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 continuing to avoid having
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
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
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.
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.
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 Aesthetic Realism 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
Some of the people with statements on the Countering
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
Eli Siegel was an evil person. And I don't use the
word evil lightly.
See former members'
statements in their entirety
is a small mind-control cult group in New York City.
was a member, as was my mother, my first father, and my maternal
grandparents. These days I'm telling the truth about how
the group operates — along with lots of other former members.
Like all cults, Aesthetic Realists believe their
founder was the greatest person ever to live, that his
writings are more important than the Bible, and that he came up
with the One True Answer for all the world's problems. The
biggest sin one can commit in the group is to show insufficient
"gratitude" for the founder or for Aesthetic Realism
itself. Members are expected to recruit family and
friends, and generally have to cut off relations with family
members whom they can't get to join (or with family and friends
who join for a while, but then leave). The group
effectively controls every significant aspect of their members'
lives — right down to whom they can marry. But what AR is
best known for is its alleged cure
for homosexuality, which it was embarrassed into giving up
after so many of the "cured" fell off the wagon. (Naturally, the
cure involves professing undying devotion to the founder and his
teachings.) And like most cults, the Aesthetic Realists also
suffer from delusions of grandeur, obsessive paranoia, and
wildly hysterical reaction to any criticism.
It's not just me saying Aesthetic Realism is a cult.
It's also dozens of other former
members whose stories are published here, well-known
professional psychologists and cult
experts (like Steve Hassan), and the
media. New York Magazine and New York Native both
identified AR as a cult, and Harper's referred to them as "the
Moonies of poetry". You can read what all these sources say
about AR on this site.
But my best evidence against the Aesthetic Realists is what
say themselves. From their books, their letters,
their newspaper ads, their private therapy sessions, and their
secret meetings (which they blunderingly recorded to tape), the
world can see how brainwashed they really are.
None of this would be an issue of the Aesthetic Realists
were just a harmless group of eccentrics, but they're not
harmless: They hurt people. They hurt the families who
have lost a loved one to the group (and have thus lost
meaningful contact with them), and they hurt the members
themselves, who have a terrifying experience on the inside, and
who need a considerable amount of therapy to recover from that
experience after they leave.
From New York Native:
"It was at that point that I began to see what Aesthetic
Realism was, in fact, about.
Godlike reverence his students demonstrated—these spelled out
one thing: that this was no philosophy. This was a cult,
genuine and bona fide, employing all the subtle and manipulative
techniques of mind-control used by such masters of the genre as
the Moonies [and] the Scientologists. Like all cults, Aesthetic
Realism reduces the wonder and complexity of the world to a
strict polarity of black-or-white reality.
"By cultivating an individual's sense of negative identity, the
program weakens the ego enough to gain admittance and eventual
control over a person's mind....
"In actuality, 'consultations' are slyly packaged sessions for
mind-control—what Yale psychiatry professor Robert Lifton
describes as 'thought-reform' or 're-education.' More
bluntly stated, it's brainwashing." —
of Aesthetic Realism
There's lots of stuff on this site, but perhaps the most
If you're a former member, I hope you'll share
If you're a current member, I hope you'll consider
If you're a journalist or blogger, I hope you'll write
about this scandalous group.
Thanks for stopping by. -- Michael Bluejay,
The newest additions and
- 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. (Jan. 2015)
- "Leaving, however, was only the
first challenge." One of the original
teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment
inside the group, and how she got out. (June
- 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. (December 2011) (more...)
- "Aesthetic Realism — a crackpot
cult lodged down in the woodwork in Greenwich Village".
Arts Editor of New York Magazine doesn't pull any punches! (November
- "The Victims of Aesthetic Realism".
tracked down an old article by a journalist who infiltrated AR
to discover the group's methods of mind control.
Powerful, scary stuff. (November 2011) (more...)
- Growing up in Aesthetic Realism.
own mother finally breaks her silence and describes what it
was like to be born into a cult. (February
- "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. (May
- Village Voice ad from 1962.
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. (May
- 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. (May
- 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. (Feb. 2010) (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. (Feb.
- Lies Aesthetic Realists tell. For
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. (Feb.
- "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. (April
- 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". (April
- Aesthetic Realism glossary. We
the real meanings behind AR's loaded language. (April
- Updated the "Cult Aspects of AR
page". Added lots more examples and sources. (April
- 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. (March 2009) (more...)
- Help for journalists - Media FAQ. After
a lot of the same questions for reporters -- and seeing how
the AR people are trying to mislead them -- I put together a
page 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...)
- Current AR member finally admits AR
founder Eli Siegel killed himself! Do you
suppose they'll now stop calling me a liar for saying that's
what happened? Somehow I doubt it. (more...)
See the rest of the updates.
What's on this site
What is Aesthetic Realism?
An explanation about both the AR philosophy and the group that promotes it.
Cult aspects of Aesthetic Realism
Fanatical devotion to the leader, cutting off relations with families who aren't also believers -- it's all here.
AR and Homosexuality
The AR group used to try to "cure" people of being gay. They stopped that in 1990 because high-profile success cases kept deciding they were gay after all and leaving. AR has never said their gay-changing attempts were wrong.
AR's founder killed himself
AR's founder Eli Siegel killed himself, but the AR people have been trying to hide that fact. They can't hide any more, since enough former students have come forward to confirm the truth.
Attempts to recruit schoolchildren
Some AR members are public schoolteachers, and yep, they do try to recruit in the classroom.
How cults recruit new members.
Explains how a rational person can unwittingly get sucked into a cult group.
Mind control tricks
This article explains AR's use of Directed Origination, a classic tool for brainwashing. Also see the article where someone infiltrated the group to learn about their mind control methods.
Five reasons you can't trust an Aesthetic Realist
One reason is that most people who were in AR eventually woke up and got out. See more about this, plus four other reasons.
Lies Aesthetic Realists tell
They say they never saw homosexuality as something to cure. They say the leader didn't kill himself. They say my family left the group when I was an infant. These and more are debunked here.
Hypocrisy of the Aesthetic Realists
It takes some serious brainwashing for the members to not realize that they're guilty of what they accuse others of.
Aesthetic Realism glossary
We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use.
AR in their own words
The AR people spent a third of a million dollars
for a double-page ad in the NY Times to tell the world that the
press' refusal to cover AR is just as wrong as letting hungry people
starve to death.
Ad for the gay
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet
their ability to "fix" gays.
letters from AR people
When a theater critic casually dissed Aesthetic
Realism in New York magazine, the AR people responded with hundreds
of angry letters, calling the article "a crime against humanity".
The AR people blunderingly made a tape recording
of a secret meeting they had, where they lambasted a member who had
supposedly been "cured" of his gayness, but then found to still be
cruising for gay sex. Their screeching hostility towards him is matched
only by their fear that the secret will get out.
For the first time the public can see what really
happens in an Aesthetic Realism "consultation" (thanks to a former
member sharing his tape with us). In the session the AR counselors
tried to help the member not be gay, explaining that the path to
ex-gayness was to express deep gratitude to AR and its founder.
Actual AR lesson
I had a lesson with the cult leader, Eli Siegel, when I was two years
old, which, like everything else, they made a tape of. The highlight is
Siegel taunting me with "Cry some more, Michael, cry some more!"
Ad in the Village Voice from 1962
The AR folks try to deny that they're a cult in this ancient ad -- showing that people were calling them a cult as far back as 1962!
responds to this website
The AR people have tried to rebut this website
with their own site called Countering the Lies, whose title
ought to win some kind of award for irony. Here we explain the story
behind that site.
What former members say
The ultimate statement by a former member, who
was involved for well over a decade.
of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he
initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more
Growing up in a cult. An ex-member who was born into AR tells what it was like growing up in the group, and how she got out.
Realism ruined his marriage. "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."
having all the answers. A former member explains how AR
members think they have all the answers, and feel qualified to lecture
others about how they should view personal tragedy.
Kicked out for remaining gay. Former students describe how they
were kicked out of AR because they couldn't change from homosexuality. Ron Schmidt and Miss Brown.
"Leaving, however was only the first challenge.". One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and how she got out.
disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor."
A former member tells how AR try to change him from being gay, and
convinced him not to spend Christmas with his family.
were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...".
The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune
Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there
hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.
took his consultation tape. Describes how the AR people
kept his consultation tape with his most intimate thoughts on it, and
told him he couldn't study any more unless he incorporated AR more
radically into his life.
"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.
all the criticism. A former member from 1971-80,
confirms that AR students don't see their families, are discouraged
from attending college, and shun other members. He also offers that he
was mistaken when he was involved about thinking that AR had changed
him from homosexuality.
description. Your webmaster describes his own family's
interviewed in Jewish Times. This lengthy article in
Jewish Times quotes former students of Aesthetic Realism extensively.
NY Post article.
A series of articles in the NY Post quotes many former members who are
now critical of the group.
Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult
aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.
Thinking of leaving AR?
If you're thinking of leaving the group, you're not alone. Let's face it: Most people who have ever studied AR have left -- and not come back. There's got to be a reason for that. Curious about what they figured out? Worried about the fallout if you do decide to leave? Here's everything you need to know.
Recovering from your AR experience.
People who leave cults often need special therapy to cope with what they went through. Whether you decide to seek counseling or choose to go it alone, here's what you need to know.
NY Mag called AR "a cult of messianic nothingness" and Harper's referred to them as "the Moonies of poetry". We've got reprints of articles, plus some help for journalists researching AR. (And here are shortcuts to the landmark articles in New York Native, the NY Post and Jewish Times.)
Site News / Blog
Here's some news and commentary that I add from time to time.
Aesthetic Realism at a Glance
Aesthetic Realism Foundation
|Eli Siegel, poet and 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.
|The key to all social ills is for people to learn to like the world. Having contempt for the world leads to unhappiness and even insanity. (Their slogan is "Contempt causes insanity".) For example, homosexuality is a form of insanity caused by not liking the world sufficiently.
Also teaches that "beauty is the making one of
|New York City (SoHo)
|About 106 (33 teachers, 44 training to be teachers, and 29 regular students). Has failed to grow appreciably even after 70 years of existence, and is currently shrinking.
All members call themselves "students", even the leaders/teachers. Advanced members who teach others are called "consultants".
Method of study
|Public seminars/lectures at their headquarters (in lower Manhattan), group classes, and
individual consultations (three consultants vs. one student).
- 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
- Odd, specialized language.
More about cult aspects...
Open offer to debate
Since 2005 I've had an open offer to debate the Aesthetic Realists publicly in a formal format at any time to defend what I've said on this site, and to answer their own charges against me. But the AR people won't do it. Their excuse is, "He's not worth debating." But if that's true, then why did they put up a ninety-six page website to try to snipe at me and to try to rebut what I'm saying? I think the answer is that they're content to hide behind the cover of the Internet, but they know how bad they'd look in a live format where anyone actually got to ask any pointed questions.
You know what's really funny? Someone went to one of their public presentations, said he'd seen this site, and asked about the cult allegations. The AR person said, "It's very easy to say crap like that on the Internet and never have to be challenged." Oh, the irony is killing me!
Anyway, Aesthetic Realists, as for a public debate, I'm ready when you are. And to everyone else, when the AR people won't stand behind what they're saying, why should anyone take what they say seriously?
Aesthetic Realism sites
Realism Foundation. The official
website of the group. Read about AR in their own
Realism in the News. A sister
site to the official AR site. AR in the News
catalogs media articles mentioning Aesthetic
Realism, usually editorials or online-only articles
written by AR students. One gets the impression from
reading some of these articles that they were
written solely as an excuse to mention Aesthetic
Realism. Fun game: see how many times Eli Siegel is
identified with identical gushing praise across
multiple articles (e.g., "the great American poet
and critic Eli Siegel").
the Lies. When I originally put
up my site it was just a single page with only a
little info and a link to another ex-member's story
(Adam). When the AR people saw it, they started an
entire site to combat what Adam and I said, called,
ironically, "Countering the Lies"
Realism on other sites
Unrealistic Answer to Racism. A
civil rights activist slams AR's new book against
racism, saying that: "I have learned how important
it is for analytical and critical thinkers to bring
to light any organizations, doctrines or
philosophies that would seek to 'pimp' Black
peoples' struggle for racial justice and
reparations. It is the moral duty of conscious
individuals to expose anyone that would prey upon
people's desperate hopes for an end to their
oppression. In keeping with that, I would like to
discuss a recent book that disturbs me greatly
because the authors are guilty of the above."
Aesthetic Realists have ganged up to delete just
about anything critical that appears in the
article. I don't have time to fight them by
myself any more, but if anyone wants to join me in
getting the WP article on AR into a fair,
accurate, and unbiased form, please let me know.
Jenny Lohan. Jenny found our
site and blogged about it: "The cult is called the
Aesthetic Realism foundation and it's full of old
timer hipster weirdos in soho....I ended up on this
website that had all these stories from former
members and it scares the poop out of me."
I had to go through a lot of therapy getting out
of this group.
Most people who formerly were in AR have wished
to keep quiet about it, forget the miserable
experience, and get on with their lives.
It was also the first glimmer in my mind that I
let sprout in which I realized there was something
terribly wrong with the AR foundation and I should
get out. I am making an understatement of massive
proportion when I say, I am very happy I did.
"He told me that he studied with Eli Siegel for
around 6 years and that it's taken even more to
get over it. His eyes started filling up."
When I left I immediately felt as though a 200
lb. weight was taken from my shoulders. Two years
of tension between my family and myself rapidly
eased. My father was thrilled that I "got that
When I left Aesthetic Realism and began to speak
regularly with my older sister, she said with
tears in her eyes, "I feel like you're finally
See former members'
statements 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."
want to thank you for your continued excellent work on
this website. I seriously think of you as an American hero
for standing up to the bullies at the Aesthetic Realism
Foundation. I realize other people helped you by
contributing their experiences and want to take a moment
to thank them as well. I guess we will never know how many
people were saved from being manipulated by ARs twisted
logic but I'm sure its thousands of people (and likely
many more than that) if they had their way in spreading
their sick message unencumbered. I myself had not realized
how much they had manipulated me until their tactics were
explained here, suffice to say I am very grateful."
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."
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