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

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The 13 Cult Aspects of Aesthetic Realism

by Michael Bluejay, former member  •  Original: Dec. 2004 • Last Update: April 2022

If you're unsure what a cult is, see "What is a cult?" first.

“Aesthetic Realism is a cult...employing all the subtle and manipulative techniques of mind control used by such masters of the genre as the Moonies, the Scientologists and, yes, even the evangelical Christians. 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. Put most succinctly by a woman whose friend had made the change: 'I liked him when he was gay. At least then he was a person. Now he's just an Aesthetic Realist.'” -- New York Native

Cult aspect #1:
Everyone says they're a cult

Aesthetic Realism is considered a cult by pretty much everyone outside of the group who's heard of it, including the media, former members, non-members, and of course, a noted cult expert.  Let's start with the media:  New York Magazine called them a "a cult of messianic nothingness", Harper's called them "the Moonies of poetry", and the Virginian-Pilot described an Aesthetic Realist they encountered as "deranged".  The New York Times, reviewing one of their books, said, "This is less a book than a collection of pietistic snippets by Believers." New York Native said, "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."  There's even National Lampoon, which ran a cartoon about "Positive indicators of a bona fide nut", with one of the panels showing a person wearing one of the Aesthetic Realism "Victim of the Press" buttons.  (There are plenty more examples of AR being called a cult on our media page.)

Former members who left AR also now recognize that AR is a cult and say so, not just here on this site but also in the New York Post, Jewish Times, and elsewhere.  And Steve Hassan, probably the best-known expert on mind-control cults, said this about the group's founder:  "I think that [Siegel] was a cult leader, and that like many other cult leaders, he had a narcissistic personality and was a control freak."

People have been calling Aesthetic Realism a cult for at least sixty years, evidenced from this ad from 1962, where the Aesthetic Realists try to deny it.  (That's well before I was even born, which makes AR's attack on me as their supposed sole critic sound all the more ridiculous.)  The founder of AR himself, Eli Siegel, talked about the perception that AR was a cult in the lesson I had with him when I was two years old.

Now let's look at AR's cult aspects in detail.

Other cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism

2. Belief that there is nothing more important in the world than their special knowledge

Aesthetic Realists believe that there is nothing more important in the world than Aesthetic Realism.  As they see it, a person's life is hopelessly doomed if they never learn about AR.  As such, they think the media has literally committed a "crime against humanity" by not reporting favorably about it.  And when one of the men supposedly "cured" of being gay fell off the wagon, the members knew that would reflect badly on AR, which could prevent the world from adopting it, which they felt would be the biggest tragedy in history by rendering everyone's lives meaningless, so one of them yelled at him, "There are babies, children who aren't even tall enough to stand up on their two feet and you've crippled them for life!  You're a barbarian!" 

AR people believe that those who teach AR have "the most useful profession there is". (source)  Further, the Aesthetic Realism Foundation is supposedly "The most important educational institution in America."  According to an AR brochure, the AR Foundation's purpose "is to have the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel studied by the people of America, to have it be the basis of the educational system of America." (Boston Globe; 4/18/82)  The study of AR is supposedly "...a national emergency. It is a life-and-death matter." (letter to Rutland Herald, 3/8/14)

3. Belief that they have the one true answer to peace and happiness if only people would listen

According to the Aesthetic Realists, AR has the solution to all the world's problems.  It can supposedly put an end to loneliness, depression, boredom, anger, learning difficulties, pain in marriage, racism — and of course, homosexuality.   It can also supposedly end all conflict between countries, if only the United Nations would take notice.  The AR people write, "[W]hen the United Nations studies Aesthetic Realism (it can begin today) there will not be war."

4. Fanatical devotion to their founder/leader

The image here is a letter to the editor published in the New York Times, in which current AR leader Ellen Reiss says that Eli Siegel was worthy to teach Socrates!  But we're just getting started.

Aesthetic Realists actually believe that Eli Siegel was the greatest person ever to live.  Not one of the greatest, the absolute greatest, bar none.  Here's what AR leader Ellen Reiss had to say about Eli Siegel.

"Eli Siegel, founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, is, in my careful opinion and that of a growing number of people, the greatest human being ever to live.  That means the person fairest to the world and most useful to it.  This means the person kindest, most learned, most ethical, most imaginative, and most desirous of learning; the greatest fighter against ugliness in people, the greatest encourager of beauty; the person at once most unified and diverse, most serious and humorous, powerful and subtle, magnificent and democratic." (emphasis added; from the afterword of AR's second "gay cure" book)

This isn't an isolated opinion; all the Aesthetic Realists believe this.  For example, someone secretly recorded a presentation at a NYC library that the AR people gave in 2008 and asked some pointed questions.  Here you can hear both presenters admitting they believe that Eli Siegel was the greatest person who ever lived.  Listen to audio:

Wow.  It's hard to top that one.  But if so it's not for lack of trying.  Here's what Martha Baird said about Eli Siegel's Self and World:

"I believe Self and World is the greatest book ever to have been written. If you think I'm saying greater than the Bible or Shakespeare — yes, I am." (emphasis added)

A former AR student says something similar: "While I was in AR, I did believe that Eli Siegel was greater than Christ...It would have been accurate to say I 'worshipped' him." (read about this former member's experiences)

The AR people also took out a double-page ad in the New York Times to tell the world of Eli Siegel's supremacy:

"Eli Siegel was the greatest man in the history of the world.  His mind had the greatest scope and the greatest kindness; he was completely honest."

Of course Eli Siegel was supposedly also "the greatest educator in history", the "greatest of all literary critics", "his knowledge of history was unsurpassed", he explained in his economics lectures "what no other economist saw", he understood poetry in a way "no other critic saw", he was "completely honest and completely kind", and he was "humanity's greatest friend". (the first bit from, the rest from their double-page ad in the NY Times)  I've yet to see them proclaim he was also the greatest astronaut, pro football player, or jazz drummer, but it might be only a matter of time.

You think I'm exaggerating?  Only barely.  According to the Aesthetic Realists, Siegel was also a medical genius:

"When we see how much he was able to do without recognition or acclaim, imagine what he might have done if he had had them!  He thought, for example, if he had been able to work with doctors, he could have found the cause of cancer.  I think that is likely true.  I am quite sure that when his work is known, no one will ever again be insane." — introduction to Self ond World, p. xi

From around 2000-15 AR members wrote lots of letters-to-the-editor and guest editorials for local newspapers, trying to drum up interest in AR.  (It didn't work, and they've apparently given up.)   Those pieces are notable for their hyperbolic, fawning praise of Eli Siegel.  They often use the same, identical gushing praise across multiple articles — they praised him by rote.  Someday I might gather and post those letters here, but in the meantime, you can search them for a $20 subscription.

5. Disconnected from reality

Cult members are disconnected from reality and cannot see the world as it truly is.  Logic and evidence does not penetrate their consciousness.  That's why my own definition of "brainwashed" is, "The inability to see what's obvious to everyone else."  Crazy things that ARists believe, include:

  • Eli Siegel (their founder) was the greatest, most important person to ever live, and his writings are greater than the Bible or Shakespeare. (see #4 above) 
  • There is a conspiracy in the media to not report positively about Aesthetic Realism. (see #10 below)
  • The reason for the press conspiracy is that reporters "are furious that they respect Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism without limit." (source)  (Yeah, it doesn't make sense.)
  • When people who went through AR's supposed "gay cure" and then started having gay sex again, it wasn't because they had gay desires, it's because they wanted to see themselves as superior to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism. (source)  (You cannot make this sh!t up.)
  • If my family won't join AR, or if they join AR and then leave, I should never talk to them again, because they're evil. (example) 

6. Members are brainwashed.

Getting people to disconnect from reality requires psychological manipulation, commonly called "mind control" or "brainwashing".  There are lots of methods and techniques to accomplish this.  AR uses a whole slew of them, including:

  • The basic recipe (withholding the prize)
  • Directed origination
  • Teaching members that they can't trust what the press says.  (See #10 below.) 
  • Disconnecting from family who won't join, or who leave, since family members might be able to get a member to snap out of it.  (See #8 below.) 

The associate editor of Literary Times says:

“[The Aesthetic Realists] should be considered liars.  I made my appraisal of Aesthetic Realism only after extensive thought, research, and field trips.  I could only conclude that as philosophy it is primitive and, as religion, worse than having none at all.  I sadly decided most people who think about aesthetics, ethics, or the cosmos do far better than the AR devotees or even the guru himself, assuming he believes in his system.  The absurdity of the movement is well illustrated by its propaganda.” — Harry Smith, Associate Editor of Literary Times, in a letter to the editor in the Village Voice

7. Shunning former members

Cult members see anyone who leaves as evil and abandoning truth and beauty.  They give a pass to people who were never in the group, because those people are merely ignorant and could still be indoctrinated.  But people who tasted truth and then rejected it?  They're the worst people in the world.  As one former member says:

"It is almost impossible to describe how filthy, disgusting, degenerate, and depraved we saw anyone who left AR.  Take all the worst people throughout history you can think of, roll them into one, and you have what we were conditioned to think of them.  I used to believe, for example, that while Hitler was evil because he wanted to kill all Jews and did succeed in killing 6 million of them, a person who left AR was even worse.  They wanted to doom every person in the whole world for the rest of time to lives deprived of AR.  There was no evil greater than that.

"Some of the people with statements on [AR's] Countering the Lies website claiming that AR students do not shun former students have actually passed me on the street, looked straight at me, and pretended they were seeing right through me.  This includes people in the highest positions in the organization. (read about this former member's experiences)

Another wrote: I keep contact with a couple of friends of mine that are former members who say that when they meet active people in AR, the AR people cross over to the other side of the street.  One actually opened an umbrella in an elevator to show how displeased they were with the former member!

Sadly, this shunning of former members extends to spouses.  Members are expected to marry within the group, if they do marry, and if one spouse leaves the group, they have to get divorced, plain and simple.

The shunning even extends to family members, too, as we'll see next.

8. Members discouraged from having personal relationships outside the group, even with family members

A cult member's first job is to recruit friends and family.  If they can't be recruited (or if they're recruited and then leave), they're not friends and family any more.  Many AR members have gone literally decades without speaking to their families.  As former member Aesthetic Realist Heide Krakauer said in Jewish Times: "I never believed it was a cult. I didn't see my parents for 15 years, and I thought nothing of it.  I used to plan trips to go home, and all the cult members would get around you and talk you out of it.  My parents would be so heartbroken when I canceled at the 11th hour."

My own aunt Alice, who is still involved with AR, didn't talk to my mother for over twenty years because my mother had left AR.  In fact, Alice recently telephoned my mother for the first time in twenty years only when Alice saw this website and thought my mother had put me up to writing it!

Another former member said, "My parents had told me that, if I left, it would be the end of our relationship.  They remained true to their word."  That endured for decades, and her parents eventually died without speaking to her again. (source) 

Contact with family members in AR is permitted if those family members give proper deference to Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel.  Some family members fake an appreciation for AR just so they can continue to see their children or siblings who are involved with the group.

There's something very telling about AR members' claims that they're close with their family members: their families don't agree.  Almost all the claims about family closeness on come from AR members themselves, not from the family members who aren't a part of the cult.

AR members' claims that they supposedly see their families and are supposedly close to them are meaningless.  Let's see the family members' statements!  Let's hear from the people not involved in Aesthetic Realism, and see if they agree that their family members in AR are in normal contact with the rest of the family.  I challenge every AR member who has a statement page on CounteringTheLies to provide a corroborating statement by a family member at the end of that page.  We're waiting.

The reason I know the family members don't agree is that I hear from them.  They tell me about the loved one(s) they've lost to AR.  And they never let me print what they write to me, because they're worried it will jeopardize their efforts to get in contact with their loved ones again, even if it's been years or decades since they've spoken.  The family members' fears are probably justified, and I can't blame them for choosing to remain silent.

Incidentally, after the New York Post ran an article describing the cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism and specifically mentioned the non-communication with family members, AR started allowing members to communicate with their families a little bit, specifically so they could claim that they are in contact with their families.  That's where most of the examples of supposed family closeness on AR's come from.  In a former member's excruciating account of life inside the group, she explains in detail about this particular AR obfuscation.


9. Warnings of illness or death for those who leave

Many cults warn members that they'll get sick, die, or go insane if they leave the group.  As cult expert Steve Hassan says, "[Members] are made to have these irrational fears that if they ever question the leader or leave the group, terrible things are going to happen to them.  And in my book, Freedom of Mind, I have four pages, single space of the most common phobias that I've encountered in my career—you'll be hit by a car, you'll get cancer, you'll die of a drug overdose [etc]." (source)  AR does the exact same thing.  One ex-member relays, "Members warned me that if I quit the cult I might lose my mind, or my mother might die of cancer." (source)  And as Jewish Times reported about another ex-AR member:  "He said his final days were horrific, with followers warning he would die, get cancer or suffer other terrible things if he left." (source) 

10. Paranoid feelings of persecution

AR students believe that there is a conspiracy in the news media to not share the beautiful news about Aesthetic Realism with the rest of the world.  For years they complained about this by wearing buttons that said "Victim of the Press". (They stopped shortly after being ridiculed for the practice in a New York Post article.) At right is a picture of me at age 12 dutifully wearing my VoTP button.  Here's how AR people describe their persecution by the press, from the double-page ad they purchased in the New York Times (emphasis added):

  • "Eli Siegel was the greatest man in the history of the world.  His mind had the greatest scope and the greatest kindness; he was completely honest.  This is why the press has kept Aesthetic Realism from you: press persons are furious that there are something and someone in this world they cannot look down on, even a little; they are furious that they respect Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism without limit and need to learn from Aesthetic Realism about everything."
  • "We say what history will say: the American press has blood on its hands, has caused misery and death, because for years it has withheld the news that men and women have changed from homosexuality through study of Aesthetic Realism."
  • "In keeping Aesthetic Realism—in all its grandeur, all its kindness—from you, the American press has committed a crime against humanity as much as if it deliberately kept from starving people the news that the food they needed was available for them."

And I found the following quotes in articles on the official AR website:

"The reason people are in agony about racial inequality, and so much more that could have changed decades ago, is this: persons on the press have blocked America's access to Aesthetic Realism.... Because press persons can't be superior to the knowledge of Eli Siegel, and because he stands for a democracy and respect for people that many press individuals fear, they have tried to do away with that which makes their egos so uncomfortable — principally by boycotting it.  The press has embodied hate of what is new and kind long before this time." Arnold Perey

"The education of Aesthetic Realism—so vital to people everywhere--has been kept from them through a cruel press boycott of over five decades."Marion Fenell

"I accuse the American press of preferring the continuing pain of children and even death to being honest about Aesthetic Realism."Robert Murphy


Incidentally, a former member wrote to us, "Did you know that the National Lampoon in 1991 had a cartoon that read 'How to recognize a nut' and showed a person wearing a slew of buttons including one that read 'Victim of the Press'? I had the humiliation of seeing that cartoon cut out and taped to the company bulletin board and highlighted in yellow."  I didn't know about that but I was able to track it down:


11. Their whole lives revolve around the cult, and nothing else.

Here's a good example:  My aunt Alice, who still a member, published a website supposedly honoring her mother and father.  On that page she links out to no less than 36 other websites.  And every single one of those 36 is an Aesthetic Realism-related site.  Every last one.  There is no place in her list for even one thing that's not directly related to AR.  Incredible.

Related to this, cult membership is a lifelong commitment.  You're not supposed to join, study, learn something, and then take that knowledge with you back to your outside life.  Instead, you're expected to stay and promote the group's beliefs until the day you die.  Many Aesthetic Realists have done exactly that, remaining in the group for several decades until they pass.

12. Members' lives are controlled, right down to whom they can marry.

Aesthetic Realists have to marry other Aesthetic Realists.  This is not generally the case, it's always the case, 100% of the time.  As journalist Paul Grossman wrote, "Not a single case of which I am aware was an intermarriage outside the group." ("Aesthetic Realism and Homosexuality", Boston Globe)  He's correct.  I have a list of all the Aesthetic Realists, and of those who are married, they're all married to each other.

And they're not just married to each other, the marriages are arranged:  AR tells you whom to marry.  This was even more horrifying back when AR was running its purported gay-cure program: gay men were periodically declared to be "cured" and quickly married off to the women members.

Members were also discouraged from having children starting around the mid-70s, which is why there's no younger generation of AR members to carry the torch as the older members pass on.

13. Hysterical reactions to criticism (usually accompanied by personal attacks on the integrity of the critic).

A common thread among cults is the over-the-top way they lash out at critics.  In some cults that can take the form of hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on the critic, and in extreme cases, murder.  (When a cult thinks that its beliefs are the single most important thing in the world, they'll feel that any action they take to protect those beliefs is justified.)  With most cults it usually doesn't come to homicide, but slander is certainly par for the course.  That's especially true for Aesthetic Realism.

AR claims that it welcomes criticism.  The reality is that when you criticize them, they put up a website trying to discredit you, calling you a liar, and describing you, personally, in unflattering terms.  That's what happened to me and Adam Mali after we each posted a single page of criticism about AR online (long before I started this full website).  I'll never forget when a reporter asked me, "How do you respond to the Aesthetic Realists describing you as some sort of sexual deviant?"  And here's what AR member Marvin Mondlin said on one of AR's sites about my criticism:

"So much for the stupid lying of Mali, Bluejay and the other liars....Why is he doing this? Feeling himself to be a failure in his own life, and joining with others also seeking revenge for essentially the same reason—notably Adam Mali—'Michael Bluejay' seeks the triumph of making himself important by looking down upon others.  He is attempting to assuage his feeling of unimportance by attacking the persons and philosophy he very well realizes best represent truth and beauty."

So much for AR's philosophy of not having contempt for others!  This is how well AR tolerates criticism—that is, not at all.  Oh, and incidentally, one of the things the ARists say I'm supposedly lying about is that AR doesn't tolerate criticism!  Go figure.  There are many more such examples of AR's "tolerance" of their critics on their CounteringTheLies website.

Mondlin's statement above, and those of the other members on AR's Countering The Lies, tells you everything you need to know about how the AR people judge and insult former members who dare to be critical of the group.  It's why many of the contributors to this site choose to make their posts anonymously, and I don't blame them.  Who would want to subject themselves to the kind of thrashing listed above?

Here's another example, sent by some anonymous AR person to my mother, even though my mother had zero to do with this website:

I studied Aesthetic Realism for only 9 months, and I could tell that it is an incredible philosophy.  You are so cruel to your son, as you use him to get back at what you respect so much, yet can't be superior to, and making him look like an angry old man, and a stupid one at that.  Your ego has taken over you.  I am your son's age and I am glad that I have a mother and father who understood my study of Aesthetic Realism.  YOU know Aesthetic Realism is not a cult, but you probably ARE a cultist.

I withhold my name because you and your son seem so bitter and nasty.

That last line should win some sort of prize for irony.

At the time the above was written, my mother had zero input into this website, because she preferred to put her AR experience behind her and not talk about it any more.  (Six years later, she finally wrote a piece about her experiences, and that was the extent of it.)  But the AR people insist on believing my mom is the mastermind of the site somehow — and persecuting her for it.  Really classy.


What the most well-known cult expert says

Here's a telling quote from cult expert Steve Hassan:

I think that [AR founder Eli Siegel] was a cult leader, and that like many other cult leaders, he had a narcissistic personality and was a control freak. ... What's dangerous about [AR is that] being in a mind-control environment, basically what happens to you is your identity gets assaulted, broken down, and a new cult personality is created.  You have a new set of beliefs that are a mirror image of Eli Siegel. You are constantly being manipulated by guilt and fear. Jewish Times

Hassan is probably the most-recognized authority on mind-control cults.  He's a Nationally Certified Counselor, licensed Mental Health Counselor, former member of the Moon cult (the Moonies), and is the author of two critically acclaimed books, Combatting Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults (1988) and Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves (2000).  He's been featured on 60 Minutes, Nightline, Dateline, Larry King Live, and The O'Reilly Factor.


Former members call AR a cult

A whole slew of former members describe AR as a cult.  I could pick a hundred quotes from their stories, but I'll restrain myself and share just a few from an article in Jewish Times.

"I had to go through a lot of therapy getting out of this group...You don't have a life outside of it."  [About discouraging him from going to college:]  "They criticize you — they say, 'You have the greatest knowledge in the world in front of you.  Do you think you can learn more in college?'  Your peers basically get around you.  It was like a little spider web in your brain.  They get you to actually control yourself.  A lot of people's lives have been hurt — ruined." (Adam Mali)

"[When I was in it] I never believed it was a cult. I didn't see my parents for 15 years, and I thought nothing of it.  I used to plan trips to go home, and all the cult members would get around you and talk you out of it.  My parents would be so heartbroken when I canceled at the 11th hour.  The point is, people who are in it do not know they are under mind control even though everyone has their private reservations."(Heidi Krakauer)

"[AR founder Eli Siegel] was a hurtful person. He was a sociopath. He was a control freak, and he was a cult leader." (former member in for almost 25 years)

"The main reason [I left] was because [my son] left, and I was not allowed to have anything to do with him. He was my only child, and there was no way I was going to live without my son."

"You're never told you cannot do something...They just ask questions [about associating with ex-members:] 'Will you like yourself if you talk to someone who has abandoned truth? Will you be proud if you talk to someone who doesn't want to be completely fair to Eli Siegel?'"

An ex-member noted that her husband, who is still a member, won't speak to her or his son.  "It's heartbreaking," she said. "[Her son] misses his father very much. [He] worries about him. It seems no matter how old you get, you would like to have a father in your life."

"People treated [Eli Siegel] more and more as a god, the perfect human.  It was no longer a give-and-take — it was the best, the greatest and the only — and anyone who questioned that was seen as an enemy."

"This is one of the characteristics of the organization that is cult-like -- you can't have reservations. Either it is the most important thing you have ever known and you have to devote your life to them, or you are an enemy."

"People were told that if their families did not support aesthetic realism, they were not their families."

Non-members can easily see that AR is a cult

It's always nice when someone checks out this site and AR's rebuttal site where they deny they're a cult, and the reader concludes, "Yep.  Definitely a cult."  Here's an example.

See also the sidebar on this page where another non-member says that AR is a cult.


As damning as all the above is, that's not even the extent of my evidence.  See my entire mountain of it.

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...

Yet more people who say
Aesthetic Realism is a cult

  • Rabbi Steven Greenberg, in his book Wrestling with God and Men, referred to AR as "the once popular cult of Eli Siegel". (PDF p. 293)
  • New York Songlines says AR is "a kind of philosophical cult".
  • Shaun Aisbitt, who writes, "I accidently met two [AR] members while having a quick snack on a hot day in Central Park, New York. Their talk, mannerisms and deceptive attempts to get me to come on over led me to check out their group. Aesthetic Realism followers hold to a thinly disguised form of Taoism with teachings that opposites are dependent on each other like Ying-Yang, good & evil, male & female.  The group is based in lower Manhattan and members display all signs of cultic mind manipulation (persecution complex, loading the language or 'inside terminology', cutting off the 'old life', shunning former members, unable to accept simplest questioning of / or criticism that may appear to go against their beliefs, deceptive recruiting practices)." (source)

James Bready of the Baltimore Evening Sun made reference to the cult idea in a 1982 article:

There are always belittlers, who speak of Siegel as a Village guru and call his followers a cult.

Of course, I think if this website were around in 1982, Bready would have concluded that AR's critics amount to more than "belittlers". :)

A reader writes...

Hello, I have never been involved with AR or any cult, but I wanted to send you a note responding to your site. I was made curious about the organization in the early 1990s when I had a job as a photographer's assistant in the building next door to AR's headquarters. I remember that something about the look of the building and the "literature" and posters displayed made me suspicious (I never did enter the place). Maybe my upbringing in Los Angeles around that other so-called "non-cult," Scientology, spurred both my curiosity and my suspicions. I can't remember what kind of research I did at the time, but somehow the anti-homosexual nature of the cult was revealed to me, and I began to tell people what I had discovered to be the truth behind that mysterious SoHo building masquerading as some kind of arts-related organization (as a student of both philosophy and poetry, I was particularly offended by the misappropriation of these pursuits....)  After the passage of many years and a move to Brooklyn, I had forgotten all about AR -- until I found myself working the table of a small press I'm involved with at the International Small Press Fair in midtown Manhattan late in 2004.  The AR people also had a table, right across from ours.  They were hawking their new book that claims AR holds the answer to beating racism. (!)  I spent the entire two-day fair stealthily checking them out, trying to figure out whether these were the hateful people I imagined — I also started telling my friends again about what I had once learned about AR's dirty secret.  But I kept disclaiming my statements, saying "I'm not sure about this, but somehow I have the idea that this is basically a disguised anti-gay cult."  Since I didn't want to spread rumors, I decided to do a little research and hit upon your site.  I just wanted to write you a note so you will know that a site like this can be interesting and valuable even to those of us who have never been involved in a cult. I see it as a matter of personal duty to discredit groups that spread false science and fuzzy logic.  Thanks for putting up such a nice site, and I hope that it continues to help and inform. — Jan. 16, 2005

AR recruits on dating sites?

A reader writes on October 25-26, 2005:

I have run across several women sourcing men on dating web sites to recruit them for various organizations including one who was in AR. About four years ago, I was contacted by a woman who was an AR "member" and she took me to their location on Greene Street in NYC. I Googled AR after this to get the low down on this organization, because I was very suspicious.

She got to the point of finally telling me she could not date me because she did not respect what I did for a living. I am in systems development working for a tax compliance firm, making a stable and very good living.

My suspicion is that she was sourcing dating sites, for men, so that she could recruit them into this organization. This is a common recruitment technique. Some other woman a short while back did the same thing, but it was for some other group.

I told the gal I was with last night [about AR and that] I'd google AR again and send her info on it. I read most of the stuff on you site about AR and it is right on. Thanks for writing back and great web site.

Editor's note: I'm skeptical that the AR woman was really "recruiting," for the sake of recruiting. I think it's more likely that she was really looking for a partner, but any potential partner also had to be a potential convert. When you rise high enough in the group it's expected that if you marry it will be to another member, but sometimes there's slim pickings within the group, especially as their size is shrinking. If that's your situation and you want a partner, then you have to look outside the group for someone you can bring in. As another former member told me, "There was a time when the only way a guy could get a date with me was to attend the Saturday night program at the [AR] foundation."

I mentioned to our reader that the AR person's objection to his job was probably because AR members are leftists who oppose capitalism and don't like lots of things the government spends money on. (I'm definitely sympathetic to the latter, by the way.) He confirmed that that was pretty much what she said.

And yes, he did tell us the name of the AR person he dated, but there's no need for us to repeat it here. This site serves to expose the Aesthetic Realism group as a whole, not to intrude into the personal lives of individual members.

AR book reviewed on

Here's someone who confirms what we've been saying: that Eli Siegel's ideas may have merit, the problem is in the way they're being promoted. This is an excerpt from a reader's review of Siegel's Self and World posted to in Sept. 2003:

"I don't see how [Siegel's] students in Soho (he has been dead for decades) have been able to turn what is found in this book and in Siegel's other writings (most of which I have read) to the rather dogmatic ends to which they put it. For example, they used to insist a few years ago (I don't know what they say nowadays) that this book was the greatest book ever written, and that Siegel was basically the greatest person who ever lived. And they would say such things without the least apparent smidgen of uncertainty, diffidence, or consciousness of the possibility that they might, just possibly, be mistaken. At least, the students I met were like that, and my sense of the situation was that they were typical of the students in general. They go around, or used to go around, with buttons saying, 'victimized by the press', because they felt that the mainstream press, the New York Times, the Washington Post should be reporting on Eli Siegel's writings and teachings. The fact that this was not happening, the students thought, was a kind of assault perpetrated on the students of Siegel's teaching, on the deceased Siegel, and on the human race itself.

"So, in my view, one should beware of the students, but read the book, it's a very important piece of writing, up there with the classics, I think, both in the high degree of perfection of its literary style, and in the simple beauty and yet profound complexity of its content. If you seek self-knowledge and profound knowledge of the world, there are few writers or books to compare with this one. Just don't stop with Siegel."

(read the full review...)

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

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