Friday 1 October 2010

Please ignore my Latin

At their invitation, I prepared A Primer for Artists for the 2004 Prospect exhibition at City Gallery, Wellington. It seemed, at that time, that I had offered a fusty, old-fashioned report from some out-of-print Latin phrase book.

Now, I am not so sure I was either delinquent or off kilter.

The primer now looks more wily, having lived 6 years on the City Gallery's website.

Did I write it as irony or accuracy?
It is certainly quirky.
A curator writing a text half in Latin and half in English.
Provocative perhaps, presumption probably.
Not my words, all famous old Latin dictums.

I had imagined what could happen if life drawing was re-introduced as compulsory practice at a contemporary art school?

Would life drawing be regarded as abuse not of the model but of the student?

Would we encounter a revolt as committed as what erupted spontaneously in Lindsay Anderson's movie If?

Latin has become, to conversation and writing, what life drawing is to current art tuition. It does not occur exist except in a few instances.

Latin is dead, I am told.
Do not quote it.
Do not refer to it.
Do not allude to it.
Do not say that the word photograph is connected with pictura or imago.
Forget it!
Some say: Latin is for losers.

I wanted A Primer for Artists to become a sequence of motivational phrases.

It reminded me of the 19th century, when some New Zealand schools had their own Latin mottoes.

One of the most interesting Latin mottoes still remains at the entrance of Auckland Grammar School. Their website says that not only do they retain their motto, they have freshly translated it for our present world to learn from:

"The school's motto, 'Per Angusta ad Augusta' (Through narrows/difficulties (Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary) to hallowed heights), is shared by some other grammar schools in Auckland. In recent times Auckland Grammar has used the translation Through difficulties to greatness (a much better translation)."

So, at risk of reminding you that I won't always write here in English, I republish this little sequence of mottoes.

What got me started was my fury at Robin Williams, in his role as an actor in The Dead Poet's Society, informing his students that carpe diem was an invocation for "seize the day".

I detest that translation.

Carpe diem
is like contemporary art - it must pluck the day.

A Primer for Artists

ab initiofrom the beginning

bona fidesgood faith

cacoethes scribendi
incurable passion for writing

camera obscuradark room

carpe diempluck the day

de gustibus non est disputandum
there is no disputing about tastes

de novo
from scratch, afresh

de re
about the thing

erratuman error

et alii
and others

ex nihilioout of nothing

felix culpahappy fault

ferae naturae
of wild nature

genius locigenius of place

hors concours
out of the competition


ignotum per ignotiusthe unknown by means of the more unknown

in camerain the room

in extensoat full length, in full

jus soli
law of the soil, the principle of a person's nationality

lapsus linguaeslip of the tongue

meum et tuummine and yours

mutatis mutandiswith the necessary changes made

natura naturans
nature naturing

nulli secundus
second to none


here, there, everywhere

quaereseek, ask, enquire

res ipsa loquitur
the thing speaks for itself

I shall rise again

saeva indignatiothe burning passionate anger that fires the artist

sensu lato
in the broad sense

summun pulchrumterrific beauty

suppressio veri
suppression of the truth

tempora mutantur
times change

terra incognita
unknown land

ultra viresbeyond strength

urbi et orbito the city and the world

vi et armasby force and arms


vox populi
voice of the people

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