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

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AR's “Letter of Regret to the American Press”

by Michael Bluejay • May 2022

Wow. Just, wow.

It's hard to say which document best shows that AR is a cult.  There's a lot of competition, including their ridiculous double-page ad in the NYT, the exposé by a former higher-ranking member the transcript of a secret internal meeting, the damning article in New York Native, and the transcript of an actual "consultation" (AR therapy session).

And now there's this: AR's absurd 1979 letter to the media, in which they blame themselves for founder/leader Eli Siegel's death, because their failure to appreciate him enough is supposedly what caused him to get sick and die.  You cannot make this sh!t up.  This letter is so crazy that part of me thinks that if I'd found it when I was first starting the site, I might have just posted this one document alone instead of making the site, and considered, "Done, mission accomplished, case closed."

The eleven takeaways from the letter

  1. The main thing, obviously, is that it shows without any question that AR is a cult.  That fact just jumps off the page at you.
  2. After their founder Eli Siegel died, the Aesthetic Realists doubled down on the crazy.  They were absolutely a cult while he was still alive, but after he passed, they took it to a whole other level.  Their full-page ad in the New York Times in 1976 (before Siegel's death) didn't exactly suggest "cult", but this 1979 letter, and their 1990 double-page ad in the Times (both after he died) practically screamed it.
  3. A defining characteristic of cults is that the members are disconnected from reality, and this letter shows that in spades.  My definition of "brainwashed" is "the inability to see what's obvious to everyone else."  That's exactly what you get with this letter.
  4. One of the contributors claimed that her son's study of AR cured his epilepsy.  Right.
  5. They got nothing from it.  They sent this letter far and wide to newspapers and magazines across the U.S.  Not a single one reported on it.  The only thing the ARists accomplished was demonstrating in no uncertain terms that they're a cult, because if someone was uncertain about that before they read the letter, then after they read the letter, it was painfully clear.
  6. They didn't admit that Siegel killed himself.  They obfuscated, as they always do, suggesting that the surgery caused his death.  It didn't, Siegel caused his own death.
  7. Their victimization is palpable.  A recurring theme in the letter is how much they feel they've been oppressed by the media, and they even sign their letter "VICTIMS OF THE PRESS".  As I read the letter, I'm thinking that the Aesthetic Realists could get a Guinness record for whining.
  8. Eli Siegel wasn't all that.  In complaining that established writers (like Upton Sinclair) didn't think much of Siegel, they revealed…that established writers didn't think much of Siegel.
  9. They blame Siegel's doctors for Siegel's death.  And not because of mere incompetence, no:  Siegel's doctors supposedly intentionally flubbed his care because of their desire to see themselves as superior to him.  You cannot make this sh!t up.
  10. Most of them recanted.  The majority of signers to this letter woke up and left Aesthetic Realism.  That's one of my reasons you can't trust an Aesthetic Realist:  today's zealot is tomorrow's ex-member.
  11. Aesthetic Realism is impossible.  The whole idea of Aesthetic Realism is that every single problem in the world is the result of contempt (our desire to see others as inferior to ourselves so we can feel superior), and that AR holds the key to a better world in general and world peace specifically, because through the study of AR, we can learn to purge our contempt, and then all the children of the world will join hands and sing in peace and harmony.  But in this letter from the Aesthetic Realists, the freaking teachers of Aesthetic Realism, and their leader (Siegel's successor) admit that couldn't get rid of their contempt.  If these supposed experts on Aesthetic Realism, who had been studying it for decades, couldn't get contempt out of their systems, then what chance does the rest of the world have in doing so?  The ARists thus unwittingly revealed that the application of Aesthetic Realism by the general population is an impossibility.  So much for world domination.


  1. I've highlighted some of the best bits in bold.  That is, the bolding is mine, it wasn't in the original.
  2. Quotes from the individual ARists are in brown, to make it easy to distinguish from the uncredited portions.
  3. And as per my practice, I've redacted the names of people who quit the group, are still alive, and are presumably not out about having been involved with AR.


A Letter of Regret to the American Press From the Students of Aesthetic Realism

The students of Aesthetic Realism now see that, despite our criticism of the press, we have also agreed with it; and that we contributed to the mortal wounding of the man we believe to be the greatest human being who has ever lived: Eli Siegel.

We are writing about the most shameful thing in America.  It is making millions of people suffer.  It began with intensity in 1925, and it continues.

Eli Siegel, poet, founder of Aesthetic Realism, for more than fifty years was honest about the world.  In the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, he described the world; he explained what art is and its purpose; he understood people.  Through logic—exact, warm, deep, mighty, humorous, critical—Eli Siegel has enabled persons to have new lives, to like the world and ourselves.

Here are four statements of Aesthetic Realism by Mr. Siegel.  We, the consultants and consultants-in-training of Aesthetic Realism, know that they are true and revolutionary.  These statements could bring pride to every human being on this earth:

  1. Every person is always trying to put together opposites in himself.
  2. Every person, in order to respect himself, has to see the world as beautiful, or good, or acceptable.
  3. There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.
  4. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.

For over fifty years, Eli Siegel was punished for knowing more than other people and for being kind.  The press and literary men tried to kill his work.  Their punishment can be documented.  It came from the thirst in man to be superior; and people have been furious because they could not be superior to Eli Siegel.  We, his students, know about this because, with part of ourselves, we have, as we said, agreed with the American press.  We too have worked to disrespect Mr. Siegel.  Although we loved him, we also wanted to lessen him because his grandeur made us seem smaller.

In the past months, we have seen what this conceit, terror of respect, snobbishness has done.  We saw it make for illness in Mr. Siegel.  We saw that doctors—who, like the press, were hoping to have contempt for Mr. Siegel—treated him in a way that sadly altered his life.  We believe we robbed Eli Siegel deeply, and assisted the press in hurting the people of America.  In this paper we shall, individually, express a regret that is eternal.  We shall also accuse other people.  We begin with some history:


In 1925, Eli Siegel at age twenty-three won the Nation Poetry Prize for his poem “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana.”  Never before did one poem cause so much controversy.  William Carlos Williams said of it twenty-six years later:

I say definitely that that single poem, out of a thousand others written in the past quarter century, secures our place in the cultural world.

In 1925, the American literary people were furious at the newness, the comprehensive kindness of this seeing by a young, unknown writer.  In the letters pages of the Nation is cruelty by Upton Sinclair (who calls Eli Siegel a “foreigner” and says he doesn't know English), Ludwig Lewisohn, William Rose Benét and others.  The editors of the Nation, including Mark Van Doren and Joseph Wood Krutch who chose "Hot Afternoons,” did not defend their choice, then or later.  They abandoned Eli Siegel.

Of his poem, Mr. Siegel said in February 1925: “In 'Hot Afternoons' I tried to take many things that are thought of usually as being far apart and foreign and to show, in a beautiful way, that they aren't so separate and that they do have a great deal to do with each other.”  This is the beginning of Aesthetic Realism, which he spent the next sixteen years developing.  Two lines of "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana” are:

There are millions of men in the world, and each is one man,
Each is one man by himself, taking care of himself all the time, and changing other men and being changed by them.

What happened with “Hot Afternoons” was like a pattern often repeated in the following years.


"I, Chaim Koppelman, met Eli Siegel in 1940 and began to attend his poetry classes.  I regret that for years I was ashamed of being a student of Eli Siegel when in the company of other artists, though I was learning from him the greatest and truest way of seeing art the world had come to.”


In 1941, Eli Siegel began formally to teach Aesthetic Realism at 67 Jane Street, where he lived and worked.


"I, Dorothy Koppelman, met Aesthetic Realism in 1942 in 1942.  I regret that suspicion in me which has sapped Mr. Siegel's strength; and I regret my fear and my anger at such stalwart honesty and authentic beauty."


“When I, Louis Dienes, met Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel in March 1943, I had an emotion of respect and love much larger than I had expected.  This was followed by fear and the desperate use of everything I could think of to diminish my respect—a cheapness I'll be ashamed of as long as I live.”

“I, Nancy Starrels, regret every time since May 1943 I hoped Eli Siegel would be less sure; I regret all the years I wished Aesthetic Realism was smaller and more manageable, less true and beautiful than it is.”


“In January 1944, I, Martha Baird, had my first Aesthetic Realism lessons, and later that year I married Eli Siegel.  He taught me how to like the world, and he made me feel beautiful.  I believe that in Aesthetic Realism, he has come to the greatest thing in the history of human thought.  I regret most that when I saw the violent opposition he got from the press and academic world, I quailed, lessening his confidence; and that in 1978, I was for the operation which harmed him so terribly."


In 1946, two works by Eli Siegel were published: The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict and Psychiatry, Economics, Aesthetics.  The press was silent about these publications.  For thirty-two years, it has kept what is in them from the American people.

“Life began for me, Sheldon Kranz, in 1946 when Eli Siegel taught me to see the world in a new and beautiful way, and I changed from homosexuality.  [Not.  He essentially admitted to another member that he hadn't really changed, and even absent that, he was arrested for having gay sex in a public bathroom.]  He also taught me a basis for understanding literature that is permanently true and for which I should always be grateful.  Nevertheless, I was cold and resentful because I hated being grateful to another person, particularly one not renowned in the academic world.  I shall regret this and its effect on Eli Siegel for the rest of my life.”


"I, May Musicant, met Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism in November 1947.  Because it was so little known, I thought I could own Aesthetic Realism.”  [Note: May Musicant was my grandmother.] 

“I, Ellen Reiss, met Aesthetic Realism when I was two years old.  In the years that followed, Eli Siegel taught me that the world was the other half of myself and therefore I did not have to be lonely and I did not have to be snobbish.  He taught me what poetry is—a true and musical picture of the world.  For this I have loved him with my heart and my careful mind; but I wanted to be superior to him.”


In March 1952, the noted poet William Carlos Williams was present as Eli Siegel spoke on the work of Williams at 67 Jane Street.  When the talk concluded, Williams said, greatly moved: “I am astonished. It's as if everything I've ever done has been for you.”   In later months and years, Williams, affected by his literary friends and family, did not sustain this feeling.  See The Williams-Siegel Documentary, edited by Martha Baird and Ellen Reiss (New York: Definition Press, 1970).

"I, Miriam Mondlin, regret that since I began my study of Aesthetic Realism with Eli Siegel in 1952, I wanted to keep him isolated so I could have him serve me.”


“When I, Anne Fielding, began to study with Eli Siegel, he gave me the life I always hoped for.  He also taught me the most important thing about the art I love: that acting, like the world itself, is a making one of opposites.  But I met his knowledge and kindness with suspicion because Aesthetic Realism wasn't known in the theatre world.”


In February 1955, the Terrain Gallery opened with this statement by Eli Siegel as its motto: “In reality opposites are one; art shows this.”  Exhibitions and programs were presented to the public showing the Aesthetic Realism way of seeing art and life.  In the same year, the gallery published and distributed thousands of copies of the broadside Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites? by Eli Siegel.  It was reprinted in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, but it was never taken up and discussed openly by the art world or the critics.  From then on, however, the use of the opposites became more and more prevalent in art criticism without any acknowledgment to Aesthetic Realism, the Terrain Gallery, or Eli Siegel.


In this year, Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems by Eli Siegel was published, with the letter William Carlos Williams had written Martha Baird in 1951 serving as the introduction.  Selden Rodman wrote in the Saturday Review: “He comes up with poems which say more (and more movingly) about here and now than any contemporary poems I have read.” Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems was nominated for the National Book Award the next year.


In 1959, Personal & Impersonal: Six Aesthetic Realists was published.  It included poems by Sheldon Kranz, Louis Dienes, Nancy Starrels, Nat Herz, Martha Baird, and Rebecca Fein.  It also included a critical preface by Eli Siegel that powerfully presented the Aesthetic Realism way of seeing poetry.  The press did not review this book.


"I, Anna Mellon, regret that I did not listen seriously to Eli Siegel when I first studied with him, because I was a snob and felt he did not have an impressive enough position, even though my son, through his study of Aesthetic Realism, was no longer epileptic.”

“I, Ted van Griethuysen, out of my unwillingness to see as true my large and deep love of Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel, came to have, along with gratitude, a desire to shake Eli Siegel's confidence, and a hope that he would be weaker, less admirable.  In this way, I thought I could put aside an opinion that was not shared by the right people.  And so I, too, hurt the life of my greatest friend.”


“I, Rebecca Thompson, regret that the happiness and gratitude I have in knowing the most beautiful things in this world—the honesty that is Eli Siegel, the truth that is Aesthetic Realism—were accompanied too often by shame, distrust, and anger.  This is because my ego would not accept a great and honest effect from a source not 'sanctioned by the immediate world.”


In 1963, Eli Siegel wrote Shakespeare's Hamlet: Revisited, a large work with a new point of view, combining the text of Shakespeare's play with critical comment in dramatic form. Shakespeare's Hamlet: Revisited was performed many times by the Hamlet Revisited Company: Ted van Griethuysen, Anne Fielding, and Rebecca Thompson. Drama critics resented the implication that they had something to learn, and the belief of the Hamlet Revisited Company that Eli Siegel had seen something new and of unmistakable grandeur about the greatest work of William Shakespeare.


"I, Barbara D'Amico, met Aesthetic Realism in 1966, and Eli Siegel taught me the most important thing I know: that the only way I could like myself honestly was by being just to the outside world.  Part of me rejoiced, but part of me hated my respect for him and for Aesthetic Realism."

"The most important thing that happened to me, [redacted], through Aesthetic Realism was: I learned that my hope about the world and people could change from a hope to have contempt to a hope that a person be as good as he could be.  The thing I regret most is wanting to be superior to Eli Siegel and choosing, at a time when he was in pain, to see him too much as like other people, advising him to have an operation without thinking what effect it could have on his whole self.”


In 1968, a second book of poems by Eli Siegel, Hail, American Development, was published.  It was notable for its translations of Catullus, Verlaine, Endre Ady, and Baudelaire, and poems about the cruelty of the Johnson administration as to Vietnam.  Kenneth Rexroth wrote in the New York Times: “I think it's about time Eli Siegel was moved up into the ranks of our acknowledged Leading Poets.”  There were no other major reviews.  Eli Siegel continued to be excluded from anthologies of modern American poetry.  The hate that had begun in 1925 went on.

In the same year, Eli Siegel's James and the Children was published, a consideration of Henry James's “The Turn of the Screw.” Going completely against the accepted Freudian interpretation of the story, Eli Siegel talks about good and evil in children as such.  Hugh Kenner praised the book in Poetry; however, it was generally ignored by the press. [Note:  The Aesthetic Realists fail to mention that despite Kenner's praise of one of Siegel's books, he also described AR as a cult.] 

“Since 1968, when I, Margot Carpenter, first met Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel, first saw his vast knowledge and good will, first felt understood by him, I also hoped that Eli Siegel be less of an integrity than he is. For years I resented his goodness because it questioned my own.”


In 1969 was published Aesthetic Realism: We Have Been There by six authors, each professionally recognized in his field: Ted van Griethuysen and Anne Fielding, actors; printmaker Chaim Koppelman; painter Dorothy Koppelman; and photographers David Bernstein and Lou Bernstein.  This was the first book about the philosophic and critical ideas of Eli Siegel by other persons, each showing how the Siegel Theory of Opposites was true for his art.  There were two reviews: in Popular Photography and the Library Journal.

“I, Jeffrey Carduner, regret I have hoped that Eli Siegel be a charlatan who had a gift for talk and persuasion. I was angry when he did not fit that picture.”

“The high opinion that I, Robert Murphy, have of Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism has come through exacting thought.  My greatest regret and the saddest thing in my life is that I used the conceit of the press and its silence about Aesthetic Realism to doubt my own careful opinion.”

“I, Donna Lamb, have changed from lesbianism and drug addiction because Eli Siegel opposed a tremendous drive in me to have contempt for the entire world, and taught me how to like the world on an honest basis. But I was furious at him because I saw clearly that he was worthy of unlimited respect and I could not succeed in seeing him as stupid and weak as I had everyone else in my life.”  [Note: Donna Lamb left AR, retracted her statements, and is now speaking out against the group.]

At the end of 1969, the Opposites Company of the Theatre presented Ibsen's Hedda Gabler as it had been critically seen by Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism.  Ted Kalem of Time Magazine abundantly praised the production and interpretation, but did not mention Eli Siegel or Aesthetic Realism.


The Williams-Siegel Documentary, edited by Martha Baird and Ellen Reiss, was published.  It includes the complete transcript of Eli Siegel's 1952 lecture on the work of William Carlos Williams. The book also recounts through letters and journal entries the relationship between Dr. Williams and Mr. Siegel.  These embody the large, beautiful response of Dr. Williams to both the poetry and person of Eli Siegel, followed by coolness and silence, dramatizing what Eli Siegel endured for more than fifty years from the literary world, friends, his own students.  Essentially, the press and literary world treated this book as though it did not exist.

“I, Derek Mali, met Aesthetic Realism in 1970.  I regret deeply that during an illness of over one year's duration (1977-1978), Eli Siegel was left essentially alone and made unreal.  We who have the most to be grateful for because of what we have learned from Eli Siegel, joined the American press in its desire to see him as a fiction and also an interloper in our lives.”


Two Aesthetic Realism Papers: 1. Opposites in the 1971 Drama; 2. Opposites in Myself by Martha Baird was published.  It was not reviewed.

In February 1971, Sheldon Kranz, Ted van Griethuysen, and [redacted] appeared on television, on Channel 13's “Free Time.”  They told of how, through their study of Aesthetic Realism, they had changed from homosexuality.  For the first time in history, men said they had changed from homosexuality; further, the basis was reasoned and teachable.  [And a complete and total fraud.]  

Kranz, van Griethuysen, and [redacted] became Consultation With Three, the first Aesthetic Realism consultation trio, and began to teach to other men what they had learned from Eli Siegel.

On April 4, Consultation With Three and Thomas R. Shields appeared on the David Susskind Show and were seen nationwide.  No newspaper reported the revolutionary news told by Consultation With Three and Shields.  [Seems like they made the right call, as Shields and Kranz were still having gay sex while claiming to have changed.]  And though this show was rebroadcast in September, Susskind refused to have Aesthetic Realism represented on his program again. [Note: Four years after this letter was written, Susskind did have the Aesthetic Realists back.]

In June, the book The H Persuasion appeared, written by Consultation With Three and others, with the change from homosexuality documented.  For the most part, the press was silent.   But the New York Times, in an unsigned review, said:

This is less a book than a collection of pietistic snippets by Believers.  There is no reason to believe or disbelieve these ex-homosexuals who claim that Eli Siegel put them on the straight and narrow by showing that homosexuality was unaesthetic and therefore contemptuous of life.

Nevertheless, many men of America wanted to change from homosexuality and many women who had seen the Susskind Show wanted to learn to like the world.  Other consultation trios were named.  As of Autumn 1978, there are fifteen consultation trios teaching Aesthetic Realism.  One hundred twenty-six men have changed from homosexuality through the study of Aesthetic Realism. [Note: My count is that only about ten men still claim to have changed, plus two who died, but this total includes men who were known to still be having gax sex after they claimed they'd changed.]

"I, Tom Block, saw the Susskind Show and changed from homosexuality in less than six months through my study of Aesthetic Realism.  I had tried for twenty-five years to change, going to various psychologists and psychiatrists.  I regret that I did not think Eli Siegel was good enough to have founded Aesthetic Realism and to have affected my life so much.”


“I, Francine Weber, began to study Aesthetic Realism in 1972, and the violence in my ten-year marriage ended.  I regret meeting the generous and precise good will of Eli Siegel with suspicion and stinginess."


On April 4, 1973, the first number of the newsletter The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known appeared.  Every week since then, a new issue of TRO, written by Eli Siegel has been sent to persons of press, education, religion, government, throughout the country.  For two and a half years, TRO was distributed each Wednesday outside the doors of the New York Times building.  The whole world, in its diversity and oneness, has been written of truly by Eli Siegel in TRO.  As of Autumn 1978, over 400,000 copies have reached the public, including the media.  Not one issue of TRO has been taken up seriously by any member of the press, radio, or television.

“I, Shirley Jones, met Aesthetic Realism in 1973. Because of my study of Aesthetic Realism, after an involvement with drugs of over fourteen years, I now no longer have a need for, nor do I take drugs of any kind.  Yet Eli Siegel wasn't famous, so I thought I could patronize him.”


The Frances Sanders Lesson and Two Related Works by Eli Siegel was published.  This is a transcript of one of the earliest Aesthetic Realism lessons—1945—showing the power of the aesthetic criticism of self in action.  The Frances Sanders Lesson was not reviewed.  If the Aesthetic Realism approach to self as shown in this lesson had been respectfully studied and known, it could—speaking conservatively—have kept thousands of persons out of mental institutions, as it kept Frances Sanders out of one. [Note: I'm told by a former AR consultant that "Frances Sanders" never actually existed.]

“I, Julie Jensen, grew up in Nazi Germany, and met Aesthetic Realism in 1974.  In my study of Aesthetic Realism, my contempt for the world and people was criticized and this enabled me to like the world more.  I also learned what every German today longs to know: that the cause of fascism is contempt.  I felt my mind and my life were saved. B ut something in me was like the press and hoped to be superior to Eli Siegel.  I feel I was like the Nazis in this.”


In July 1975, on the Tom Snyder “Tomorrow” Show, NBC-TV, Sheldon Kranz, Ted van Griethuysen, [redacted], and Hector Smith of Argentina, appeared for a half hour and talked about what Aesthetic Realism sees as the cause of homosexuality.  There was a large response from all over the country to this break in the media's silence about Aesthetic Realism; but this program was never mentioned in the press, and Tom Snyder refused to have any more programs on Aesthetic Realism.


“I, [redacted], met Aesthetic Realism in 1976, and changed from a cynical, lonely woman to one who can now say she is happy and no longer alone, because she knows more what it truly means to like the world.  I regret that having met the greatest honesty and kindness in a person, Eli Siegel, I didn't want the world to know about it; I felt it should belong to me.”

On August 16, 1976, the seventy-fourth birthday of Eli Siegel, the students of Aesthetic Realism placed a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline “The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel Is True.”  The ad contained An Outline of Aesthetic Realism by Eli Siegel.  Students of Aesthetic Realism spent thousands of dollars for this ad, because the New York Times refused to interview us, refused to print a serious news story or interview dealing with Aesthetic Realism, refused even to print one letter out of hundreds that were sent to the paper. [Not true: The Times printed the letter from the Aesthetic Realists complaining about the NY Times' review of AR's first gay-change book.]


In July 1977, Eli Siegel was compelled to discontinue 1917 teaching classes, because of a weakness and swelling of his feet, accompanied by pain. During this “compulsory vacation,” after one unfortunate experience with a doctor, for eight months Eli Siegel and Martha Baird were essentially alone. Telling ourselves we were respecting Mr. Siegel's wishes, dignity, and wisdom, none of his students made an effort at this time to speak with him about his health. Really, we were abandoning him at the time of his greatest need.

We were encouraged by the press to resent the existence of Eli Siegel because we had to respect him so much. We were lured by the press into seeing Eli Siegel as not wholly real, as the press has done for decades, meeting Mr. Siegel's work with silence. Within each of us were a desire to have contempt for Mr. Siegel because he had become ill, and a hope to be superior to him at last. We believe the cruelty of half a century accumulated by the summer of 1977 and made for a pervasive wound.


At the beginning of 1978, The Press Boycott of Aes1978 thetic Realism: Documentation by the Students of Aesthetic Realism, edited by Martha Baird and Ellen Reiss, was published. The book describes the boycott and what it has done to real people. It was not reviewed. Had this book been reviewed fairly some months ago, the world and the life of Eli Siegel would be different now.

By March 1978, the state of Mr. Siegel's health had become worse. He asked Ellen Bradstreet, Ellen Reiss, and Devorah Tarrow to try to find a doctor with a desire to understand the situation which he felt had much to do with his illness: the unprecedented mingling of great praise and great anger which he had met for years, and which has been somewhat described here. Ellen Bradstreet and Ellen Reiss spoke passionately and deeply to doctors; but the medical people, like the press, were patronizing and wanted to see Eli Siegel as just like anyone else. No doctor wanted to understand Aesthetic Realism and its history; no doctor wanted to know why hundreds of people think Eli Siegel the greatest man in the history of the world. Two doctors, fathers of students of Aesthetic Realism, with particular reason to be grateful, said with superiority that they wished to be useful to Mr. Siegel but “not on his terms.” Eli Siegel's "terms” were the desire to understand. Meanwhile, other students of Aesthetic Realism essentially remained aloof.

In March and April 1978, Eli Siegel was hospitalized twice. Both times he had to leave the hospital because of what he felt was lack of comprehension and respect. His feeling can be seen in these lines from a poem, “Let Us Pray for True Knowledge,” written March 25, 1978:

Well, I'm not against science taking care of me, not at all;
  but it won't be routine science.
Sometimes the way body and mind explain each other is different from what has been.
I see myself as a trembling victim of insufficient knowledge,
  accompanied by more than sufficient complacency.

In May, an additional severe difficulty was diagnosed as a prostate condition. Dr. Joseph De Filippi, a urologist, attended Mr. Siegel at the home of Derek Mali and [redacted] where he and Martha Baird were then staying. Dr. De Filippi showed tenderness and concern for Mr. Siegel, spoke with him about philosophy, and had something like an Aesthetic Realism lesson about the doctor's own life. He said that the prostate condition was emergent-that there must be an operation and that Mr. Siegel could die if he did not have one. Both he and Dr. Samuel Sverdlik of St. Vincent's Hospital said there was no connection between the prostate condition, from which Mr. Siegel suffered extreme pain, and the condition of his feet. They gave no indication that there could be any ill effects from this “simple” surgery. Dr. McGowan, urologist at St. Vincent's, also recommended the operation.

Mr. Siegel did not want the operation; he was not sure it was necessary. The persons closest to Mr. Siegel-Martha Baird, [redacted], Derek Mali, and Ellen Reiss-were terrified for his life and felt the operation should take place. They now say: "We believe that had we not wanted to feel we knew better than Mr. Siegel, had we not wanted somewhere to be superior to him, we would have had a different kind of thought about this operation. We would have been more respectfully questioning. We will regret forever that at this crucial time we did not want to think about the wholeness of Eli Siegel- that he is an integrity more than any other person we have ever known or heard of.” (Three other students who were told of the operation were for it without any question. Each of these three subsequently found reason to be away from Mr. Siegel.) Frightened, but with large doubt, Mr. Siegel agreed to have the operation. It was performed at St. Vincent's Hospital, May 26, 1978.

After the operation, Mr. Siegel said that when he walked, he felt his feet no longer belonged to him; they no longer seemed his own. There was a new weakness. He had had pain and discomfort for months, but after the operation, as he wrote to Dr. Sverdlik: "I have lost the use of my feet, which now seem to work separately from the rest of my body." This change affected him tragically.

After a while, he was not able to sleep. He also found that he could not read—he who had been fairer to books, has loved them more than any other human being has. The motion of feet, walking on the earth amid things of the world, and the motion of a certain kind of thought, had been made one by Eli Siegel; and he felt the operation destroyed both for him.

In late July, Eli Siegel said he believed the operation had been a mistake; and he came to hope for death, which he felt was near.

On November 8, 1978, he died.

We, the students of Aesthetic Realism, blame ourselves; and we blame the American press, which tried to take life from Mr. Siegel for years; and we blame some members of the medical profession. In our abiding regret, we want to tell the story truly. [Then, you know, they might have bothered to mention that Siegel killed himself.] We think that if we are honest enough, justice can come at least to Eli Siegel. We ask the readers of this letter to join us. When justice comes to Eli Siegel, it wall come also to that earth which he saw truly in 1924, and in every month and hour of his life.

The Students of Aesthetic Realism

[Note: They then all attested their names, below, including the year that each of them discovered Aesthetic Realism. To an Aesthetic Realist, the most important thing in his/her life was not the day s/he was born, it's the day s/he "met" AR."  I removed the names of all the people who left AR, except those who are out about their involvement.  Overall, more than half the signers left AR.]

Chaim Koppelman (1940); Dorothy Koppelman (1942); Louis Dienes, Nancy Starrels (1943); Martha Baird, Ann Koppelman* (1944); Sheldon Kranz, Alice Bernstein (1946); Daniel Reiss, Irene Reiss, Ellen Reiss, May Musicant (1947); Miriam Mondlin (1952); Anne Fielding (1953); Ted van Griethuysen, Anna Mellon (1960); Rebecca Thompson (1961); David Bernstein (1962); Faith Stern, Barbara D'Amico, Ken Kimmelman, Adam Mali* (1966); Margot Carpenter, John Stern, Karen Van Outryve, Arnold Perey, Devorah Tarrow (1968); Carrie Wilson, Harvey Spears, Donna Lamb*, Jeffrey Carduner, Robert Murphy (1969); Derek Mali, Heide Feller*, Barbara Allen (1970); Meryl Simon, Michael Palmer, Wayne Plumstead, Eve Lustig, Carol Driscoll, Steven Weiner, Amy Dienes, Marcia Rackow (1971); Joseph Meglino, Patricia Martone, Alice Siegel, Richita Anderson, Lynette Abel, Jane Hall, Edward Green, Ernest De Filippis, Sally Ross (1972); Shirley Jones, Nancy Huntting, Miriam Weiss, Sarah Weiss (1973); Rosemary Amello, Lore Elbel, Julie Jensen, Robert Jensen, Pamela Goren, Helen Vernados, Lois Mason, Anthony Romeo (1974); Leila Rosen, Barbara Buehler, Len Bernstein (1975); Evanne Kosover, Hal Lanse*, Dale Laurin, Mark Lale (1976); Ruth Oron (1977)

* These five people left AR and are now publicly critical of it.  In fact, most of the signers of the letter left AR, but they're not out about having been AR members, so I excised their names.

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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