Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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“If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor.”

by Wayne Smith, Feb. 4, 2006

     Funny how the brainwashing comes back after 25 years. I was thinking how I would start this and was going to write about"AR" and immediately thought someone would ask me if I was showing respect by using just initials for this cult. lol

      To tell you the truth, I was a little hesitant to write as it was a fairly positive experience for me, in spite of this group and not because of them. I met some great people (who left the group too). I lived in New York for a year so I enjoyed the cultural experience. And I finally made peace with my homosexuality (after I left). AR was my last attempt to change after psychology and religion had also failed.

      It did amaze me to read on your site that Eli Siegel had committed suicide as that certainly did not come out once during my time there. The one thing that really seems a racket to me is how they tell you that you are not ready to express gratitude when you say you haven't changed from homosexuality and maybe if you would donate some money it would help. I cannot believe that they are denying that they led us to believe they could change people from H as they called it. I was there in the early 80's and gay people outnumbered the straight people and changing from homosexualty was one of the main topics.

      I am a very private person and don't like to push people to believe things I do [but] they soon had me wearing a victim of the press button and writing letters to Time magazine and demonstrating in the streets.

"One [AR member] actually opened an umbrella in an ELEVATOR to show how displeased they were with the former member!"

I keep contact with a couple of friends of mine that are former members who say that when they meet active people in AR, the AR people cross over to the other side of the street. One actually opened an umbrella in an ELEVATOR to show how displeased they were with the former member! In 1982, my AR roommate used to listen in on my calls to my family and then criticize me when I got off the phone. My consultants told me not to fly home for Christmas as I was not "ready" to be fair to AR while I was there. Christmas is a big deal in our family and it took a couple of years to mend family relations for the one Christmas in my life that I did not spend with my family.

      After reading your site, I can well imagine how badly my life would have turned out if I had stayed very much longer. I have been with my gay lover now for 3 years and am very happy. And I can say without qualification, it has nothing to do with my time spent in the AR cult! So go ahead and publish my name. Their disapproval means nothing to me now. I felt bad all the time I was there as nothing I did could please these people. If I disappointed them, then I now consider that a badge of honor.

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Former members describe Aesthetic Realism

Aesthetic Realism at a Glance


The 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 opposites".


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).

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...

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?

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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave