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

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Aesthetic Realism's double-page ad in the New York Times

Here's what they blew more than half a million dollars on

by Michael Bluejay • Last update: 2022



     The Aesthetic Realists haven taken out huge ads in major newspapers several times to promote AR.  The first was a full-page ad in the New York Times in 1976.  The second was an ad to trumpet their "gay cure", which appeared in major newspapers and magazines from 1978-80.  But by far the most ambitious was the following double-page spread in the Times on January 10, 1990.  Looking up the Times' ad rates right now, it looks like the Aesthetic Realists blew over half a million dollars in (2022 dollars) to get their message out.  And what did they use this unique opportunity to tell the world?  Pretty much what you'd expect, things like "Eli Siegel [AR's founder] was the greatest man in the history of the world," and "In keeping Aesthetic Realism 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."  But, you know, as the AR people say on their Countering the Lies website, they're not a cult or anything.

    About that, the ad is a stark contrast to their 1976 full-page effort.  It wasn't obvious at all from the 1976 ad that they were a cult.  Back then they were better at keeping that fact under wraps and made an effort to present themselves as normal.  But after Siegel died in 1978, they doubled down on the crazy, and it backfired.  If anyone was uncertain whether AR was a cult before seeing the 1990 ad, after seeing it there was definitely no doubt.

   It was a colossal waste of money.  It yielded only a small handful of inquiries to the AR foundation, only a fraction of those people started AR study ("consultations"), and none of them stayed very long.  The net result of the ad?  Zero new members.  It's probably why they don't run big ads any more.  That, and they probably can't afford it.

    Of the AR people who signed this ad, a whopping 20 of them have since left and want nothing more to do with the group.

    Here's a reprint of the ad, with certain bits highlighted for emphasis. Enjoy.


From the Consultants and Consultants-in-Training

of Aesthetic Realism

Dear American People:

     We are writing this letter because what we have met in the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel is what every person is hoping for and has the right to know. The American press has kept Aesthetic Realism from you. For decades the American press has boycotted this education, which Eli Siegel founded in 1941.

     Sir, Ms., Friend—Aesthetic Realism explains truly the human self: it explains you and your relation to the whole world—to all (in Mr. Siegel's kind words) "that begins where our finger tips end." Because Eli Siegel understood what no other man of thought and certainly no psychiatrist understood—mind, art, and the world—Aesthetic Realism has enabled people, including us, to change in ways people everywhere and in all times have longed to change.

     Here are three principles of this great, ever so needed education, stated by Eli Siegel:

[1] Man's deepest desire, his largest desire, is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.

[2] The desire to have contempt for the outside world and for people and other objects as standing for the outside world, is a continuous, unseen desire making for mental insufficiency.

[3] The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites. [Self and World (New York: Definition Press), pp. 1, 83]


We Have Tested Aesthetic Realism

We have looked at Aesthetic Realism critically, terrifically critically.  We have tested it.  It is TRUE.  Aesthetic Realism explains the cause of loneliness, depression, boredom, learning difficulties, pain in marriage—and can end these.  It explains racism, and can end it.  And yes, Aesthetic Realism explains the cause of war, and when the United Nations studies Aesthetic Realism (it can begin today) there will not be war.  The cause of the cruelties and griefs we just mentioned is the desire for contempt, which everyone has. "Contempt," wrote Eli Siegel, "can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it."  Only in Aesthetic Realism is there the comprehension—and the beautiful effective criticism—of contempt.

     Some of us are Aesthetic Realism consultants.  We have what we consider the most fortunate, useful profession there is: we teach Aesthetic Realism to individuals in consultations at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City and by telephone throughout America and elsewhere; and we teach Aesthetic Realism in classes and public seminars.  The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a not-for-profit educational foundation. The other signers of this letter are Aesthetic Realism consultants-in-training.  We all study in classes taught by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss.


The Reason for the Press Boycott

Soon twelve of us will tell some of what we have learned from Aesthetic Realism.  But first we say this: 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 ourselves, we say with shame, resented Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism because we respected them so much.  There is nothing uglier than this resentment of what is great and kind and of what millions of people want so very much.

     Here, then, is some of what we have learned from 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.


Why People Don't Like Themselves

1. Robert Murphy (Aesthetic Realism consultant): "I was a person who wanted to be everyone's best friend and at the same time saw people as fools, taken in by my charm; I acted as if I really ''had it together,' but inside I felt hollow, and thought the world was a bad joke. In an Aesthetic Realism lesson I had the honor to have in 1970, Eli Siegel explained why I didn't like myself. He said:

  • Everything we have against ourselves has to do with this first thing: one doesn't like the world enough. The thing that we have against ourselves is that we use our experience to build ourselves up falsely and not [see] meaning. Do you believe that you built yourself up by finding that your parents weren't worthy of you?

I am so grateful that my desire for contempt was criticized by Aesthetic Realism. Eli Siegel enabled me to have a life I cherish."

The Purpose of Love

2. Lauren Phillips (elementary school teacher): "I learned the most important thing about love from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism: the purpose of love is to like the world.  The pain and loneliness I felt for years because I thought love was a man making me the most important thing in the world, ended.  Today I have proud emotions and a love for my husband, Bruce Blaustein, that come from using a man to like the world."


What Education is For

3. Lois Mason (Aesthetic Realism consultant and high school teacher): "I teach history in a public high school on New York's Lower East Side.  I learned from Eli Siiegel and Aesthetic Realism what I most needed to know to be the teacher I hoped to be: the purpose of education—'to like the world through knowing it.' History, and every subject, shows the world can be liked because it has an aesthetic structure: it is a oneness of such opposites as freedom and order, individuality and relation, permanence and the moment. Learning this made me a successful teacher—enabled my students, many of whom had had great difficulty in school, to learn with pleasure and ease. I am among the many teachers who know through our own daily experience in the classroom that the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is the answer to the crisis in education!"


The Change from Homosexuality

4. [name omitted, see note] (Aesthetic Realism Consultant): "After spending many years desperately looking for a way to change from homosexuality, I at last learned in the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel that homosexuality is caused by contempt for the world and women. Because of what I learned, my attraction to men ended, and I changed from homosexuality in six months. The life I have today as a married man who cares passionately for my wife, [name omitted, see note], her mind and body, I am proud to owe to the most beautiful education in the world and the kindest man who ever lived, Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel."

     [This person] is a co-author of the book The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel and the Change from Homosexuality. 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.


Contempt Makes a Person Feel Burdened

5. Harriet Bernstein (typesetter): "I learned from Aesthetic Realism that I felt burdened and angry so much of the time not because, as I once thought, people made too many demands on me—but because I had contempt, which Eli Siegel described as the 'disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.' This was so hopeful, because it meant I had a way of seeing people that made me feel ashamed, and this way of seeing could change. I am so grateful to Eli Siegel because the scientific and kind criticism of my contempt that I heard from Aesthetic Realism freed me to want to know and truly care for people."


When We Eat, the World as Food Becomes Ourselves

6. Meryl Nietsch (administrative assistant): "Before I began to study Aesthetic Realism, I was a lonely, bitter young woman who suffered for ten years with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. It was only in Aesthetic Realism consultations that I learned the cause of eating disorders—how they come from a way of seeing the world. My consultants explained: 'Bulimia is a way of managing, having the world please you but not affect you [deeply]; and anorexia is a means of having yourself pure, without any additions. Both arise from contempt.' Studying this exact description of my contempt and learning how to use food to like the world enabled me to have a self-respect and dignity as I eat food."


The Self Wants to Be Like Art

7. Edward Green (composer and professor of music): "As a person who once, shamefully, held the snobbish opinion that art was the possession of a select group of talented people, superior to other people, I am tremendously grateful to have learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism that beauty is the most democratic thing in the world: it is what every person judges himself by without knowing it. 'All beauty is a making one of opposites,' stated Eli Siegel, 'and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.' This is the kindest and most ethically stirring principle I know, and it is the happiness of my life to have the privilege to study it."


How Should We See People?

8. Leila Rosen (high school teacher): "In Aesthetic Realism consultations, I learned that every person has the structure of reality in him: the opposites. When I began to see how my father—the person with whom I was so angry—was both bright and dark, gentle and fierce, sure and unsure, as I was, I felt for the first time that I could respect myself for my thought about him. My intense anger changed to greater kindness, to my father and all people."


There Are Two Kinds of Anger

9. David Bernstein (photographer): "When I learned from Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel that there are two kinds of anger—a wide anger in behalf of justice to the world, and a narrow anger in behalf of self-love—the anger that I felt would run me and I would be a slave to all my life, ended.  I began to have emotions, for people and things, that made me proud." 


What Guilt Is

10. Julie Jensen (Aesthetic Realism consultant): "I was born and grew up in Nazi Germany. I learned from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism what I yearned to learn all my life: that guilt is an emotion to be respected, because it arises from the deepest thing in us, which tells us that whenever we're unjust to the outside world we have to be against ourselves. When I studied the opposites of justice and injustice, good and evil in myself, and how these opposites are in a whole nation and all people, it was the beginning for me to like the world and myself."


The Most Important International Question

11. Ruth Oron (essayist and translator): "As an Israeli, I learned from Aesthetic Realism the one solution to the agonizing crisis between Israelis and Palestinians., We must answer honestly this beginning question, asked by Eli Siegel: 'What does a person deserve by being alive?' As I saw that the Palestinian people have hopes and fears, feelings about their homeland as real as my own, my feeling of superiority and hatred toward them changed into a desire to be just." 


Liking the World on an Honest Basis

12. Anthony Romeo (architect): "I am eternally grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for teaching me that the world I once so angrily saw as so confusing has a structure I can honestly like: it is an aesthetic oneness of opposites. As I came to see, for instance, that heaviness and lightness, sweetness and severity are one in a beautiful building and that I am trying to put these opposites together in myself, my anger changed, and I felt for the first time that my life had meaning and the world was my friend."

We have much more to say about why Aesthetic Realism is the birthright of every human being and why studying it is the best thing that can happen to anyone.  We come from every regiion in the United States and from six other countries: France, Argentina, Brazil, the USSR, Germany, Israel.  In our careful opinion of Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism, in our love for them, we represent humanity.  We represent you.

Additional bits

I omit the rest of the ad, because it's mostly a list of AR books and other ways to study AR and I don't feel like typing in all that tiny-print type.  But let me include a couple of bits.  Here they quote from one of their books:

"With every cell in my body, I thank Mr. Siegel....My homosexual feelings stopped....In being close to my dear wife, in holding her in my arms, I have emotions more powerful and kinder than I expected to have ever in my life."

Pretty moving stuff, huh?! So what became of this person? Well, er, he kind of divorced his wife and left the group.

In another section they proffer the book Goodbye Profit System, based on Siegel's lectures championing socialism (and that's socialism in the true sense of the word, not the current idea where any attempt by Obama to increase any government service is dismissively branded as Socialism by the right-wing). AR even published a book in the 1970's based on Siegel's lectures called "Goodbye Profit System" predicting the fall of the free market system. (How's that working out?) Anyway, here's part of AR's summary of the book:

"Eli Siegel showed in a series of lectures what no other economist saw, and what is true now and for all time: A way of economics based on contempt for man—though it went on for many centuries—no longer works.....Eli Siegel's knowledge of history was unsurpassed, and he was humanity's greatest friend."


Finally, there's this bit, quoting Eli Siegel directly:

"According to Aesthetic Realism, the greatest sin that a person can have is the desire for contempt."

This is important because the AR people are trying to say that they see nothing wrong with homosexuality, that they merely helped people who wanted to change. The reality is that they viewed homosexuality as "the greatest sin that a person can have", because they believe homosexuality arrises from contempt. In their 1971 book on the subject, one of the "cured" says:

"Siegel said it to me many times: 'Get rid of your contempt and you will get rid of one of the chief ingredients in homosexuality." (p. 19)


Note: I omitted the names of people who left AR, because they no longer wish to be associated with 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...

What former members say...
They reeled me in like a brook trout... Guilt was introduced into the experience. They told me I was "not showing respect for this great education I was receiving" by [not getting more involved].
If there is anything the Aesthetic Realists are good at, it is convincing people that if they think they see anything wrong with Siegel, AR, Reiss or how the organization is run, there is really something wrong with them. Any time I began to question things or think I saw something amiss, I had been programmed to think that what it really meant was that something was terribly wrong with me.
My new AR friends were starting to apply the hard sell a bit more so the word "cult" did come to mind , but I naïvely believed that it couldn't be a cult because it wasn't religious in nature.
They get you to actually control yourself. A lot of people's lives have been hurt --ruined.
So, there was Eli Siegel, who came up with all these rules, but to whom none of the rules applied, and there was everybody else.
[Eli Siegel] was a hurtful person. He was a sociopath. He was a control freak, and he was a cult leader.
Poor John then would be the subject of an onslaught of criticism to help him see his own contempt for Eli Siegel.... This is merely one example of the way people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line or didn't conform to accepted behavior.
We all had to present ourselves as essentially miserable failures whose lives were in shambles until we found the glorious "answers to all our questions" in AR.
It was very difficult for me to surrender to AR in the total fashion they seemed to want.
I received a call from one of the AR bigwigs asking me to donate money to the foundation.  When I told him I was low on cash I received a considerable verbal drubbing.
I consider my "study" of Aesthetic Realism to be one of the factors that led to the eventual breakup of my marriage, to my eternal sorrow.
I felt a bit raped psychologically.... if you are thinking of getting into the AR consultation process, realize that they could end it all suddenly, and that you could find your most intimate thoughts on tape in someone else's possession.
They flatter you to death and tell you that you're so wonderful, and you have all these qualities that others have never seen. And then there's this horrible criticizing.
That's when I finally knew for sure: AESTHETIC REALISM IS A CULT.  I swore on that moment that if I was ever given the opportunity to tell the world what these people did to me, I would.

When I left I was definitely shunned by other students. I would meet people in the NYC streets -as I still do to this day - and they would turn the other way to avoid me, or some even made derogatory comments about me.

[New AR students] would be shocked if they knew that the lives of the people they are supposed to learn from are very different from the principles they are taught in consultations. Even though publicly the AR foundation preaches respect for people and like of the world, inside the organization the message is very different. The underlying feeling is, "People who do not study AR are inferior to us, and the world is our enemy, out to get us." We had contempt for outsiders and were scared of the world. We huddled together for safety, secure in our sense of superiority.
When I was studying, we were allowed to associate with our families only if they continuously demonstrated that they were grateful to and respectful of Eli Siegel and AR. This did not include going to visit them if they lived far away because then we would have had to miss classes, and that would have meant we were "making our family more important than AR."
Some of the students I remember going at most intensely and viciously to stop them from associating with their families, (and whom we succeeded in stopping for many, many years), are people who are now bragging on the AR website about how great their relationships with their families are and writing as though that was always the case.
There were even instances of students refusing to visit their parents when one of them was dying because the parents did not "express regret" and renounce their unfairness to Eli Siegel and AR. There were parents who literally begged their son or daughter to relent so they could see them one more time, but the child refused. The parent died without ever seeing their child again. Far from being criticized for such behavior, students who went this far were seen as heroes in AR. They received public praise from Ellen Reiss.
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.
People were told that if their families did not support aesthetic realism, they were not their families.
Some of the people with statements on the 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.
More and more the AR zombies demanded that I express gratitude to ES and AR. Every paper that a student wrote had to end with the obligatory "I am so grateful to ES and AR for..." along with "I deeply regret that I have met this great knowledge with contempt..."
Eli Siegel was an evil person. And I don't use the word evil lightly.
See former members' stories in their entirety
The best bits:  Cult aspects of ARDream to NightmareA journalist infiltratesAll the articles

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