A Socialist’s view of our Arts and culture



The Daily Blog used the above illustration in a post about NZ Art funding. I have always found socialists to be snobs when it comes to what they define as being our arts and culture. Under capitalism popular art and culture thrives and artists are financially well rewarded for their success. Under socialism art and culture that is not popular is propped up by other people’s money.


Culture is a fluid and changing thing. New Zealand cultural practices today are not the same as one hundred years ago. We don’t dress the same we don’t eat the same. A very small minority want to watch the ballet these days let alone pay for the privilege but many will happily pay to watch a game of rugby. As for opera most New Zealanders would rather listen to modern music made by their favourite singer or band.



As an English teacher I found it amusing that we were forcing Shakespeare down the throats of our New Zealand children when for his day he was no more than the equivalent of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Can you imagine the musical ‘ Cats ‘ ending up being analysed by future generations in the same way William Shakespeare’s plays have?

Lloyd Webber pictured with Elaine Paige on the opening night of Cats in 1981

Lloyd Webber pictured with Elaine Paige on the opening night of Cats in 1981

Shakespeare was a popular writer. He succeeded because his plays appealed to the masses.He wasn’t kept financially afloat by the government he sold enough tickets to be self employed. Shakespeare was a businessman.

Hoarder, moneylender, tax dodger — it’s not how we usually think of William Shakespeare.

But we should, according to a group of academics who say the Bard was a ruthless businessman who grew wealthy dealing in grain during a time of famine.

Researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales argue that we can’t fully understand Shakespeare unless we study his often-overlooked business savvy.

“Shakespeare the grain-hoarder has been redacted from history so that Shakespeare the creative genius could be born,” the researchers say in a paper due to be delivered at the Hay literary festival in Wales in May.



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  • StreuthCobber


  • Miguel

    I feel a touch hypocritical here, insomuch that I’m generally a fan of market forces, but I’m concerned with the argument that we should pull state support for some arts because the market will determine what survives and what does not.

    Popular art and culture could also be called lowest common denominator art and culture. Our TV programming is full of reality rubbish – I don’t watch it, but other than supporting (or not) advertisers, I’ve got no way of voting for what I’d like to watch. Ditto sport – I hate rugby (thugby) and am well fed-up with being told it’s our nation’s religion.
    The orchestra, ballet, fine art and sculpture, and yes, Shakespeare, represent the pinnacle of the West’s cultural achievement. Taken to the extremes of excellence, ballet is where dance ends, Rembrandt (or whoever floats your boat) is where painting peaks, classical music is the epitome, and so-on. There’s a very valid reason why these are all still popular hundreds of years after first being written/created.
    As for Shakespeare, it’s great stuff once you can get your head around the language. I’m dismayed that less and less is being taught in schools; again, it seems like lowest-common-denominator stuff. The plays are interesting, and deal with still-relevant themes. Why not challenge the kids to try their hands at understanding it.

    • OneTrack

      They can’t be that popular if they only survive on the basis of forced taxation of the plebs who aren’t interested in it.

    • kereru

      People are too intellectually lazy in these days of ‘instant’ gratification to bother trying to understand Shakespeare. Short attention spans have been nurtured by TV and now the Internet. Soft subjects such as social studies and media studies don’t help expand the brain either. Gone are the days when Latin was taught for the sake of training the brain. There’s no longer any satisfaction to be found in mastering a classic piece of literature or poetry. Dnt hv tme. duznt hv eni relvnce 4 me

      I would add Bach, Mozart and the Romantic composers who were influenced by their masterworks. On the plus side, pop culture ignores the many young people who fill our orchestras, choirs, opera choruses and early music groups.

    • Ruahine

      To understand Shakespeare is to almost having to learn a new language. This takes effort and /or work.
      Bit alien to a lot of the present teaching staff. The real problem lies in the accepted dumbing down of spelling and language by the Ministry of Education social engineering activists. Does not matter about the English language, just make sure that you pronounce and spell Te Reo correctly or else.

    • Whitey

      I think there’s a difference between the government paying artists to make art, and teachers teaching Shakespeare etc. Shakespeare is an important part of our cultural heritage and as such definitely has a place in the classroom. I don’t believe teachers should only teach the classics, but for students to gain an understanding of English language and literature they need to understand its history. And, as you say, getting to grips with Shakespeare is an academic challenge. The whole point of school is to challenge the students.

      It’s the same with other areas of Western cultural achievement. Love them or hate them, they’re part of our cultural heritage and they do have a place in education.

  • Annoyed

    Of course what they’re missing is the fact that you need capitalistic endeavors to pay for the “Socialist Arts”, otherwise any money spent on arts is being stolen from more important and urgent areas.

    • biscuit barrel

      Are the Hobbitt movies socialist arts , as they definitely received taxpayer subsidies.
      The Wellington luvvies would be horrified if tax[payer support was taken from high grossing movies and given to little art house movies ( from Auckland?)

      Same goes for Sevens Rugby, over $2 mill of taxpayers money, as well as ratepayer funding for tournaments ( same for NRL Nines in Auckland)
      Pukekohe V8s , funded by taxpayers and ratepayers.
      Most of those going to Olympics will get taxpayer funding, some individuals being in receipt on millions over many years.

      • biscuit barrel

        Womens 7s $3.7 mill, mens 7s $4 mill , all over last 3 years. Rowing $19 mill, netball $4.8 mill

        these are all ‘high performance sport’, so not for grassroots sport

  • philbest

    Of course under pure socialism, artists have to produce kitsch, regime-worshipping work, and no edginess or spirituality is allowed. Plenty of artists exiled to Siberia for non-conformity.

  • Kevin

    Shakespeare was an expert in human psychology.

    As for the cartoon, a more realistic one would be one where on the left it shows a rock band playing to a stadium of thousands of fans.

    But of course popular culture isn’t culture to socialists.

  • David Moore

    Socialism and the arts can be summed up in one little story.

    Sergey Mikhalkov has written three different Russian national anthems spanning 60 years.

    The first praised Stalin.
    For the second he worked out that Stalin was a bit out of favour and praised the Motherland.
    And for the third he realised the more generic the better, so he just wrote some mash that didn’t offend anyone.

    Of course, he was also an agent for the KGB.

    That is how the arts really work in Socialism, nothing less than total conformity to the party line, or else you get tortured to death.

  • Nechtan

    I remember suggesting to my high school English teacher that William Shakespeare was just the Steven Spielberg/George Lucas of his day and was just making a living. While he didn’t disagree (nor agree) with me, Shakespeare was held up as the pinnacle of literature genius. After three consecutive years of studying MacBeth I was more than glad to ditch English as a subject once the opportunity presented itself.
    None of the great artists of the past be they painters, sculptors, musicians or playwrights (etc) performed or produced works for free. Works were commissioned, entrance fees to plays/concerts etc charged, perhaps those who enjoyed royal (or similar) patronage were less dependent on their works being popular (ie sell-able).

  • JeffDaRef

    The perfect example exists in Auckland where the “Auckland Theatre Company” is one of the regional amenities who are on the ratepayer gravy train.
    Unlike coastguard, surf lifesaving, the museum etc – they are in no way a “pinnacle” body for the region, just the one who lobbied hard enough to get on the ticket.
    There are any number of theatre productions that are of far better quality, delivered by far more talented people, yet this one company receives a public subsidy the others do not.
    It just happens to be full of the very same “luvvies” who manage to charm the right people in power.

  • Brian Smaller

    Artists are supposed to starve and work in ricketty garrets or compose music under street lights.

  • Michael

    Shakespeare dropped the C-bomb in Hamlet. High brow culture indeed!

    And would the destitute Vincent Van Gogh produced his stunning body of work if he was getting Government grants?

    • spanishbride

      He also had an actor in a play bite their thumb at another character which is the same as pulling the finger in our society ( classy LOL )

  • phronesis

    More hypocrisy from the left. Shakespeare, Mozart, Rodin etc etc are the pinnacle of a European culture that socialists clearly despise and will do anything to destroy.

  • digby

    Funding arts while people cannot get the basics in life is a very silly idea. While many people enjoy art, art is a very transportable commodity and there is a plethora of it elsewhere. A significant portion of the arts funded by the state usually end up being hugely expensive for the good that they create. .

    – If we have huge waiting lists for urgent surgeries to fix problems for people that are suffering from significant pain then we aren’t prioritising appropriately.
    – If we have hardened criminals put back into society due to a lack of prison space, then we aren’t prioritising appropriately.
    – if we have people living in cars (who don’t want to live in cars), then we aren’t prioritising appropriately.
    Art is a luxury we cannot afford. Same goes for funding sport.
    If it cant exist on its own two feet through income and sponsorship then the taxpayer shouldn’t have to subsidise it. Once we have a society that can afford art, only then should we fund it.

  • Whitey

    Socialists don’t want to fund the arts so they can promote a vibrant arts culture, they want to fund the arts so they can control what art gets produced. That’s what bothers me about government arts funding: inevitably some socialist womble gets to decide what arts the government will fund. Government arts funding is a poisoned chalice. It might seem like a good deal to some artists, but it inevitably leads to a clique of talentless luvvies producing “art” that no one wants as an alternative to finding a real job.

    That said, since the government has decided that I have to subsidize whatever rubbish the socialists at NZ on Air decide to pay for, those NZ on Air socialists can damn well subsidize my opera tickets. Fair’s fair.

  • Steely Man

    $131 million for broadcasting. That would go a long way towards helping the homeless – who obviously arent able to access TV