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

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Michael Bluejay‘s experience with Aesthetic Realism

by Michael Bluejay, founder of this website, 2005 • Last edited: 2023

     My roots in Aesthetic Realism go deep.  I was born into it, because my mother was born into it, because her parents were involved in it.  My maternal grandfather, Jack Musicant, was introduced to Aesthetic Realism by Marvin Mondlin who for the several years leading up to his death in 2020 was AR's oldest living supporter (and who publicly insulted me for daring to speak out against AR).  From what I understand, Mondlin met Siegel while in college, though Siegel himself didn't attend college and professed a disdain for it.  Jack apparently introduced AR to his future wife, May Musicant.  Jack and May knew Siegel well and were students of his.

     May and Jack had three daughters, including my mother, and all three daughters were brought up in AR.  My grandparents first took my mother to private lessons with AR's founder Eli Siegel when she was 4 or 5 years old, and she remained deeply involved from all her childhood through early adulthood.  As an adult, she gave public presentations at AR's Terrain Gallery and served as the Dance Director for AR's theater troupe, and was one of the subjects of the AR book The Feminine Mind is Magnificent and Exacting: An Aesthetic Realism Lesson of Two College Girls.  One of the people she presented with was Tom Shields, who was one of the four people profiled in AR's first gay cure book.

     My mother introduced my birth father to AR when they were in high school.  They married right after college and I was born right away, into the group.  I had at least one "lesson" with Eli Siegel, at age two.  (See the transcript of the lesson, including the improvised "song" that Siegel composed for me.)  I believe I had two other lessons with Siegel but I can't locate the records.  I have photos of me as a toddler picketing the New York Times with my parents to protest their refusal to report positively about AR.  My babysitter was Donna Lamb, who would remain in the group for about another 30 years, becoming one of the AR teachers, but then left in 2001 and is now writing a book about her experiences.

     My mother and my first father divorced when I was about 2 or 3—over the objections of AR leadership.  She started seeing one of her students from the college dance class she taught.  He saw that she was a brainwashed cult member and I was about to become one, which was likely a big factor in his marrying her and taking us to Texas, away from the AR nest.  (Unlike more successful cults like Scientology or the Hare Krishnas, which are worldwide, AR never made it out of lower Manhattan.)

     Of course, the Aesthetic Realists tried to prevent Mom from leaving.  They told her she was making the biggest mistake of her life, that her life would be utterly destroyed without AR, that she was leaving only because of the contempt she had for the founder Eli Siegel, etc.  This stuff came from her parents, too.

     But while you can take the mother out of the cult, you can't take the cult out of the mother.  She continued to remain loyal to the group, even though they excommunicated her for leaving New York.  She certainly brought the whole mess of AR books with her.  She continued to self-study AR, taught dance classes from the Aesthetic Realism perspective, gave public lectures about AR wherever she could, and organized an AR study group for anyone she could recruit—all of which I attended.  Dad didn't like it but he couldn't push too hard or there would be a fight at best or divorce at worst.  He just resolved to be patient and hope that some day she would snap out of it.

     When I was around seven years old, my mother was talking to me in AR-speak, and I was frustrated because she seemed like a zombie and I couldn't talk to her, there was some imposed personality sitting on top of a human being.  So, in my frustration, I said, "I think you're into Aesthetic Realism too much."  She went ballistic.  To this day, I've never seen her that furious in my entire life.

     My grandparents (May and Jack) didn't talk to mom for the first six to seven years after we moved to Texas.  Eventually they softened and kept saying they'd visit, but then they'd cancel.  This was a normal thing in the group: you'd plan to see your family, but then the group would lean on you and convince you not to.  As one former member said, "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."  So after this happened a few times, my mother told them, "Stop calling me and telling me you're coming.  Instead, call us from the airport if you've actually landed."  Shortly after my younger brother was born, my grandparents defied AR leadership and did exactly that, calling us from the airport.  They got to see their new grandson, and then shortly after they returned to New York my grandfather unexpectedly passed away.  My mother went to NY for the funeral, and the Aesthetic Realists kept her separated from Grandma May, fearful that Mom might put ideas of leaving the cult into Grandma's head.  After Mom returned to Texas, she didn't hear from her mother again for another six years.

Me at 12 years old in NYC with
my Aunt Alice (still in AR), dutifully wearing my "Victim of the Press" button.

     When I was nearly 12, I went back to New York to visit my cousin, the son of my mother's sister J.  J. was somewhat involved in AR, but the eldest sister, Alice, was intensely involved, and by my third day in NY she had me signed up for "consultations" at AR's headquarters, and had a whole AR-centric agenda planned for my visit.  I didn't protest but neither was I really interested in it.  And even though I went to consultations, their Jedi mind tricks didn't work on me because they had nothing I wanted, so they had no leverage.

      Incidentally, on AR's "Countering the Lies" website Alice claims that I've been uninvolved with AR since I was five, and that she was friendly with me on my visit to New York when I was 12 even though I was uninvolved with AR.  Neither of these things is true.  Alice was friendly with me because I was involved with AR during my visit, and I was involved because of her efforts to get me involved.  She made sure I attended AR classes, consultations, presentations, and protests, and had me associate with all the other AR people whom she felt should be my influences.  I was basically reabsorbed into the group's culture, even wearing one of the silly "Victim of the Press" buttons everywhere.  I went to the zoo with Tom Shields (mentioned earlier), and played his piano.  Hal Lanse, an AR member at the time, and who more recently wrote a book critical of the group, came to my 12th birthday party.

     Right before I went to NY, AR bought their big ad in the NY Times to trumpet their supposed gay cure, signed by the people who had supposedly changed.  Grandma May was one of the signers, attesting that she'd changed from lesbianism.  (In fact, she was one the teachers, counseling lesbians on how to stop being that way.)

     When I was in high school my mother abruptly had an epiphany and realized that AR was a cult.  She tearfully apologized to me for making AR a part of my life.  (To this day she periodically makes the same apology on occasion, to which I reply that there is nothing to apologize for, since I cannot see anyone else in the same circumstances acting differently.  When you're born into a cult, as she was, your ability to reject it and to make informed decisions is severely compromised.)  My mother's revelation ended my involvement with AR.  That was fine with me, as I'd never really bought into AR anyway.

     After Grandpa Jack's funeral in 1977, Grandma May again gave Mom the silent treatment for the next 5-6 years.  The around 1983 when I was 16, they reconnected, and Grandma actually moved to Texas, partly to be closer to us, but probably mostly because the country air would add years to her life since she was dying of emphysema from being a lifelong smoker.  We don't know about her feelings about AR when she moved because she never brought it up, and we didn't ask.  I do know that her leaving New York would have been over the objections of AR's leadership.  Certainly, if Alice ever called, it was to yell and Grandma for having left the nest.  For that matter, when Alice escorted Grandma to Texas, after walking Grandma from the plane to the gate, Alice turned around without saying a single word, and walked right back to the plane for the return flight.  (Yet, you can read all over AR's ironically-named "Countering the Lies" website about how former members like me are supposedly lying when we say that AR shuns former members.)

     Naturally, Alice never once visited Grandma, much less helped in any way with her care.  This is apparently the sort of "kindness" you can learn from studying Aesthetic Realism.  Grandma passed when I was in college.  Alice didn't even bother to come to the funeral.  Years later, Alice had the audacity to start a blog supposedly honoring her parents with posts such as "A Daughter is Grateful".  She left out the bit about how she completely abandoned her mother in her mother's final years.

     A few years later my parents divorced and my mother returned to NYC and married another former AR member, but both stayed far away from AR.

    In 2005, at age 37, I started this website.  There's a whole story behind how what motivated me to do so.

    Here's what else happened in 2005, but it requires some backstory:  Alice didn't just cut off her mother (my grandma) when grandma left New York, she also cut off her sister (my mother) when my mother left New York.  She likely relented only briefly in 1979 when I visited NY at age 12, to coordinate my AR activities while in NY, but shortly after I returned to Texas, Alice resumed her silence.  She didn't speak to Mom from 1979 to 2005, and you'll never guess what caused her to break her silence:  I'd just started this website, so Alice called Mom to pressure her to get me to take the website down.  (Incidentally, on AR's "Countering the Lies" website, one of the things I'm supposedly lying about is that the Aesthetic Realists don't tolerate criticism, because, according to them, they love criticism so much that they practically cry out in ecstasy as they rub it all over their bodies.  The reality is they want no criticism of them to appear anywhere at all.)

    When Mom got the call from Alice, she had no idea what Alice was talking about, because I'd never told Mom about the site.  Like most former cult members, Mom preferred to put her experience behind her and forget about it, so when I started the site, I didn't tell her about it. 

    Alice's call to Mom failing, Alice then called my birth father, to try to get him to pressure me to take the website down.  Who knows why she thought he'd be inclined to do so, because he left AR shortly after my family moved to Texas, so no one could expect that he'd want to defend Aesthetic Realism.  Also, Alice didn't know that I hadn't talked to him since my family left New York.  I couldn't find him because he had a very common name, and he couldn't find me because he didn't know I'd changed my name.  (Obviously, "Bluejay", while my real, legal name, is one that I chose.)  But, thanks to Alice, my father was able to easily find my website and contact me, after 33 years.  I also found out that I have a half-sister I would never have known about otherwise.  We've all seen each other multiple times since then in three different states.  If I hadn't started this site, I wouldn't have reconnected with family.  Though to be fair, I also wouldn't have reconnected if Alice hadn't been so determined to get my site off the Internet.  Thanks, Alice!

    Six years after I started the site, Mom wrote up a detailed account about how Aesthetic Realism ruined her childhood.

     The following year, I got married, and I invited Alice.  I sent a message saying, in part, "Hi Alice, On Sunday I'm getting married to a wonderful woman I met five years ago, and I wanted to invite you and David to the wedding.  I know we've had our differences, but family is family, and I'd be happy if you could attend.  If you did come then of course I won't broach the subject about which we disagree [AR] (though if you want to talk about it, I'll be happy to have a conversation with you about it at length)."  She replied, in part:

I would certainly like very much for your life to go on in a new, happier direction, and would find it very interesting to attend your wedding.  However, I would like, first, a good-faith statement from you that your website/pages referring to Aesthetic Realism will be removed immediately, entirely, and permanently from the Internet.  When that occurs, whatever 'disagreement' we have can be kept in the family, and David and I will readily join you and others at your wedding or for dinner.

The funny thing is she thought she had any leverage over me, as though I was going to be heartbroken if she didn't come.  She didn't realize that my offer wasn't for me, it was for her, I was giving her the chance to be a real human being again.  She didn't take it.  But you know, as she says, Aesthetic Realism isn't a cult or anything.

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