Hey artists, are we “dancing bears”?

Darcy Nicholas - Artist, Writer, Curator

Kim Hill interviewed respected Maori painter, sculptor, writer, and curator Darcy Nicholas on Radio NZ National and brought up the concept of the dancing bear in relation to indigenous people creating art out of their traditional culture for a modern audience.

Darcy said “what you have to do is know the difference between the dancing bear and the real bear, because the real bear is going to eat you.”

Anyone know what that means?!


“If we liken it back to Maori culture” Darcy continues, “we have to understand the difference between the real thing and the entertainment thing.  And quite often people get confused.”

Sounds fair, but I’ve got to say that being an entertainer (i.e. visual artist) myself, there is noooooooo clear line between what’s ‘real’ and what’s ‘entertainment’.

Kind of like our previous conversation about whether creating something new out of Maori designs is legitimate borrowing or appropriation, all of you had so many different views.

Is Kapa haka real or entertainment?  Are my paintings real or entertainment? Was the beautiful, moving opening ceremony for the Rugby World Cup real or entertainment?  It felt like both to me.

So no, I don’t think we’re dancing bears.  When I paint, the spirit in which I create is real because the artwork is an extension of myself.  Plus my art looks good on a wall therefore it’s also entertaining.

What do you think? Please leave a reply below or email sofia@sofiaminson.com

"Russian Bear" by Sofia Minson, oil on canvas, 850mm high x 1800mm wide

If you have 36 minutes to spare, which may seem like an eternity for some, but not for us painters who spend hours in the studio, you should listen to the interview…Kim Hill interviews Maori artist Darcy Nicholas on Radio NZ


Written by artist Sofia Minson from NewZealandArtwork.com
New Zealand Maori portrait and landscape oil paintings

One thought on “Hey artists, are we “dancing bears”?

  1. Email reply from Darcy Nicholas himself…

    I just came across your note on my kim hill interview. The dancing bear was actually Kims analogy not mine.

    I like your work but like mine if you put a match to it it burns. The only real thing about it is the paint and canvas. The reason why people pay a lot of money for a work of art is because it is touched by the hands of a `magician’ we call an `artist’. Great art always reflects the inner soul of the creator of the art but that is really an expression of the artists reality. In painting it is still canvas and paint. When it burns the only pain is imagined.

    The rest is just design and there is lots of that. We are all sometimes guilty of just doing design and there is nothing wrong with that it can be fun like dancing or any other casual past time that might fit kims analogy of the dancing bear.

    The only thing real about you is you. – and any children that follow from you.

    Kapa haka is not real by the way it is entertainment. The real kapa haka is done prior to or after battle.

    Darcy J Nicholas
    Contemporary Maori Artist
    Website: http://www.contemporarymaoriart.com

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