Education – Ars Longa Vita Brevis Est

Eric Marland

Master Lettercutter

Lettering Arts, Cambridge

Ars Longa Vita Brevis Est roughly translated from the Latin – Life is short but art lasts longer and a recent trip to Rome reminded me of just how true that statement is. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of carved inscriptions, many of them memorials, which have survived for millennia. It only served to underline the responsibility to those of us who choose to put chisel into stone and carve letters bare. Our attempts at communicating a message to the living of today may well end up representing our culture’s achievements to future historians once we and our clients are long gone.

It was also interesting to note the anonymity of the lettercutter then, as now. The painted frescos and marble statues are often still attributable to some Renaissance master or another but even the most famous, (though not necessarily the best), inscription in Rome, that at the base of Trajan’s Column, is unsigned. Then, as now, we put our heart and souls into an endeavour which is largely unappreciated and yet remains such an essential expression of not only ourselves, but our society and its sensibilities as well.

In the absence of any full time courses on lettering in this country, those organised by the Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust, as well as the apprenticeship schemes they sponsor, remain one of the best ways of learning how to contribute to that long tradition of beautiful letters carved in stone which allows one generation to speak to another.

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