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

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Aesthetic Realism Deathwatch:
  When will AR die?

by Michael Bluejay • October 29, 2023

As soon as Aesthetic Realism's founder, Eli Siegel, killed himself in 1978, AR began its downward slide.  The end now seems within sight.  Let's take an assessment.

11 items down (55%)  8 items to go 

Death of the founder 11/10/78
Took his own life at age 76.
No positive news coverage (by a non-Aesthetic Realist) Last:
Last one:  NY Daily News:  "Gays who have gone straight", by John Lewis, 1981.  (This is poor reporting; it's likely that no one actually went straight.)
No more picketing Last: 5/13/82
To protest the New York Times not writing about AR, the Aesthetic Realists used to protest at the Times building and the personal home of the Times publisher.  (Really classy.)  They also protested at the home of the doctor who performed the surgery on their leader, Eli Siegel, because they believed he intentionally botched the operation because he was angry at his own great respect for Siegel or some B.S.  (There's no evidence that there was anything wrong with the operation.)  The last protest I know of was against the Boston Globe in 1982 for its negative story about AR. ("Globe article on 'Aesthetic Realism' and gays prompts complaints", Boston Globe, 5/24/82) 
No more big newspaper ads Last:
AR bought a general full-page ad in the New York Times in 1976; big newspaper ads in 1978, 1979, 1980 to promote the gay cure; and a huge double-page ad in the New York Times in 1990 to promote AR in general.  That last one backfired, though:  It was so over-the-top, that if anyone wasn't sure whether AR was a cult before seeing the ad, they definitely knew the score after they saw it.
No more leafletting Last:
The Aesthetic Realists used to hand out leaflets in public (e.g. Washington Square Park).  Apparently, not any more.
No more books Last:
Last one:  The People of Clarendon County.  See below for my notes on AR's books.
No new members Last: circa 2008
(best estimate)
AR doesn't make this info public so we have to use our best estimate.  We are pretty sure that there have been only six new "Associates" between 2001-22.  (If AR will tell us when the last was appointed, we'll take their word for it.)  As far as rank-and-file members just doing "consultations", all to most new people who start consultations leave shortly thereafter.  Again, if AR wants to let us know of any new consultee who's been studying for at least a year, we're all ears.
No letters to the editor / guest editorials Last: 10/19/16
Concluding that the press would never be "fair" to AR (i.e., writing fawning articles about it), ARists decided to become the press in April 1996, sending their own letters to the editor and guest editorials to various newspapers.  The letters always referenced some current event but quickly turned to "Aesthetic Realism and/or Eli Siegel explains this".  But now they've apparently given up.  The last one:  Record-Journal (Meriden, CT), 2016.
No neutral or negative news coverage Last: 7/19/18
The Villager:  "SoHo group is still quietly preaching, quietly, the principles of Eli" • (Previous: VICE, 8/27/13:  "I joined NYC's most boring cult", by Ryan P McCarthy)
No outside events Last: 3/10/19
Photography presentation in Tampa, FL
No events at their headquarters Last: 3/2020, according to their calendar
According to the photo from their website, they removed the stage from the Terrain Gallery!  That would mean no more seminars, dramatic presentations, concerts, etc.  Donna Lamb noticed the stage gone from the photo in 2023, but certainly since 2020 AR hasn't had any events.  (Their website says that they shut down because of COVID, but everything else is open again except AR.)  AR says that it shut down because of COVID, but as of 2022, everything else is open again except AR.
? No online consultations prob. few to none
These might still be taking place.  However, as of the early 2000s there were doing about four consultations a week.  As I write this in 2022, the last tweet with the hashtag #AestheticRealismConsultations was a year ago.
No classes or consultations active
These seem to still be taking place, albeit remotely.
Current leader gone 1978-
When founder/leader Eli Siegel died in 1978, his appointed successor Ellen Reiss, then 33, took over, with the title "Class Chairman".  She's been running the show since then.
No AR "consultants" remaining ~22 left
Down from ~33 in 2009.
No AR "associates" remaining ~45 left
Down from ~44 in 2009.
Website domain registration not renewed

Non-profit corporation registration not renewed
Non-profit organizations are required to renew their registration every year with the state.  Once there's no one left to do that, the organization is officially over.
Building leased to another tenant
Before selling their building at 141 Greene St., they might lease it to another tenant and still retain ownership.
Building sold
At some point the building will be sold, probably well before there are no more Aesthetic Realists left, because there won't be enough money to pay for utilities, maintenance, and insurance.
No AR adherents in the world


Notes on their books

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

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