night
His Paintings On The Wall
Before He Went He Bade Us Well
And Said Goodnight To Us All.
Drink To Me, Drink To My Health
You Know I Can’t Drink Any More
Drink To Me, Drink To My Health
You Know I Can’t Drink Any More

3 O’clock In The Morning
I’m Getting Ready For Bed
It Came Without A Warning
But I’ll Be Waiting For You Baby
I’ll Be Waiting For You There

So Drink To Me Drink To My Health
You Know I Can’t Drink Any More
Drink To Me Drink To My Health
You Know I Can’t Drink Any More

George Harrison (1943-2001) was an accomplished gardener and adopted Hinduism. Harrison was a fan of sports cars and was often seen in the paddock areas of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone as well as other motor racing venues. He had one son. Harrison died of cancer and his last rites were performed according to Hindu tradition, with his ashes scattered in the holy River Ganges.

Ringo Starr (1940) was the oldest and the last to join the Band. Ringo has three children and was the first of The Beatles to become a grandfather. He co-starred in That’ll Be the Day, played ‘The Pope’ in Ken Russell’s Lisztomania and a fictionalized version of himself in the Paul McCartney penned Give My Regards to Broad Street in 1984.

Starr played the Mock Turtle in the film version of Alice in Wonderland. He has acted in several films, and voiced animals in cartoon shows and narrated children’s series in television.

The Beatles also had a limited film career, beginning with A Hard Day’s Night (1964), a black-and-white documentary of a short period in the life of a rock-and-roll band. In 1965 came Help!, a Technicolor extravaganza shot in exotic locations with a thin, if not almost transparent plot regarding Ringo’s finger! The critically slammed Magical Mystery Tour, was aired on British television in 1967, but is now considered a cult classic. The animated Yellow Submarine followed shortly after. Finally, the documentary of a band in terminal decline, Let It Be was shot over an extended period in 1969; the music from this formed the album of the same name, which although recorded before Abbey Road, was their final release (All movies are available in DVD).

The Beatles are the most appropriate band for exemplifying a peaceful, conciliatory attitude toward conflict. Their songs are replete with ideas, concepts, and messages of peace and harmony, which take on special meaning and demonstrate courage given the times in which they wrote their lyrics.

In the Beatles’s lyrics one rediscovers values for negotiated solutions, such as having a positive attitude toward negotiated solutions (“We can work it out”), the meaning of words (“Julia”), teamwork (“All Together Now” and “Help”), acceptance of another’s nature and the connection between people who are different from each other (“Let It Be”), the use of love and kindness to get results (“All you Need is Love” and “A Taste of Honey”) , money is not everything (“Can’t Buy me Love”), details may be important (“Lady Madonna”), curiosity (“Ask Me Why”), and the limits of every human being (“You Can’t Do That”), among others. The lyrics to each of these songs are familiar, but few of us grasp their true meaning. (The complete lyrics for the songs can be found at

The genius of Picasso, Chaplin, Wittgenstein, and the Beatles can be experienced through their art, film, word and song. Consider how each of these pieces of the puzzle relates to the resolution of complex problems.


From art, film, word and song we gain pieces of the puzzle for understanding negotiated solutions for complex problems. We learn that:

The law is not adequate for the resolution of complex problems.

It is important to understand the artists’ personalities in the context in which they existed and HOW they did their work—painting, plastic arts, movie making, philosophy and music—may be a source of inspiration and guidance for the negotiated solutions of complex problems.

Creativity—whether in art or in negotiated solutions—happens not just inside the heads of artists and conflict solvers, but in the interaction between their invention/agreement and socio-cultural context. Art and negotiated agreements are systemic rather than individual.

In art and in negotiated solutions of complex problems the following principles apply:

1. Start simply, and allow the negotiation to evolve.

2. Metamorphoses of multiple realities happen. One must be cautious about having definitive opinions.

3. One must focus more on emerging forms and relationships than on providing explanations.

4. You should have an idea of what it is you want to do…but it should be a vague idea. (Picasso)

5. A positive frame is helpful and provides some sense of order in a world full of chaos.

6. Strive first for spontaneity and then discipline and persistence.

7. It is crucial to remember that perceptions of situations and the situations themselves are two different realities.

8. Other’s points of view must be considered if one wants artistic success or a negotiated solution.

9. There are no fixed rules for creative negotiated solutions to complex problems.

10. Creativity emerges from intuition and feeling, not from coherence.

11. Results will not be perfect for everyone, but they must have a human touch and be acceptable for the majority.

12. Things seldom turn out as we had assumed.

13. When language obfuscates, solutions may lie with a polygonal approaches in time and space for finding possible options.

In complex problems:

Thinking that the starting point for a solution is identification of the disagreement is an inadequate strategy. Like in art, where the goal is the representation of universal experiences, in complex problems the starting point should be to find what is common and unifies the parties not what separates them.

The idea that we can separate people from problems is a self deception. Complex problems are precisely a result of how people live, think, and feel in contexts fashioned by personal perceptions, personalities of the parties, traditions and values. People and their needs are in fact at the core of problems.

Changing prejudices is difficult because it requires new understandings of the world. To this end, one must learn to unlearn. The space of what is wrong has to be emptied so it can be occupied by what is right. If this change can be done with entertainment, sense of humor and fun, it is better.

Solutions may not require new information, but new activity; problems are solved, not just by giving new information, but by arranging what we know.


Luis Miguel Diaz

Luis Miguel Díaz, unfortunately now deceased, fathered four children and distrusted language, theories and authority, including his own as a father. Admires artists and scientists and their lives. He received his Law Degree at UNAM, Mexico (1974); and LLM (1976) and SJD (1986) at Harvard University Law School. President of the Interdisciplinary Center for Conflict… MORE >

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