This proverb is frequently misunderstood. It does not mean: ‘Human life is short, but art goes on forever.’ Its real meaning is: ‘There is so much art to learn and so little time to learn it in.’ Art is not used in the popular sense of painting, sculpture, etc. In the original saying of Hippocrates, the Greek surgeon, it referred to the art of healing: ‘Life is short, the art long, opportunity fleeting …’ Art is skill, craft. Chaucer wrote: ‘The life is short, the craft so long to learn.’ Sir John Davies wrote:
Skill comes so slow, as life so fast doth fly,
We learn so little and forget so much.