After a brief aside, I wanted to return to the parts of the term “splendid isolation” taken separately in this and the following post. Then, in a third, I want to address the significance of the sum of the parts as it relates to me and to my creative endeavor in Akron. First…splendor.
My association with the aesthetic category of splendor came during my junior year of college. While taking a class during the first semester that dealt with artistic endeavors in medieval Europe, primarily book illumination, I came across a book of photographs by a French photographer named Lucien Herve and introduced by architect, Le Corbusier. The book was entitled Architecture of Truth and was published at some point during the 1950s. Anyway, if I recall the experience correctly, I remember being enthralled with the introduction written by Le Corbusier wherein he creates an aesthetic hyperlink between the religiously motivated aesthetic of early Cistercian monastery builders and the then-contemporary aesthetic for truth in materials and purity (severity…I remember Bernard of Clairvaux as being quoted as saying that all the young men entering the monastery should leave their bodies outside as they had no need for them inside the walls.) of vision and form. That resonance between seemingly discontinuous periods of history noted by Le Corbusier prompted me to take up the investigation of early Cistercian architecture during the independent study work of my second semester junior year.
During the pursuit of my independent study, my professor gave me a book by Umberto Eco titled Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages so as to give me a solid foundation of aesthetic issues as understood in the terms of the time. What happened, however, was that I began drawing hyperlinks myself between the understanding set forth in Aquinas and Albertus Magnus and, ultimately, Aristotle and my conception and understanding of modern art and of contemporary art and, most importantly, of myself as a potential maker of things.
Very generally, the notion of art at the time involved an orientation in the maker to make that which he/she was making well. To make well…a process governed by a virtue known as art. It involved no moral component as an accompanying virtue, prudence, was the virtue which governed doing. The artist makes well. The governing principle of the making did not reside in the maker but in the demand put on the maker by the nature of the thing to be made. The maker existed as servant of the thing to be made…a conduit through which the urge to exist of the thing passed. When such an urge met with a proportioned and rightly ordered existence through the process of having been made, it was endowed with form that was accompanied by a clarity…a splendor…a resplendence: “The nature of the beautiful consists in general in a resplendence of form, whether in the duly ordered parts of material objects, or in men, or in action.” (Albertus Magnus, from The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, Umberto Eco, p. 112.) Even more importantly, Eco later notes that “resplendence must be understood in a sense that is strictly ontological and objectivist. It does not refer to the knowing subject. Resplendence is not the expressiveness of an object with respect to someone or something else. It is, rather, a clarity which belongs to the order which the object possesses; it can be identified as the property through which being manifests itself.” (p. 114.) For me this became the following understanding…the artist makes the thing according to the ultimate demands of the things…the artist is a necessary conduit for the proper arrangement that ends in the making of a thing that radiates a splendor reflective of the thing itself and not the one making the thing. So, for me, the vision that happens in the first instant of the thing to be made is the guiding principle and demands absolute faithfulness regardless of the nature of the demand. It is not a romanticism or a subjectivism…it is an honesty to something outside of myself that needs me to come into being. The reward is in the making as the making brings me in proximity to the splendor…the making demands that I look into the Sun.