Value Systems : The Right Context: Using the Arts to Get Your Message to the World

Barry is President of the Osteopathic Institute of the South, an organization dedicated to the training of medical students and Chairman of the Board of Masterworks Foundation, an arts-related institution, focused on training artists from a distinctively-Christian worldview.


Barry is also a doctoral student in the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.


He can be reached at:

Growing up like many a young child, I imagined myself creating something that would change the World. Although not an inventor of first, second or third order, I thought that my ideas had merit. Likewise, over the years, many of my friends would have great ideas or write beautiful songs or interesting stories, yet they failed to become popular, just like mine. Could it be that we just weren’t communicating our message properly, or that the message was correct, but it just wasn’t in the right context? Malcolm Gladwell (2002), in his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, describes how little things can make a big difference in causing and sustaining epidemics. Of course the word epidemic congers up thoughts of deadly viruses or bacterial infections to most of us, yet Gladwell believes that ideas, products, messages and behaviors spread just like viruses. Understanding how to create and control these social epidemics can mean the difference between success and failure. To Gladwell, the makings of an epidemic are a ‘sticky’ message being spread by the right people in the right context.

As for a method of conveying ideas or gathering people to a common cause, one cannot ignore the power of the Arts. In fact, Felipe de Leon (1994) says that the Arts correspond to the way in which a society thinks, feels, responds, acts, communicates, dreams and hopes. Awareness of differences between cultures with respect to how they think or respond gives leaders the proper tools to formulate right messages in their appropriate context. In his audio series, The Arts & Cultural Restoration, Colin Harbinson (1998) outlines four roles that the Arts play in cultures: 1) they celebrate natural expressions of each God-ordained cultural uniqueness; 2) they reinforce cultural identity by communicating the spirit and traditions of a specific people; 3) they challenge the meaning, purpose, and values of a culture; and, 4) they allow for a place of exchange where values are shaped by ideas.


Every leader must understand, at least from a broad-brush perspective, that cultures view time and interactions between individuals differently. Edward Hall (1960), the father of cross-cultural communication, identified the concepts of monochronic and polychronic and high-context vs. low-concept cultures, which refers to the way people of different cultures, interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. Since the Arts correspond to the way cultures communicate, certainly there are different ways in which the Arts are conveyed appropriate to different contexts; not taking care to assure that the message finds rest within a culture minimizes potential success.


Take, for example, Hall’s (1960) concept of monochronic vs. polychronic cultures, in which the former (eg. North America, Germany) views time very rigidly and the latter (eg. Africa, Asia, Middle East, France), more flexibly. According to Western classical tradition, every work moves along in a linear fashion; beginning at a certain point, rising to a climax, falling to a denouncement, and ending in finality (de Leon, 1994). Polychronic cultural music, on the other hand, has a purpose of dissolving past and future into an eternal present, in which the passing of time is no longer noticed (de Leon, 1994). In some cases, music in these cultures may go on for hours and days at a time.  Modern music, therefore, is difficult for the average Westerner for they feel uncomfortable not knowing where they are in the music with respect to time.


Hall (1960) further describes communication differences between high- and low-context cultures. In North America and most Western European Nations communication occurs predominately through explicit statements in text and speech; making them low-context in nature. On the other hand, Japanese and Chinese cultures (high-context) depend more on other communicative cues such as the use of body language and silence to convey their message (Wurtz, 2005). The importance of knowing this for the leader is that when trying to communicate a message to high-context cultures, one would be careful not to rely solely upon that which is uttered. This means that graphics in websites or advertising media messages need to be crafted appropriately.


Personally, I enjoy classical art and music, which finds it tied to the monochronic context (de Leon, 1994). Although I respect their ability to communicate, I am not a fan of Cezanne’s or Picasso’s cubist style or atonal music for they require me to move away from my comfortable linear perspective and take on a point of view that has multiple perspectives instead of a single point. I can sit for hours admiring the works of Bernini, Rubens or Bach, but tire very quickly trying to discover what the cubist- or atonal-artist is trying to convey. This is true for Target or perfume commercials on TV as well; again I am unsure of what the companies are trying to convey. Does this make one approach more superior to another? Not if we are looking at it from a broader cultural perspective, however, if we are looking at it from a micro level, it does matter to me; living within my cultural context.


Kouzes and Posner (2002) tell us that leaders must know their constituents and speak their language. To enlist support for an endeavor, “leaders must have intimate knowledge of people’s dreams, hopes, aspirations, visions and values (p. 15).” So, as leaders, if we want our message or ideas to spread like viruses, we need to be careful to use the Arts as a means of communicating within the proper context of a specific culture. This crafting of a proper cultural message requires that leaders study the values of the particular culture and know how the Arts have been used there, in the past, to motivate individuals. But, more so, leaders must understand that proper context requires knowledge of a culture’s worldview. Herman Baninck, the late 19th Century theologian, has said that culture is religion made visible. Therefore, all cultural expressions grow out of the religious belief systems of a people group. Leaders cannot gather a proper knowledge of a culture unless they study their faith as well.


Using the Arts to convey one’s message cannot happen by chance. Successful leaders know the culture of the people with whom they want to interact. Careful crafting of a message within the right context might not necessarily assure success, but it will guarantee that it will connect on some level within the culture.




Baninck, H. as cited in Lausanne Occasional Paper #2, The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture (1978). Retrieved: July 1, 2007.


de Leon, F. (1994). Modes of Consciousness and Style in Music and the Other Arts. Http:// Retrieved: June 29, 2007.


Gladwell, M. (2002). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Back Bay Books.


Hall, E. T. (1960). The silent language in overseas business. Harvard Business Review, 38 (3), pp. 87-96.


Harbinson, C. (1998). The Arts & Cultural Restoration. Audio Series. LAMP. Ontario, Canada. ISBN 0-9683880-0-0.


Kouzes, J., Posner, B. (2002). The Leadership Challenge. Jossey-Bass.


Wurtz, E. (2005). A cross-cultural analysis of websites from high-context cultures and low-context cultures. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(1), article 13.


Copyright 2007 - Barry Doublestein

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