Friday 1 October 2010
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Do not quote it.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.
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
incurable passion for writing
camera obscuradark room
carpe diempluck the day
de gustibus non est disputandum
there is no disputing about tastes
from scratch, afresh
about the thing
ex nihilioout of nothing
felix culpahappy fault
of wild nature
genius locigenius of place
out of the competition
ignotum per ignotiusthe unknown by means of the more unknown
in camerain the room
in extensoat full length, in full
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
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
in the broad sense
summun pulchrumterrific beauty
suppression of the truth
ultra viresbeyond strength
urbi et orbito the city and the world
vi et armasby force and arms
voice of the people