Aesthetic Realism is a cult

  Who they are, how they operate • Written by former members

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Michael Bluejay‘s experience with Aesthetic Realism

by Michael Bluejay, founder of this website, 2005

     My roots in Aesthetic Realism go deep. I was born into it, because my mother was born into it, because her parents were involved in it. My maternal grandfather, Jack Musicant, was introduced to Aesthetic Realism by Marvin Mondlin who today (2005) is reportedly its oldest living supporter (and who has publicly reamed me for daring to speak out against AR). From what I understand, Mondlin met Siegel while in college, though Siegel himself didn't attend college and professed a disdain for it. Jack apparently introduced AR to his future wife, May Musicant. Jack and May knew Siegel well and were students of his. May was one of the people who claimed to have changed from homosexuality as a result of studying Aesthetic Realism, as shown in the big ad the group bought in the New York Times. Jack died around 1977 and May around 1988.

     May and Jack had three daughters, including my mother, and all three daughters were brought up in AR. My grandparents took my mother to private lessons with Siegel when she was 4 or 5 years old. Another daughter (Alice) is still involved in AR, and cut off relations with my mother when she left the group. They haven't spoken in years. [Update: Shortly after I put up my first page of AR criticism, Alice called my mother to complain about it and ask her to get me to take it down. So the first and only time Alice spoke to my mother in over 20 years was to complain about my AR is a Cult website!]

     My mother introduced my birth father to AR when they were in high school. I was thus born into the cult as my mother was. I had at least one "lesson" with Eli Siegel, one at age two. (See the transcript of the lesson.) I believe I had two others but I can't locate the records. My mother and my first father divorced when I was about 2 or 3.

     Shortly after that my mom met and married the man who would become my second father. When he met my mother he saw the effect that AR was having on her, and saw that I was destined to grow up in the same environment, so he took us to Texas when I was 5. He knew this was his best hope of getting us out of AR, since after a several decades AR had never successfully spread very far outside of its headquarters in Greenwich Village, NYC.

Me at 12 years old in NYC with
my Aunt Alice (still in AR), dutifully
wearing my "Victim of the Press" button.

     Of course, the Aesthetic Realists tried to prevent Mom from leaving.  They told her she was making the biggest mistake of her life, that her life would be utterly destroyed without AR, that she was leaving only because of the contempt she had for the founder Eli Siegel, etc.  Once in Texas, for the next several years if her parents called, it was only to yell at her for leaving NYC where the cult is based.      But even though she'd left NYC, and even though the cult people disowned her (including her parents), she was stil loyal to AR.  As a result, AR wasn't completely out of my life, either. Mom had brought the complete set of AR books with her to Texas, where she continued to self-study AR, taught dance classes from the Aesthetic Realism perspective, gave talks on AR wherever she could, and started an AR study group for anyone she could recruit.  I attended the the talks and group meetings. When I was 12 I returned to NYC to visit my cousin, and my mom's sister Alice lost no time in dragging me right back to the Aesthetic Realism Foundation for lessons and "consultations". I even participated in one of AR's vigils against the New York Times. I was basically reabsorbed into the group's culture.

     Incidentally, on AR's "Countering the Lies" website Alice claims that I've been uninvolved with AR since I was five, and that she was friendly with me on my visit to New York when I was 12 even though I was uninvolved with AR. Neither of these things is true. Alice was friendly with me because I was involved with AR during my visit, and I was involved because of her efforts to get me involved. She took me to lectures and classes, I had consultations, I participated in a NYT vigil, I wore my VoTP button, and she had me associate with all the other AR people whom she felt should be my influences.

     Perhaps three years after my NY visit when I was in high school my mother abruptly had an epiphany in which she saw the Aesthetic Realism group for what it really was, and immediately renounced it all, and tearfully apologized to me for making AR a part of my life. (To this day she periodically makes the same apology on occasion, to which I reply that there is nothing to apologize for, since I cannot see anyone else in the same circumstances acting differently. When you're born into a cult, as she was, your ability to reject it and to make informed decisions is severely compromised.) My mother's relevation ended my involvement with AR. That was fine with me, as I'd never really bought into AR anyway.

     A few years later my parents divorced and my mother returned to NYC and married another former AR member, but both stayed far away from AR.

     AR people are trying to discredit my criticism with their site Countering the Lies, in part by pointing out that I've been uninvolved with AR formally for many years. That's very true, but what they're not mentioning is that AR hasn't changed since the days of my involvement, according to former members who left more recently than I did and who have been sharing their stories on this website. They're also not mentioning that I'm not the only one saying these things.  Hell, people were saying Aesthetic Realism was a cult before I was born!

     It's funny when you know someone who swears up and down the street that something is true, for decades, and then they suddenly change their mind. I wonder when the next Aesthetic Realist who is currently calling me a liar will eventually leave the group, like so many other former members before them, and decide I was telling the truth after all.

     So why this site?  Because AR hurts people.  People don't know when they're recruited into the group that they might wind up spending the rest of their lives devoted to it to the exclusion of everything else—including their family.  Because like most cults, a new recruit's first job is to bring in their friends and family, and if they can't, then those people aren't friends and family any more.  When people finally get out of the group (and most eventually do) they have a lot of regret about the time they wasted inside of it, they may need therapy to be able to recover, and they have to rebuild relationships with loved ones they previously shut out.  As long as AR hurts people, I'm going to be around to make sure the truth about them is known.

 

Siegel's poem for me

Much as my experience with Aesthetic Realism was unpleasant, I still have to think that I'm lucky to have had a poem composed about me by a man whom William Carlos Williams praised as one of the greatest poets of our times.  Of course I was only two years old, and Siegel improvised it verbally off the top of his head, and it's definitely not his best work, but a poem is a poem.

Improvised Song for Michael Andrew
From the Aethetic Realism Lesson
Conducted by Eli Siegel

Once there came to this very room
A little boy called Michael Andrew.
What could I do?
His life was unformed,
He was cold and was warm;
Somewhat misinformed.
But Michael Andrew had a soul,
And it was for me to encourage it to be whole.

He tried to interrupt me and tried to show that he was in control.
But Michael Andrew has a soul,
And what could I do, but to make it whole
As well as I could.
When a little boy is here
I don't know what I should do,
Because on the one hand
There is something to understand;
And on the other, there must be authority.
And sometimes I don't agree with what I do.
But this I know:
That Michael Andrew has a soul that is new,
And I must do all I can do
To have it always new
And always a soul that is a whole soul,
Not just a fraction
Making for an action
And sorrow.
I'll borrow
His mother and his father
In order to encourage Michael Andrew and his soul
To be in control of the lesser soul,
And show that Michael Andrew has a soul
That is a whole soul.

-- Eli Siegel

 [This page started in 2005 and last edited in 2011.]

What's on this site

Cult Aspects

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

Actual AR advertisment
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 cure
AR bought huge ads in major newspapers to trumpet their ability to "fix" gays.

Actual 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".

Actual internal meeting
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.

Actual AR consultation
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!

AR 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

Aesthetic Realism exposed
The ultimate statement by a former member, who was involved for well over a decade.

A tale of getting sucked in.
This former member describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved.

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.

Aesthetic 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."

On 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.

"If I 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.

"...people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line...". The experiences shared with us by a member from 1974-80, now a Fortune 100 executive.

"I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" This former member wonders why there hasn't been a class-action lawsuit against the foundation yet.

They 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.

Confirms 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.

Michael Bluejay's description. Your webmaster describes his own family's involvement.

Members 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.

Aesthetic Realism debunked. A former student explains the cult aspects of AR. Posted on Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website.

Other Goodies

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.

Media Reports
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

Name

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation

Founded

1941

Founder

Eli Siegel, poet and art/literary critic.
Committed suicide in 1978

Purpose

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.


Philosophy

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 opposites".

Location

New York City (SoHo)


Membership

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).


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
  • Odd, specialized language.

  • More about cult aspects...

 


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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave