Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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Aesthetic Realism lexicon

An explanation of AR's "code words"

posted April 2009

Completely Fair. Being "completely fair" to Eli Siegel or Aesthetic Realism means expressing extreme devotion to them. If any members fails to do this, they're quickly criticized as "not being completely fair". AR leaders use this phrase several times in the secret inquest we posted.

Consultant. An AR leader who conducts consultations.

Consultation. AR's special brand of therapy where three consultants meet with one member. The purpose is to get the member to affirm or re-affirm their devotion to Eli Siegel and AR, and to discourage the member from pursuing things in their life that keep them from promoting or studying AR (such as relationships with friends or family who aren't in AR). (more on consultations)

Contempt. AR believes that the root of all unhappiness is a person's believing they're better than other people, which they refer to as contempt. This concept is so important to them that their slogan is "Contempt causes insanity". AR sees homosexuality as caused by contempt. (And since "contempt causes insanity", we're supposed to conclude that homosexuals are insane.) Naturally, if anyone dares to question anything about AR or its founder, Eli Siegel, that's considered contempt.

Criticism. The AR leaders love to dole out what is supposedly constructive criticism to its members. But it's verboten to criticize AR or its founder, Eli Siegel. That would be considered contempt. In a nutshell, the AR leaders' negative opinions about you? Criticism. Your criticism of anything else? Contempt. Telling quote by an AR member: "I am so grateful that my desire for contempt was criticized by Aesthetic Realism." (from AR's double-page ad in the NY Times)

Eli Sigel. A poet and literary critic who founded Aesthetic Realism in the 1940's. He took his life in 1978.

Fair. See completely fair.

Grateful / Gratitude. AR members are expected to continually express profound "gratitude" for having "met" Aesthetic Realism, and for Eli Siegel himself. Failure to express gratitude is considered contempt or not being completely fair. Expressing gratitude to Eli Siegel and AR was supposedly the key to AR's gay cure, as shown in this AR consultation. Telling quote by an AR member: "I am so grateful that my desire for contempt was criticized by Aesthetic Realism." (from AR's double-page ad in the NY Times)

Meanwhile. This one is like tremendous, in that by itself there's nothing especially odd about it. What makes it strange is the frequency that Aesthetic Realists use it. It becomes part of the pattern of their lexicon, which gives their speech a certain flavor. You can see this one in an AR consultation, on their Countering the Lies website, and on Wikipedia discussion pages.

Met. AR people frequently talk about AR as though it's a person, and this is perhaps the best example. AR people refer to their first finding out about AR as having met Aesthetic Realism.

Opposites. A fundamental teaching of AR is that "beauty is the making one of opposites". This is an old concept, dating back thousands of years to Chinese yin/yang, but AR adherents think that Eli Siegel invented it.

Persons. Aesthetic Realists usually say "persons" when a normal person would say "people". It's not incorrect, it's just idiosyncratic. For example:

"I am a rival to all the persons you've known..." (Eli Siegel, The H Persuasion, p. 57)

"[We] wanted this lesson with Eli Siegel to be heard by persons..." (H Persuasion, p. 60)

"Persons in the media have been furious that they themselves have something enormous to learn from Aesthetic Realism, and have tried to keep this knowledge from reaching people." (AR website)

     "Persons" is also used a euphemism for AR's current leader, Ellen Reiss. If someone says, "I have spoken to persons," they really mean, "I have spoken to Class Chairman Ellen Reiss."

Terrain Gallery. AR's building at 141 Greene Street include the group's offices, meeting rooms (where consultations are held), and an art gallery, called the Terrain Gallery, where they host art showings and presentations.

TRO. Acronym of the first three words of the AR newsletter "The Right Of Aesthetic Realism to be Known." Notice, AR isn't just a philosophy, it has rights!

Tremendous. AR people believe that AR is the most important thing in the world, ever, and they therefore struggle with how to adequately communicate the extreme importance they think AR holds. One result is that they use the word tremendous quite frequently. The overuse is kind of comical. A Google search on "aesthetic realism" tremendous reveals nearly 1,000 hits! Just a few examples:

  • "The Terrain Gallery is proud to present an exhibition featuring the work of three photographers who have seen the tremendous value of Aesthetic Realism for art and for life" -- Announcement of an exhibit at AR's headquarters
  • "The effect of the Aesthetic Realism education on people's lives is tremendously beneficial, and thrilling." -- AR website's welcome page
  • "[O]ne thing I feel very strongly about is the fact that we have a tremendous opportunity to be fair to the greatest knowledge and the greatest person who ever lived." -- Leader of a secret AR inquest, speaking about AR and its founder, Eli Siegel
  • "A few months later I began to study Aesthetic Realism and to my tremendous relief I learned that my deepest desire is to like the world..." -- by Lynette Abel, on an Aesthetic Realism website
  • "I think that at a very early age you felt you had a willing slave in your mother. You got a tremendous sense of power from that..." Then, three pages later, "You'll have to see the tremendous sense of power you get from your mother." -- Eli Siegel, The H Persuasion, pp. 36, 39
  • "I am tremendously fortunate to be using the Aesthetic Realism teaching method." -- Opening of an article for an education journal
  • "So do you think that you are tremendously, tremendously grateful that you met the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel?" -- Aesthetic Realism consultation; they actually use the word tremendous *nine times* in that session
  • "Using the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel as a teaching method, I have had tremendous success teaching William Gibson's The Miracle Worker in high school." -- by Ann M. Richards, on AR's website
  • "This was a tremendous day for the Jewish community." -- AR teacher Devorah Tarrow, about AR's duping local officials to declare "Eli Siegel Day" in Baltimore
  • "Aesthetic Realism makes for tremendous respect for the world and people, and therefore someone who feels entitled to have contempt for everything can become angry with it." -- From AR's "Countering the Lies" website
  • "Using the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel as a teaching method, I have had tremendous success teaching William Gibson's The Miracle Worker in high school." -- Tagline of an AR teacher's blog
  • "By now I had a pretty clear idea of the tremendous range of Eli Siegel's knowledge." -- Sheldon Kranz, "The H Persuasion", p. 24
  • "There is a tremendous feeling in a person that by making less of something else you will be more important." Then two sentences later, another Aesthetic Realist says: "It has tremendous subtlety to it." -- In the Channel 13 tv interview on the gay cure
  • "I left my [Aesthetic Realism] lesson with a tremendous amount to think about.... Although I couldn't put it into words that day, logic, poetry, and a tremendous amount of knowledge had all been working together to explain me to myself." -- Sheldon Kranz, The H Persuasion, p. 42
  • "You a tremendous gift of comforting people--it's too good!" -- Eli Siegel, The H Persuasion, p. 64
  • "At the same time, I admired her tremendously." -- In the Channel 13 tv interview on the gay cure

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.

Share your Aesthetic Realism story!

If you did time in AR, had or have a friend or relative in AR, or had some other run-in with the group, I hope you'll share your story on this site. If you'd like to write something that you don't want to appear on this site, then please write directly to my email address instead.


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This page last updated July 2009.

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...

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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave