Aesthetic Realism is a cult
Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

Get notified when I update this site.

Aesthetic Realism is a small mind-control cult group in New York City.  I was a member, since I was born into the group.  These days I'm telling the truth about how the group operates — and lots of other former members are joining me.

The most incriminating bits

The cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism. From fanatical devotion to the founder to the belief that they have the one and only true answer to world peace, it's all here.

A former high-ranking member tells it all, debunking AR's spin.

"The Victims of Aesthetic Realism".  A journalist infiltrates the group and discovers how their mind-control methods work.

The transcript of a secret Aesthetic Realism meeting. It's an inquest of someone who didn't stay "cured" of his homosexuality.

Exposés elsewhere

"Dream to nightmare".  A former high-ranking member spills the beans.

"I joined NYC's most boring cult". Scathing article about AR in Vice magazine.  It's hilarious.

“Erasing Reason”.  Book by former AR member Hal Lanse, Ph.D, about his experience in AR,, with a special focus on the supposed “gay cure”.

Like all cults, Aesthetic Realists believe their founder was the greatest person ever to live, that his writings are more important than the Bible, and that he came up with the One True Answer for all the world's problems.  The biggest sin one can commit in the group is to show insufficient gratitude for the founder or for Aesthetic Realism itself.  Members are expected to recruit family and friends, and generally have to cut off relations with family members whom they can't get to join (or with family and friends who join for a while, but then leave).  The group effectively controls every significant aspect of their members' lives — right down to whom they can marry.  But what AR is best known for is its alleged cure for homosexuality, which it was embarrassed into giving up after so many of the "cured" fell off the wagon.  (Bizarrely, the cure involves professing undying devotion to the founder and his teachings.)  And like most cults, the Aesthetic Realists also suffer from delusions of grandeur, obsessive paranoia, and wildly hysterical reaction to any criticism.

It's not just me saying Aesthetic Realism is a cult.  It's also dozens of other former members (including former leaders) whose stories are published here, well-known cult expert Steve Hassan, and a plethora of newspapers and magazinesNew York Magazine and New York Native both identified AR as a cult, and Harper's referred to them as "the Moonies of poetry".  You can read what all these sources say about AR on this site.

But my best evidence against the Aesthetic Realists is what they say themselves.  From their books, their letters, their newspaper ads, their private therapy sessions, and their secret meetings (which they blunderingly recorded to tape), the world can see how brainwashed they really are.

None of this would be an issue if the Aesthetic Realists were just a harmless group of eccentrics, but they're not harmless: They hurt people.  They hurt people on the outside who lose contact with their family members sucked into AR, and they hurt the members themselves, who have a terrifying experience on the inside, and who need a considerable amount of therapy to recover from that experience after they leave—if they're able to recover at all.  As one former member said, "My study of AR was one of the factors that led to the breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow."

There's lots of stuff on this site, but perhaps the most relevant are:

From New York Native:

“It was at that point that I began to see what Aesthetic Realism was, in fact, about. 
The dogmatism...the Godlike reverence his students demonstrated—these spelled out one thing: that this was no philosophy.  This was a cult, genuine and bona fide, employing all the subtle and manipulative techniques of mind-control used by such masters of the genre as the Moonies [and] the Scientologists. Like all cults, Aesthetic Realism reduces the wonder and complexity of the world to a strict polarity of black-or-white reality.

"By cultivating an individual's sense of negative identity, the program weakens the ego enough to gain admittance and eventual control over a person's mind....

"In actuality, 'consultations' are slyly packaged sessions for mind-control—what Yale psychiatry professor Robert Lifton describes as 'thought-reform' or 're-education.'  More bluntly stated, it's brainwashing.” —"The Victims of Aesthetic Realism"

If you're a former member, I hope you'll share your story.

If you're a current member, I hope you'll consider leaving.

If you're a journalist or blogger, I hope you'll write about this scandalous group.

Thanks for stopping by. — Michael Bluejay, editor

Emails from former members

"Words can't do justice to describe how excellent your site is in both purpose and content....Your site really can do enormous good on the level of human happiness.   Just think of the countless people who will NOT get messed up in AR because they viewed your site before ever getting sucked-in.  And then there are those who are in the thick of it and just needed a little more courage or reality-based perspective to break free and quit.  You are doing a great service to people. Your site has the power to spare a lot of people a lot of anguish from a group of misdirected souls."

"Just want to thank you for your continued excellent work on this website. I seriously think of you as an American hero for standing up to the bullies at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.  I realize other people helped you by contributing their experiences and want to take a moment to thank them as well. I guess we will never know how many people were saved from being manipulated by ARs twisted logic but I'm sure its thousands of people (and likely many more than that) if they had their way in spreading their sick message unencumbered. I myself had not realized how much they had manipulated me until their tactics were explained here, suffice to say I am very grateful."

"There is a very interesting and rather warped dynamic among the students who left. To varying degrees, we're all wounded and in varying stages of recovery."

"Your site is a great source of comfort and excitement to all of us, probably more than you can tell from the silence of most."

What’s on this site

 About AR

What is Aesthetic Realism?
An explanation about both the AR philosophy and the group that promotes it.

Cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism
Fanatical devotion to the leader, cutting off relations with families who aren't also believers -- it's all here.

AR supposed "gay cure"
The AR group used to try to "cure" people of being gay. They stopped that in 1990 because high-profile success cases kept deciding they were gay after all and leaving.  They still believe that studying AR can "cure" gayness, they just no longer conduct the conversion therapy sessions themselves.

AR Deatchwatch!
We track the downward spiral of the group.

How AR compares to other cults
Most cults are surprisingly similar.

How AR uses mind control
Described in this article by New York Native, and our article about AR's favorite trick for brainwashing.

AR's founder killed himself
AR's founder Eli Siegel killed himself, but the AR people have been trying to hide that fact. They can't hide any more, since enough former students have come forward to confirm the truth.

Attempts to recruit schoolchildren
Some AR members are public schoolteachers, and yep, they do try to recruit in the classroom.

Five reasons you can't trust an Aesthetic Realist
One reason is that most people who were in AR eventually woke up and got out. See more about this, plus four other reasons.

Lies Aesthetic Realists tell
They say they never saw homosexuality as something to cure. They say the leader didn't kill himself. They say my family left the group when I was an infant. These and more are debunked here.

Hypocrisy of the Aesthetic Realists
It takes some serious brainwashing for the members to not realize that they're guilty of what they accuse others of.

List of AR members who have passed away
We take no pleasure in the passing of individual Aesthetic Realists.  I maintain this list only for the historical record (and because, ironically, the AR people themselves usually don't bother to memoralize the passing of their own).

Aesthetic Realism glossary
We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use.

 AR in their own words

Actual AR advertisment
The AR people spent a third of a million dollars for a double-page ad in the NY Times to tell the world that the press' refusal to cover AR is just as wrong as letting hungry people starve to death.

“Letter of Regret to the American Press”
Somehow the ARists thought it would be a good idea to show exactly how batsh!t crazy they are to hundreds of media outlets.

Ad for the gay cure
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet their ability to "fix" gays.

Ad in the Village Voice from 1962
The AR folks try to deny that they're a cult in this ancient ad -- showing that people were calling them a cult as far back as 1962!

Secret internal meeting
The AR people blunderingly made a tape recording of a secret meeting they had, where they lambasted a member who had supposedly been "cured" of his gayness, but then found to still be cruising for gay sex. Their screeching hostility towards him is matched only by their fear that the secret will get out.

Actual AR consultation
For the first time the public can see what really happens in an Aesthetic Realism "consultation" (thanks to a former member sharing his tape with us). In the session the AR counselors tried to help the member not be gay, explaining that the path to ex-gayness was to express deep gratitude to AR and its founder.

Hysterical letters to New York Magazine
When a theater critic barely dissed Aesthetic Realism in New York magazine, the AR people responded with hundreds of angry letters, calling his article "a crime against humanity".

Actual AR lesson
I had a lesson with the cult leader, Eli Siegel, when I was two years old, which, like everything else, they made a tape of.  The highlight is Siegel taunting me with "Cry some more, Michael, cry some more!"

AR responds to this website
The AR people have tried to rebut this website with their own site called Countering the Lies, whose title ought to win some kind of award for irony. Here we explain the story behind that site.

 What former members say

"Dream to nightmare."  One of the former leaders of the cult tells how she got involved, and how she got out.

Aesthetic Realism exposed
The ultimate statement by a former member, who was involved for well over a decade.

A tale of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.

Growing up in a cult. An ex-member who was born into AR tells what it was like growing up in the group, and how she got out.

Aesthetic Realism ruined his marriage. "I consider my 'study' of Aesthetic Realism to be one of the factors that led to the eventual breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow."

On having all the answers. A former member explains how AR members think they have all the answers, and feel qualified to lecture others about how they should view personal tragedy.

Kicked out for remaining gay. Former students describe how they were kicked out of AR because they couldn't change from homosexuality. Ron Schmidt and Miss Brown.

"My parents disowned me.". One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and how she got out.

"If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor." A former member tells how AR try to change him from being gay, and convinced him not to spend Christmas with his family.

"...people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...". The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune 100 executive.

"I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.

They took his consultation tape. Describes how the AR people kept his consultation tape with his most intimate thoughts on it, and told him he couldn't study any more unless he incorporated AR more radically into his life.

"There isn't any question: Eli Siegel killed himself."
A former member who had sought AR's "gay cure" explains how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life.

Confirms all the criticism. A former member from 1971-80, confirms that AR students don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun other members. He also offers that he was mistaken when he was involved about thinking that AR had changed him from homosexuality.

Michael Bluejay's experience. Your webmaster describes his own family's involvement.

Members interviewed in Jewish Times. This lengthy article in Jewish Times quotes former students of Aesthetic Realism extensively.

NY Post article. A series of articles in the NY Post quotes many former members who are now critical of the group.

Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.

 Other Goodies

AR described as a cult in the media
NY Mag called AR "a cult of messianic nothingness" and Harper's referred to them as "the Moonies of poetry". We've got reprints of articles, plus some help for journalists researching AR. (And here are shortcuts to the landmark articles in New York Native, the NY Post and Jewish Times.)

Thinking of leaving AR?
If you're thinking of leaving the group, you're not alone. Let's face it: Most people who have ever studied AR have left -- and not come back. There's got to be a reason for that. Curious about what they figured out? Worried about the fallout if you do decide to leave? Here's everything you need to know.

Recovering from your AR experience.
People who leave cults often need special therapy to cope with what they went through. Whether you decide to seek counseling or choose to go it alone, here's what you need to know.

How cults recruit new members.
Explains how a rational person can unwittingly get sucked into a cult group.

How AR appears to a normal person.  A reader with no experience with the group checks out both AR's website and ours, and concludes that AR is absolutely a cult.

Site News / Blog
Here's some news and commentary that I add from time to time.

 Share your Aesthetic Realism experience

If you did time in AR, had or have a friend or relative in AR, or had some other run-in with the group, I hope you'll share your story on this site. If you'd like to tell me something that you don't want to appear on this site, then please write directly to <moc.tluCkroYweN@rotide> instead.


(We won't publish your name unless you say it's okay, but we have to have it in order to verify submissions.)

Email Address

(We won't publish your email address, but we have to have it in order to verify submissions.)

Your experience:

Yes   No Okay to publish your name?
Yes   No Okay to identify your gender? (e.g., "his story", "her story")
Yes   No Get a notice of updates to this site? (no more than 4x/year)

Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The Aesthetic Realism Foundation




Eli Siegel, poet & art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978.


To get the world to realize that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived, and that Aesthetic Realism is the most important knowledge, ever.


We have a tendency to look down on others to make ourselves seem superior by comparison (contempt).  Every single problem in the world (including homosexuality) is the result of contempt.  By studying AR, we can learn to purge our contempt so the world will be perfect.  Also, beauty comes from the contrast of opposites.


New York City (SoHo)


About 66, as of 4/22, as ~23 teachers + ~43 teachers-in-training.  (In 2009 it was ~77 (33+44), and ~29 regular students.  You could consider them members, but I'm not including them in the total.)  Anyway, with only ~66 committed members, much for world domination.

All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers.  Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
StatusIn serious decline.
They might have ten years left.

Method of study

Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student) (usually in-person, but also remote).

Cult aspects

  • Fanatical devotion to their leader/founder
  • Belief that they have the one true answer to universal happiness
  • Ultimate purpose is to recruit new members
  • Feeling that they are being persecuted
  • Wild, paranoid reactions to criticism
  • Non-communication (or at least very limited communication) with those who have left the group, and family members who refuse to join
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...

Official Aesthetic Realism websites

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation. The official website of the group. Read about AR in their own words.

Aesthetic Realism Online Library.  A collection of articles, poetry, books and news.  I think they started this site to try to crowd my site out of the Google results.  Fun game: see how many times Eli Siegel is identified with identical gushing praise across multiple articles (e.g., "the great American poet and critic Eli Siegel").

Countering the Lies. When I originally put up my site it was just a single page with only a little info and a link to another ex-member's story (Adam). When the AR people saw it, they started an entire site to combat what Adam and I said, called, ironically, "Countering the Lies"

Aesthetic Realism on other sites

Aesthetic Unrealistic Answer to Racism. A civil rights activist slams AR's anti-racism book, saying: "I have learned how important it is for analytical and critical thinkers to bring to light any organizations, doctrines or philosophies that would seek to 'pimp' Black peoples' struggle for racial justice and reparations. It is the moral duty of conscious individuals to expose anyone that would prey upon people's desperate hopes for an end to their oppression. In keeping with that, I would like to discuss a recent book that disturbs me greatly because the authors are guilty of the above."

Wikipedia. Aesthetic Realists ganged up to delete just about anything critical that appears in the article.  I don't have time to fight them by myself any more, but if anyone wants to join me in getting the WP article on AR into a  fair, accurate, and unbiased form, please let me know.

Blogger Jenny Lohan.  Jenny found our site and blogged about it: "The cult is called the Aesthetic Realism foundation and it's full of old timer hipster weirdos in soho....I ended up on this website that had all these stories from former members and it scares the poop out of me."

What former members say...
I had to go through a lot of therapy getting out of this group.
Most people who formerly were in AR have wished to keep quiet about it, forget the miserable experience, and get on with their lives.
It was also the first glimmer in my mind that I let sprout in which I realized there was something terribly wrong with the AR foundation and I should get out. I am making an understatement of massive proportion when I say, I am very happy I did.
"He told me that he studied with Eli Siegel for around 6 years and that it's taken even more to get over it. His eyes started filling up."
When I left I immediately felt as though a 200 lb. weight was taken from my shoulders. Two years of tension between my family and myself rapidly eased. My father was thrilled that I "got that spark back".
When I left Aesthetic Realism and began to speak regularly with my older sister, she said with tears in her eyes, "I feel like you're finally back."
See former members' statements in their entirety

The best bits:  Cult aspects of ARDream to NightmareA journalist infiltratesAll the articles

Want to know when I update this site?

Get on our list and I'll let you know when I have new stuff.

And of course, your address is confidential.

The current AR members who troll this site are also welcome to sign up too.

©2004-2023 Michael Bluejay    moc.tluCkroYweN@rotide   Media/Interview requests • (512) 402-4364