I'm looking for the briefest possible, proper Latin translation to be used as a title of a trade journal article. The title is "Art is subtraction" meaning that art is about subtracting.

I currently have:

  • vita est ars detractionis
  • vita est ars detractionis
  • perfectum per subtractionem
  • 3
    Do you care from which period of Latin you want your translation to be? Subtractio, for example, is found throughout Renaissance math texts, but the Classical word doesn't seem to be used that way. Other words can be offered, but getting a sense of what you're after in that regard will be helpful.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 14:38
  • Thanks. No time period requirement. Just a general informed consensus. Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 0:25
  • Am I correct in assuming that the title aims to evoke the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry quote "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." but applied to Art rather than simply Design? And, if so, are you looking to be as literal in translation as possible, or would something like "Art is Distillation" evoke the same feeling you are looking for?
    – DotCounter
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 15:41
  • Yes exactly! What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance. Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 0:26
  • I definitely prefer to evoke subtraction rather than “nothing else to add”. The article lauds the less is more concept. Make sense? Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 0:29

2 Answers 2


You seem to have "vita est ars detractionis" twice ;) But that means "life is the art of taking away," which is not what you want. We can just simplify it and say:

Ars est detractio
Art is taking away

Instead of the verbal noun detractio, you could also use the infinitive:

Ars est detrahere
Art is to take away

(Similar in structure to the saying "Ars est celare artem" -- art is to hide the art -- which, although the thought is probably ancient, is apparently of unclear origin.)

As noted by cmw in the comments, subtrahere/subtractio means something else, at least in Classical or Late Latin.

  • Great! Thanks fire preventing me from embarrassing myself! How can I repay the favor? Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 0:27
  • @ChuckFilliettaz If you like an answer or find it useful, remember to upvote it. When you find an answer that "solves" your question, you can also give it a check mark to mark the question as "solved."
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 4:12

Detrahere and subtrahere are both fine, but I would actually go with subducere, which is used in mathematical reckoning:

III. Trop.

  1. Rationem, to draw up, cast up, reckon, compute, calculate, or balance an account (by subtracting one set of items from another; class.; “esp. freq. in Cic.): subduxi ratiunculam, Quantum aeris mihi sit, quantumque alieni siet,” Plaut. Curc. 3, 1; cf.: “intus subducam ratiunculam, quantillum argenti mi siet,” id. Capt. 1, 2, 89: “subducamus summam,” Cic. Att. 5, 21, 11; cf.: “assidunt, subducunt: ad numum convenit,” id. ib. 5, 21, 12.—

It also carries all the meaning of subtrahere in it, but the added calculation makes it a good contender.

That said, if you're just aiming at an audience that isn't particularly familiar with Latin, you could go the Renaissance/Neo-Latin route and use subtrahere (whence subtractio).

Sebastian has a straightforward rendition (Ars est subducere), but I'll offer another:

Omnis ars ex subducendo.
All art from subtraction.

It's ambiguous a bit, but you did ask for brief. I think adding the omnis really emphasizes the overall importance of subtraction. All of art, not just some abstract portion of it, is affected by/made up of/etc. subtraction.

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