What Does Ars Longa Vita Brevis Mean?

Ars Longa Vita Brevis Meaning

Definition: Art (skill, a craft) is long and life is short.

Origin of Ars Longa Vita Brevis

This expression is in Latin. However, the original sentence was in Greek. It comes from the Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, and comprises the first two lines of Aphorismi.

  • Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.

Art originally meant skill, not fine arts such as music or acting. The idea behind it was that skill, or technique takes a long time to develop. As a doctor, he believed that learning to be a doctor took a long time, but the time in which someone can be a doctor was short.

In other words, it takes you a long time to acquire and master your skills, and you can only use them for a short amount of time.

Examples of Ars Longa Vita Brevis

vita brevis ars longaIn the conversation below, two friends are discussing what they want to major in when they start college.

Scott: Have you chosen your major yet?

Tony: Yeah, I want to major in political science. I want to change the world. I want to make it a better place. What about you? What do you want to study at university?

Scott: I think I’ll major in art.

Tony: Really? Do you think you’ll be able to find a good job in that field?

Scott: Maybe not, but I’m not worried about that. I believe my art can make a statement, and ars longa vita brevis. Even if my life is short, my art could last forever.

ars longa vita brevis niceTwo coworkers use the expression while deciding what to do on the weekend.

Richard: Maybe we should go to an amusement park.

Miranda: No, I don’t want to do that. I’d rather go to a museum.

Richard: What? Are you serious? Why would you want to go to a museum? Museums are boring, and amusement parks are exciting! Life is short! Try to live a little!

Miranda: You’re right. Life is short. Ars longa vita brevis. That’s why I love museums. You can see all these beautiful works of art, and see how they affected history. You can see the messages that people believed in, and which have lasted so much longer than the artists themselves.

Richard: True. But I still think roller coasters are more fun.

More Examples

The first example is from a review of an art exhibition.

  • The artist’s hand supersedes his ghost in this exquisite spirit photograph. Ars longa, vita brevis — if art is long and life short, he was prepared. Mapplethorpe had wrapped a fist around art, and he held it fast. –LA Times

The second example is from an article about an art building that people are restoring.

Additions began being constructed in late 1960s, including new wings and stand-alone buildings adjacent to the original. On the river-facing side of the building, there’s a Latin inscription that had been obscured largely for decades by the low-slung, print-making wing. With that wing removed, the phrase can now be more easily seen from below, Scott said.

“Ars longa / vita brevis est,” the inscription reads. Or: “Art endures / life is short.” –USA Today

Summary

The quotation ars longa vita brevis speaks to the longevity of art (either as a technical craft or as paintings and other fine art) as compared to the shortness of human lives.

[i]
[i]