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

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Site Updates

  1. Posted the Villager article from 2018. 
  2. Noted the passing of AR's former leader, Ellen Mali.
  3. Posted the damning Soho Weekly News article from 1976.  I actually posted this in 2022, but forgot to note it until Nov. 3, 2023, so I'm putting it here under 2023 for those checking what's new so they don't miss it.  As usual, I redacted the names of ARists who left the group and aren't open about having been in the cult.
Spring 2022
  1. NEW ARTICLE:  AR's "Letter of Regret" to the American Press
  2. NEW ARTICLE:  Aesthetic Realism Deathwatch!  I track the ongoing decline of the group.
  3. NEW ARTICLE: Debunking AR's spin about its gay-change program. (Part of this was split off from the main Gay Cure page.)
  4. NEW ARTICLE: What is a cult?  (and their Mind Control Methods).  (Part of this was spun off from the "Cult Aspects of AR" article.)
  5. NEW ARTICLE: Aesthetic Realists who have passed away.
  6. NEW ARTICLE: AR compared to other cults.
  7. Reworked the Cult aspects of AR article.  If it was convincing before, it's twice as convincing now.
  8. Reworked the "Gay Cure" article.  Ditto.
  9. Two new versions of former member Ann Stamler's experiences: Super-Deluxe and shorter.
  10. Posted the damning Soho Weekly News article from 1976.  As usual, I redacted the names of ARists who left the group and aren't open about having been in the cult.
  11. Linked out to former member Donna Lamb's new piece, on the front page and in the menu.
  12. Linked out to the story of former member Hal Lanse.
  13. Made the whole site mobile-friendly.
  14. Fixed a gazillion dead links.
  15. Fixed the newsletter signup.
  16. Moved the site back to  Typing "" into a web browser will still work, it'll redirect to
Jan. 2015 AR trumpets its gay cure. Here's a typical letter-to-the-editor from an ARist promoting AR's "gay cure" back in the day.
June 2012
"My parents disowned me."  A member and her parents were in AR.  When the member left, her parents refused to speak to her...all the way up until their death decades later. (more...)
December 2011
Recovering from your Aesthetic Realism experience.  Here's a list of books, counselors, and other resources to help you cope with what you went through. (more...)
November 2011 "Aesthetic Realism — a crackpot cult lodged down in the woodwork in Greenwich Village".  The Arts Editor of New York Magazine doesn't pull any punches! (more...)
November 2011 "The Victims of Aesthetic Realism". We tracked down an old article by a journalist who infiltrated AR to discover the group's methods of mind control.  Powerful, scary stuff. (more...)
February 2011
Growing up in Aesthetic Realism.  My own mother finally breaks her silence and describes what it was like to be born into a cult. (more...)
May 2010 "There isn't any question:  Eli Siegel killed himself."  A former member who had sought AR's "gay cure" explains how the group's leaders admitted that the founder took his own life. (more...)

Village Voice ad from 1962.   The Aesthetic Realists deny that they're a cult in this ancient ad they bought in the Village Voice.  This shows that people were saying they were a cult as far back as 1962!  There are some more juicy bits, too.  (more...)

The Hypocrisy of the Aesthetic Realists.  Continuing my new series of calling a spade a spade, I list several examples of how the AR people are guilty of what they complain about in others — such as being full of hate, writing anonymously, and proffering falsehoods as though they were true.  (more...)
February 2010
Directed Origination — AR's favorite mind control trick.  How does a group actually get its hooks into someone's mind? Here's an exposé about AR's favorite trick.  (more...)
Five Reasons You Can't Trust an Aesthetic Realist.  For starters, most of them eventually leave.  Today's zealot is tomorrow's ex-member. See this and four other reasons  (more...)
Lies Aesthetic Realists tell.  For the first six years I ran this site, I avoided using the "L" word (lie), preferring to just describe their dishonesty without using that particular pejorative. But their dishonesty is just so pervasive and extreme that the gloves are finally off. (more...)
April 2009 "The Moonies of poetry".  I just found an old article from Harper's (1982) with some choice words about the Aesthetic Realists. Of course, whenever the media looks at AR, their conclusion is rarely favorable.  (more...)
AR's double-page ad in the NY Times.  The Aesthetic Realists probably blew close to a third of a million dollars on a double-page ad in the NY Times in 1990. They used that opportunity to tell the world that their founder, Eli Siegel, was "the greatest man in the history of the world". (more...)
Aesthetic Realism Glossary.  We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use. (more...)
Updated the "Cult Aspects of AR page".  Added lots more examples and sources. (more...)
March 2009 Transcript of a secret AR meeting. This might be the ultimate AR scandal, a transcript of an inquest of a person who didn't stay "cured" of his homosexuality. (more...)
May 2008 Help for journalists - Media FAQ.  After answering a lot of the same questions for reporters — and seeing how the AR people are trying to mislead them -- I put together some info to help reporters covering AR stories (more...)
AR gets public funding — and we get it canceled. AR was able to finagle a grant from the NY state budget.  After we alerted the media it looks like the funding has been pulled. (more...)
AR member admits AR founder Eli Siegel killed himself!  Do you suppose they'll now stop calling me a liar for saying that's what happened?  Nah. (more...)
Feb. 2008 Who's afraid to debate?  Here's a video of me challenging AR devotee Arnold Perey to debate, while he ignores me. (more...)
Oct. 14, 2007 AR parallels.  I compare AR to The Secret, and give the scoop on the gay cure episode of South Park. (more...)
Oct. 14, 2007 AR's "colossal arrogance".  A former member explains how AR people feel qualified to lecture others about everything, including how others should react to some personal tragedy.  Gives a good insight into the warped mindset of AR. (more...)
Oct. 14, 2007 Judgemental, round 2.  Right after the former member above wrote in about how judgmental AR people are, a non-member wrote in to complain about an AR person criticizing her and her son. (It's one of the comments at the end of this article)
July 13, 2006 AR in the public schools. A former high school student says he got poor grades for not buying into AR like his teachers were pushing. (more...)
Mar. 14, 2006 A real AR consultation!  We got the holy grail — a transcript of a real Aesthetic Realism consultation.  Now the public can see what really happens in an AR therapy session. (more...)
Mar. 14, 2006 Cut off from his family. Wayne Smith describes how AR tried to change him from being gay, and convinced him to not spend Christmas with his family. (more...)
Feb. 8, 2006 High school Spanish teacher spent more time pushing AR than teaching Spanish.  That's what a former student of his says in her blog. (more...)
Feb. 6, 2006 "I want Ellen Reiss questioned!"  Yet another former member writes to share her experiences, complaining about the mind control techniques, and wondering aloud why there hasn't yet been a class-action lawsuit against the group. (read it...)
Oct. 26, 2005 AR recruits on dating sites?  A reader thinks an AR member is using dating websites as a vehicle to recruit new members.  I think it's more likely that she was really looking for a partner, but any partner also had to be a potential convert.  Anyway, see what our reader has to say... (in the orange sidebar)
Oct. 24, 2005 Transcript of my lesson with Siegel.  The wait is over — I've finally gotten around to posting a transcript of my lesson with Siegel at age two.
Oct. 24, 2005 AR's sneaky advertising tactics.  Find out how the AR people are abusing Google's ad system.
Oct. 8, 2005 Hate mail to my mom.  An AR student has taken to sending hate mail to my mother because of this website.  Real classy.  And so much for their claim that they welcome criticism. (on the cult aspects page)
Sept. 25, 2005 A scientific challenge.  A former AR student has challenged the AR Foundation to provide scientific evidence of the efficacy of its gay cure. (in the sidebar on the "gay cure" page)
Aug. 26, 2005 Yet more craziness. Anonymous email insults from an AR supporter, and a supposedly former member throws a fit about the fact that I have a donation form on this website to help me pay for it.  Oh, and an AR supporter says that *I'm* afraid to debate, when I've had an open offer to debate, which has been posted on this website for months, and even after I called the foundation twice to invite them directly.  (Not a single AR person has even acknowledged my debate offer, much less take me up on it.)  (more...)
July 20, 2005 The NY Post article. Here at long last is the infamous 1998 article on AR, the first exposé in the major media.
July 20, 2005 Coerced into signing.  Yet more embarrassment for AR:  As we suspected, not everyone who signed the "We Have Changed from Homosexuality" ad did so willingly. (more...)
July 16, 2005 New page:  News and Commentary.  I started a new page to highlight the various things that are going on, like the protest at AR's headquarters, and AR's refusal to debate.
July 16, 2005 Thoughts from the outside.  An unbiased reader with no experience in AR reads both our site and AR's, and concludes that they're a cult.
May 12, 2005 More details on Eli Siegel's suicide.  A former student shares more details about Eli Siegel's suicide, and breaks the news that Siegel wasn't the only person in the group to kill himself.
May 7, 2005 "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."  Read the heartbreaking story by yet another former student.
May 7, 2005 More on the Wikipedia controversy.  I added background on the controversy over at Wikipedia, to the "Other Sites" sidebar at right.
May 5, 2005 More on Eli Siegel's suicide.  A former student adds some more info on Eli Siegel's suicide.
May 5, 2005 "They told me there would be no further consultations until I incorporated AR more radically into my life."  Read the latest story by yet another former student.
May 5, 2005 AR Reunion, Fri., June 17!  See the sidebar at right about joining the reunion in NYC this summer.
May 5, 2005 #5 in Google.  We moved up to #5 in Google for a search on "aesthetic realism".  AR has only themselves to blame:  If they'd taken my mother's name off their website like I asked them to, I never would have created this site in the first place.
April 5, 2005 A tale of getting sucked in.  Yet another former member shares his experiences.  This story is unique because he describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved. (read his story)
April 5, 2005 Google rankings continue to improve.  We inched up another notch to spot #6 for a search on "aesthetic realism", and got two more spots on the front page.
April 5, 2005 New sidebar o' quotes.  So many former students have written in to share their stories I've now been able to amass a nice selection of quotes, which appears in the sidebar at right.
April 5, 2005 Aesthestic Realists continue their attack on free speech.  Aesthetic Realists keep removing any mention of this site and criticism about AR in general from resources like Wikipedia — as well as any mention that their founder Eli Siegel killed himself.  Particularly amusing was when a Wikipedian tried to add some balance to the article, and cult member Arnold Perey said he was full of bias and unfair to AR.  Paranoid feelings of persecution, anyone?
Feb. 12, 2005 A former student describes how he was kicked out of AR because he couldn't change from homosexuality.  Powerful stuff. (read his story)
Jan. 30, 2005 AR founder acknowledged that others saw his group as a cult.  There's a telling quote by Eli Siegel that I found in the transcript of my lesson I had with him at age two. (in Cult Aspects)
Jan. 29, 2005 Freedom of Mind goes to the front page of Google.  The page about Aesthetic Realism on cult expert Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website joins us on the front page of Google for a search on "aesthetic realism", thanks to our help.  Just as important as moving up is who we pushed down.  When AR is a Cult and Freedom of Mind went to the front page of Google, and went down.
Jan. 28, 2005 Our Google rankings go through the roof.  We're now #1 for "aesthetic realists" and we moved to the front page for "eli siegel".  We also now have two out of the ten positions on the front page for "aesthetic realism foundation".
Jan. 24, 2005 WOW! A former Aesthetic Realism member who was involved for over ten years into the 1990's and at the highest levels of the group sent us their incredibly detailed account of what life inside AR is like. This puts to rest once and for all any possible lingering question about whether AR is a cult. The AR people will not be able to "counter" this on their Countering the Lies website because this account is from one of their own, and because it's so exhaustively detailed. One of the tricks that AR used on Countering the Lies is to fudge the truth without telling the full story. For example, AR put up a bunch of testimonials on their website about how members aren't prevented from seeing their families. What the AR people don't mention is that AR started allowing family visits only after the press reported that former members complained that family visits were banned. Basically AR started allowing family visits specifically so they could claim that they do (which is exactly what they're doing on Countering the Lies). Often when AR members protest "We don't do that!" they neglect to add the words, "...any more." (or "as much as we used to"). But even these seeming improvements are just cosmetic window dressing. AR is still as much of a cult as it ever was. This is just one example. All over Countering the Lies AR does such a seemingly good job of countering because they never tell the whole story. But they can't get away with that any longer. This powerful new statement by a former member describes in excrutiating detail not only what happened in AR, but how AR tries to spin it to deny the allegations. AR won't be able to defend themselves against this one. In the 60+ years that AR has existed, to my knowledge this is the first time anyone, anywhere has offered such an exhaustive account of its practices. It's so powerful I'm hopeful that even current members will be moved by it and decide to shake off their chains and leave the group. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I believe this article is the most important thing ever written about Aesthetic Realism. (read their story)
Jan. 21, 2005 Reworked the Gay Cure page.
Jan. 21, 2005 Added more evidence of the group's paranoia about an alleged press boycott to the Cult Aspects page.
Jan. 21, 2005 A civil rights activist slams AR's new book against racism, suggesting that AR is "pimping" the struggle of black people for its own purposes.
Jan. 20, 2005 Another former AR student confirms that those in AR don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun former students.
Jan. 20, 2005 AR supporter Marvin Mondlin says of me and this site:   "So much for the stupid lying of Mali, Bluejay and the other liars...Why is he doing this? Feeling himself to be a failure in his own life, and joining with others also seeking revenge for essentially the same reason—notably Adam Mali—'Michael Bluejay' seeks the triumph of making himself important by looking down upon others." So much about AR's philosophy of not having contempt for others! (in Aesthetic Realism Strikes Back!)
Jan. 18, 2005 An Amazon book reviewer recommends staying away from Aesthetic Realism students (in the sidebar of the Cult Aspects page)
Jan. 16, 2005 Non-member agrees that AR is a cult (in the sidebar of the Cult Aspects page)
Jan. 14, 2005 AR says their founder's works are greater than the Bible or Shakeseare! (in Cult Aspects)
Jan. 13, 2005 We move to the front page of Google for a search on "aesthetic realism" (and pass the Countering the Lies site).
Jan. 13, 2005 Why we call AR devotees "members" even though AR says it has no members (in What is Aesthetic Realism?)
Jan. 12, 2005 AR has to revise their book when their "success stories" snap out of it and leave AR (in Gay Cure)
Jan. 11, 2005 "This is merely one example of the way people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line." Another former member tells it like it is. (more....)
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

“Words can't do justice to describe how excellent your site is in both purpose and content....Your site really can do enormous good on the level of human happiness.   Just think of the countless people who will NOT get messed up in AR because they viewed your site before ever getting sucked-in.  And then there are those who are in the thick of it and just needed a little more courage or reality-based perspective to break free and quit.  You are doing a great service to people. Your site has the power to spare a lot of people a lot of anguish from a group of misdirected souls.”

“There is a very interesting and rather warped dynamic among the students who left. To varying degrees, we're all wounded and in varying stages of recovery.”

“Your site is a great source of comfort and excitement to all of us, probably more than you can tell from the silence of most.”
— former AR students

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