Ars longa, vita brevis - Art is Long, Life is Short

Something strange begins to happen as you grow old, the news of people passing away becomes more prevalent… Perhaps, when we are young, we are more indulgent in life and oblivious or rather indifferent to death. But with time and age, we are compelled to face the fragilities of the living and are forced to embrace the inevitability of the dying. This note is my attempt to try and comprehend what it feels like to lose those who aren’t a part of our life but inhabit our world. They might not be related by blood or ties, that bind us to them in a conventional way instead they are those who shape us without the awareness of their existence in our everydayness.

The world is full of sounds.
We just don't usually hear them as music.
- Ryuichi Sakamoto-

I first discovered the Japanese composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto in the 90s while watching the beautiful yet tragic story of love, desire, and death, The Sheltering Sky by Bernardo Bertolucci. This was a time when I was beginning to be more attentive toward how a musical score emotes, accentuates, and elevates the cinematic visual. Whenever I was moved by the soundtrack of a particular film, I would sit back, and wait for the end credits to read the name of the composer who stirred a myriad of emotions within me beyond everything else that the film had to offer me. Since then Sakamoto has remained a constant companion and his piano compositions have been the background music to innumerable moments of my life.

Music has kept me from giving up on life on countless evenings. I’ve often wondered what is it in those 12 chords that sometimes becomes more life-saving than any human or drug. What is it in the chords of guitar or notes of piano that lifts the dense and burdensome weight of life and lets us breathe again? When all is lost and ceases to make sense, music is the only thing that has the power and beauty to help us find ourselves. So what stopped me from letting Sakamoto know how his music was my home, my refuge, my bed, my solace upon umpteen nights and days? When someone or something has such deeply entrenched meaning in our lives, why don't we let them know about it when they are still alive?

The dead can't smell the flowers on their grave nor listen to what those living have to say.

Perhaps we take the living so much for granted that we only realize their true value once they are dead. We don't have the luxury of time, the sooner we realize and accept that life is tender and ephemeral, the more thoughtful we can be while acknowledging those who truly keep us alive. Often eulogies seem a tad bit late. How I wish I’d write more often about the living than the departed. The dead can't smell the flowers on their grave nor listen to what those living have to say. Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away this year on 28th March leaving behind a legacy of innumerable musical compositions that'll keep him alive in countless hearts across the world. However, I'll always be haunted by the fact that I couldn't let him know that I'm still alive because of his music along with many more.


Recently Ryuichi Sakamoto’s management shared what he termed as the “Last Playlist,” which he prepared for his own funeral. The 33-song collection "to be played at his own funeral to accompany his passing", includes classical works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Bill Evans, and Nino Rota amongst some of these favorite composers and musicians. This post is a reminder to myself and everyone who’s taken the time to read it. 

Don’t wait for people to pass, let them know what they mean to you while they are alive. Create your "Last Playlist", we might not be as great or influential as Sakamoto, but we all have songs that we like to carry along when we depart from this world to another.

Sakamoto often quoted the aphorism and one of his constants was by Hippocrates: Ars longa, vita brevis, which translates to "Art is Long, Life is Short". What more we mortals can ask as a reminder?








Visual artist who works at the fluid intersection of arts, culture, media, communication and self-reflection. His theoretical interests are also wide, often inquiring about the roots and fundamentals of art history, storytelling, and philosophy.


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