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

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Wondering why there hasn't been a lawsuit

“I want Ellen Reiss questioned!”

written January 2006

     Hi Michael. I really appreciate the work you are doing to try to help people who suffered from the AR cult. I wish we could have coffee cuz this is the first time I have every talked about this....ever.

     What makes me angry is not the philosophy, but its misuse, which is really, really shocking.

“I studied for several years and it took me away from my family and screwed me up in all sorts of ways that I have really preferred not to think about.”

     I studied for several years and it took me away from my family and screwed me up in all sorts of ways that I have really preferred not to think about. Perhaps the most painful part was that I joined because I was very much in love with another member, and after I left he was discouraged from seeing me, because I was then considered outside of Aesthetic Realism. His AR consultants asked him, in a tone that you would use when asking a child, why he was playing with fire? "Why are you still seeing her?" Of course after hearing this consultation his AR roommate also encouraged him to ask himself questions about whether the relationship should continue. This kind of peer pressure is brain washing, and the AR people should STOP doing stuff like that. So my relationship was destroyed, and it was a long-term relationship that could have ended in marriage. He left later too, but by then it was too late for us.

     Another thing I found disturbing was that my roommate's consultant was really mean to her, under the so-called guise of trying to help her. There is criticism that is meant to help someone, for sure, and then there is a woman on a power trip who uses her position as a consultant to be nasty to someone she doesn't like. But the consultant never gets critcised herself for it, she is above that, and even before I studied Aesthetic Realism and heard those consultations, I knew the difference between the two things. I always thought she really hated my roommate because I heard the horrible things she said to her on the consultation tapes. I think the other consultants were strict, but this one, well, she really made my roommate feel like hell, and even with constructive criticism you can go way, way too far. Someone should have told her so.

      Moreover, I was in the cult for a number of years and didn't realize that Eli Siegel killed himself! I only learned that from reading your site. They would often start seminars by apologizing for his death which they said they caused by their giving him bad advice to have an operation because, er, they "hated their respect for him." That is simply not logical. I didn't realize he had a mistress, either, which I don't think is ethical, or that he had an appetite for women other than his wife, which I also think is not so great. And I didn't know that Ellen Reiss was jealous of some rivals or that there was a competition among some women to control the foundation. What I do know is that when I studied AR, it was way disproportionately full of women, and that the single ones were not exactly encouraged to date like normal people.

“The that no one challenges the consultants or Ellen Reiss....I ask Ellen Reiss: Ms. Reiss, is it good for you that no one challenges what you say?
They were all too busy with going to AR classes, where there were not so many men to meet. This was before Internet dating, and bars were not really looked upon so well, and women who did show a desire to meet men were viewed as too focused on men. It was all very unhealthy and weird. Relationships were always the subject of discussion by roommates and friends and to stay "in" with the AR crowd you had to basically get everyone's tacit approval for everything you were doing, whether it was a trip or a boyfriend or even living alone, which was frowned upon. The AR consultants can argue that they never tell anyone to do anything. What they're failing to acknowledge is that they still make it very clear what they prefer that you do, and you get criticized relentlessly if you go against their wishes. If you have no other friends but AR friends and they hear a consultation tape where your consultants question the merits of, say, your going to Boston, then if you actually go to Boston your friends will look down on you too. That is how it works. No one in AR would ever say, "Hey, maybe your consultants are wrong, there's nothing wrong with the trip!" Never. The problem with the way the AR foundation works is that no one challenges the consultants or Ellen Reiss. You don't argue in a consultation. You get told stuff or asked leading questions and then other people hear it and ALWAYS take the consultants' viewpoint. Is that healthy? I ask Ellen Reiss, Ms. Reiss, is it good for you that no one challenges what you say?

     If it is true that students of Aesthetic Realism encouraged a cancer patient to commit suicide and ostracized her when she refused, that is one of the sickest things I have ever heard. They should be answerable for this.

     I have often wondered why no one has brought a class-action suit against the center to shut it down once and for all. If you ever played some of those consultation tapes in court, anyone could see that I was being pressured. Yes, it was voluntary, but there is something very, very wrong all the pressure to influence students. The whole Ellen-Reiss-as-god thing is disgusting and should be stopped. It would be great to have our day in court. I want Ellen Reiss questioned!

     I lost my family for a few years by studing AR but they easily forgave me. Not so for many friends from college who thought I went nuts and I never heard from them again.

“Do I get my three years back?”

(I thought it would be funny to quote the similar line from the 70's sci-fi movie "Logan's Run".)

     I would like my three years years back...but equally important, I would like that place not to do to other people what it did to me! I just don't want anyone else damaged the way I was and I want the truth to be out there.

     Thanks for all your hard work Michael. I am very, very glad you exist! All the best to you.. .

P.S. I was thinking I was like to get in touch with some of the people who I think were indoctrinated at the time I was but I have no idea how. Maybe you could have a forum on your site where we could say who we were and who we were searching for? I guess I think it would be nice if some of us could talk to each other and find out how we deal or dealt with certain issues like re-immersion into normal life or getting back our lost years or feelings of anger at the cult...

 P.P.S. I just read: "A former Aesthetic Realism student involved for over a decade speaks out" Now there's a person who says it all. I hope one day in court, or at least in memoir about a cult that no longer exists.

[Editor's note: Thanks very much for sharing your experiences. Others have made the same request as you, to have a way to get in touch with other former members. Unfortunately if I let people put up a note saying, "I'm looking for former member Joan Blow...", well, then, they've just outed Joan as a former member. And if we had a discussion forum then participants would have to be ever vigilant to not say anything making themselves or others personally identifiable to the AR leadership, which would mean that the forum dialogue would be all but neutered. And if anyone ever slipped and said enough to identify themselves you can be sure the AR people would publicly ream them on, the way they did with me and the few other critics who dared to be public about who they are. Now, what I *can* do is set up a private, anonymous mailbox for everyone who posts a statement on this AR is a Cult website, so anyone reading the statement can contact the author. I'll try to get around to that eventually... Of course, if I set this up, such critics will probably get hate mail from the AR people, and I wouldn't be surprised if the AR people tried to pose as someone else to try to feel a critic out to find out who the critic really is.... ]

Reader comments about this article

My two cents


Mar. 28, 2006  11:30

I just happened upon your website. I was a student of AR for about two years around 1970. In retrospect, what I found most distasteful about this group was its extreme left-wing politics. Siegel wrote a poem to commemorate a fall in the stock market! The man and many of his followers were pro-Stalin and clearly hostile to organized religion.

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

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