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

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Help for journalists covering Aesthetic Realism

by Michael Bluejay • Last update: April 2022


I'm happy to do phone interviews 24/7:  Text or call (512) 402-4364.

How the media has covered AR already

The overwhelming majority of articles in the press about the group have been negative, with AR often identified as a cult.  See my list of media articles about AR.

AR duped the Villager, et al

AR intentionally misleads reporters because the truth is damning.  For example, multiple media outlets have been duped into reporting that AR's gay prejudice is a thing of the past, when the reality is that it's very much current, it's never changed.  Please see How AR spins its gay cure efforts if you're covering that topic, otherwise you will likely be mislead by AR's obfuscations.  AR has been playing the media for years, they're good at it.

Is AR just a harmless group of wackos?

No.  AR hurts people, profoundly.  Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing this.

  1. AR breaks up families.  The first job of any new cult member is to recruit friends and family.  Friends and family who can't be recruited, or who join and then leave, aren't friends and family any more.  AR members have gone literally decades without speaking to their parents or children.
  2. AR ruins relationships and marriages.  As one former member wrote, "I consider my study of AR to be one of the things that led to the breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow."  Regarding another, Jewish Times said, "[He] even felt compelled to break up with his girlfriend of three years when she wouldn't buy into his family's philosophy."
  3. AR wounded gays who sought the "cure".  AR damaged people who went through its gay-change program, reinforcing the idea that there was something wrong with them that needed to be fixed.  After AR failed to "cure" them, results included becoming alcoholism, homelessness, attempted suicide, and, I strongly suspect, actual suicide.  One collapsed and died of a heart attack when pressured into giving a presentation of his "cure" since he likely felt he hadn't really changed.  A telling book excerpt:  "[After various other approaches] failed, he entered Aesthetic Realism, a New York-based group that works with gay people to change their sexual orientation.....[One day] he broke down in the cab and began crying. 'I felt emotionally raped," he says…. Conversion therapy, Shalom says, is emotionally destructive.  He says a friend of his who was 'cured' of gayness later tried to take his own life.  'You don't change,' he says.  'You only end up hating yourself even more.'" (source)  While AR no longer offers conversion therapy, its anti-gay prejudice is as strong as it ever was.
  4. Other members were also damaged.  As one former member said, "I had to go through a lot of therapy getting out of this group."  

Responses to AR's claims

"Michael Bluejay is unreliable / disgruntled / a sexual deviant."

It's not just me saying this.  Aesthetic Realism has been called a cult at least as early as 1962, long before I was even born.  AR has been identified as a cult by tons of media outlets (NY Times, NY Magazine, NY Native, Harper's, Psychology Today, etc.), former members, the general public, and Steve Hassan, the best known expert on harmful cults.

"Aesthetic Realism isn't a cult because Eli Siegel [AR's founder] was an acclaimed poet / critic."

Siegel's accolades don't mean AR isn't a cult.  A cult is a fanatical group that does things like worship its leader, practice mind control, and cut off members from their families.  So Siegel's bona fides mean exactly squat.

"Aesthetic Realism isn't a cult, it's education."

Again, those two things aren't mutually exclusive.  AR is education and it's a cult.

AR likes to compare itself to Columbia University.  Fine, let's take that:

  1. Students of Columbia don't believe that Columbia's founder/leader is "the most important person to ever live" and that his writings are "greater than the Bible and Shakespeare". (source) 
  2. You're not expected to recruit your family to attend Columbia, and if they won't attend (or already graduated), you still have contact with them.
  3. Columbia doesn't practice mind control to recruit and retain its students.
  4. Columbia students aren't brainwashed (i.e., disconnected from reality).
  5. Once you graduate Columbia, you get out.  AR devotees are in until the day they die.

There's more, but you get the point. 

"Aesthetic Realism doesn't break up families."

AR definitely cuts members off from their families, as former members (including me) can readily attest.  Following the NY Post's scathing 1998 article in which it mentioned the breaking-up-families bit, AR started allowing some members to have limited contact with their families, specifically so they could claim that they see their families when talking to the media.  This slight loosening didn't extend to all members, though.  For example, Chaim and Dorothy Koppelman died without ever speaking to their daughter Ann again, who'd left decades prior.  That's one reason that Dorothy Koppelman doesn't have a statement on AR's Countering the Lies, because she either would have had to not mention being in touch with her out-of-AR family (which would be a glaring omission), or she'd have to lie.  Elsewhere on "Countering the Lies", one member actually brags about disassociating from his son who'd left the group with his mother, ridiculing the son for leaving voicemails "pleading for personal contact."  He continues: "As to Adam Mali’s saying, 'My own father is forbidden to have any contact with me':  Nonsense! Nobody has forbidden me any such thing!  It is through my own good sense that I want nothing to do with him."  See also more debunking by a former high-ranking member.

"Many people left AR but still believe it's good and not a cult."

Those people were kicked out of the group.  Most of them have no clue they were kicked out, because AR fed them a line while showing them the door.  In any event, besides that small handful of people, the overwhelming majority of people who left AR certainly do not deny that it's a cult.

"AR doesn't discourage education."

  1. Many of the degrees that AR members like to cite as evidence that AR isn't against education, were earned before the members joined AR.
  2. If someone was close to finishing a degree when they joined, AR let them finish so AR could brag about the member's credentials.  This was especially true with advanced degrees like Ph.D.  (e.g., Arnold Perey)
  3. Some members got their degrees after they were kicked out of the group, not knowing they were kicked out.  One way that AR got rid of people it didn't like was to tell them something like, "Well, you've certainly learned a lot here, good for you!  At this time you should consider pursuing or finishing that college degree, in that other city or state."
  4. Some members pursued their degrees over AR's objections, but sometimes were allowed to stay as members.  AR hypocritically holds up these members' educational achievements as supposed evidence of AR not being against education.

"All (or most) of AR's critics are anonymous."  "There are no credible critics of AR."

They wish!  Here's a whole slew of AR critics, who use their own names.

Former members

  1. Michael Bluejay
  2. Donna Lamb
  3. Ann Stamler
  4. Gerri-Ellen Harmon
  5. Heide Krakauer
  6. Hal Lanse, Ph.D.
  7. Adam Mali
  8. Ron Schmidt
  9. Wayne Smith

Journalists & Writers

  1. Alan Wald, professor emeritus at U. of Mich. Ann Arbor, in American Night: The Literary Left…, 2012, p. 284)
  2. Alan Rich, arts editor of NY Magazine
  3. Bill Schoell, NY Blade
  4. Harry Smith, assoc. editor of Literary Times
  5. Hugh Kenner, Harper's
  6. Sharon K. Farber, Ph.D, Psychology Today
  7. Paul Grossman , NY Native
  8. Stephen Hunter, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer
  9. Teresa Annas, Virginian-Pilot


  1. Allen Roskoff, political activist
  2. Gideon Rettich
  3. Rabbi Steven Greenberg (source, p. 293)
  4. Shaun Aisbitt (met them in the park)

"Michael Bluejay was only an infant (or two years old) (or three years old) when his mother studied, and she studied only once."

My mother was born into the group and her experience started right out of the cradle and lasted well into adulthood.  Her experience was both extensive and harrowing.  She was the Dance Director of AR's theater troupe and led public presentations.  Now that she's out, she's written a detailed account of her time in the group.  Because she was born into it, so was I.  My family left New York (and thus the AR nest) when I was five, but in Texas my mother gave AR lectures, which I attended, and started an AR study group which I was also a part of.  When I was two weeks shy of my 12th birthday I returned to New York to visit family and took classes and consultations (therapy sessions) at the AR headquarters, attended presentations there, and participated in one of the protests/vigils at the New York Times building (or possibly New York Magazine, I forget).  I've got tons of pictures from this visit which I'm happy to share with the media.  Here are a couple I posted, showing me wearing my AR "Victim of the Press" button.

Questions to ask the Aesthetic Realists

AR probably won't talk to you.  After years of complaining bitterly that they were victims of the press because the press wouldn't cover them, now they want no coverage at all, because when the press does write about them it's generally negative.  A 7/19/18 article in the Villager noted that AR asked Villager not to write the article.  Likely the best you'll get is a written statement, which doesn't allow you to ask clarifying questions, and the AR people will lie through their teeth in such a statement.

If you're able to get them to reply to questions, you have to word them carefully and interpret their answers carefully if you want your questioning to be successful.  If they can find a technicality that gives them an out to deceive you about something they'd rather not admit, they will.  Since I'm familiar with their most frequent obfuscations, I can suggest some pointed questions to ask them.

Eli Siegel

Was Eli Siegel the most important person ever to live? 

They believe this, and they'll probably readily admit to it, which will let you know right away that they're disconnected from reality.

Did Eli Siegel's life end after he intentionally took an overdose of prescription medications?

This is the way you have to ask this question, leaving no room for error, though they will still probably deny it anyway.  The spokesperson might say something like "I don't know, I wasn't there," which is an obvious way to avoid answering.  But if they claim they don't know how he died because they weren't there, then the obvious followup is:

How can you say that Bluejay et al are lying [see AR's "Countering the Lies"] when they say that Siegel killed himself, if you're telling me that you don't know how he died because you weren't there?

The gay cure

Did the Aesthetic Realism Foundation offer consultations to help people change from homosexuality? 

If you word it this way you'll likely get the accurate answer—yes.  If you word it any other way then you'll probably get the wrong answer, "No".

Did people change from homosexuality and remain changed as a result of studying Aesthetic Realism?

This is how you have to ask the question.  If you ask "Did you have a cure for gayness?", they'll say No, because they never used the specific word "cure", but they won't tell you that that's the source of their denial.  If you word it the way I suggested, you'll get the accurate answer: Yes.  After all, current Aesthetic Realists who say they changed and are still with the AR women they were married off to include Bennet Cooperman, Bruce Blaustein, Wayne Plumstead, Dale Laurin, Dan McClung, Joe Spetly, and Michael Palmer.

Did Eli Siegel say that homosexuality was a form of selfishness? 

He did, in the 1971 book The H Persuasion.


Why has the press not generally reported favorably about Aesthetic Realism?

They might try to obfuscate and say that the press has reported favorably about AR, since there are all of two such articles written by non-AR people in existence.  Otherwise, they might say what they really feel:  "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." (source) 

 Why will you not agree to a live debate with Michael Bluejay?

They will say it's because I'm irrelevant and not worth their time.  In that case, the obvious followup is, "Then why did you put up a 100-page website attacking what he said?"

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