Friday, March 12, 2010

Vita Brevis

For a while I've wanted to write a blog. What is this blog going to be about? I don't know. Perhaps it's the need for egotistical self-expression, which is made so easy in our time. But then there are the inescapable questions and lingering self-doubt. The desire to write is tempered with stage fright. What is my first post going to be be about? Who will want to read it? Any why should anyone care?

This post has been taking shape for a while. The day I sat down to write my first post, news broke of Alexander McQueen's death. Wanting to write about it, somehow I didn't quite find the words. Then a few days ago, his last ever collection was shown at Paris Fashion Week. 

Enough has been said about the collection. It's absolutely breathtaking - a colossal final bow from a creative genius. The bold colours and the meticulous detail, coupled the soaring scope of the vision and crafstmanship involved are incredible. What makes it even so much more poignant is the grand, eloquent, Fifteenth-century-art inspired theme, juxtaposed against the fact that it is and always will be unfinished. Here is Art, pure Art.

Ars Longa
vita brevis
occasio praeceps
experimentum periculosum
iudicium dificile

says Hippocrates, in the words as commonly rendered into Latin. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, isn't talking about Art in the way we perceive it today - fine art, for example. He is using the word to refer to craft, technique - like that of a physician or a warrior. But looking back at the original Greek text, rather than its Latin translation, reveals an insight which is far deeper than just the reversal of the order of a few words:

Life is short
Art is long
opportunity fleeting
expermentation fallible
judgement difficult

The simple reversal of the first two lines works almost as if to impart hope - Life is short, but Art is long. The task is great - it requires the use of fleeting time and opportunity, which is like a razor's edge ("kairos", sharp, fleeting). Hazardous and difficult, but the results are immense.

And so, we have Lee McQueen's last collection. It ecapsulates the grandeur and scale of ambition which is admirable in the human spirit, the sheer levels of imagination and attainment it can reach, and yet - like Icarus, its soaring will be cruelly cut short. It will be guilty of the fatal flaw, the hamartia, the missing-the-mark.

But somehow Art lives on. It is memorialised and unforgettable.

In the words of another great artist, Yeats (in 'Sailing to Byzantium'):

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

And through the Art, the Artist shall live on. He shall never be forgotten. Life is short, but Art is long.

R. I. P. Alexander McQueen. 

1 comment:

  1. This collection was my favorite McQueen collection. He really was a creative genius and will sorely be missed in the fashion world...

    (P.S. Found your blog via Claire - I blog at