Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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The New York Post article on Aesthetic Realism

This one's a doozy. On February 1, 1998 the New York Post ran a scathing spread about how AR members who were also public school teachers were allegedly proselytizing about AR in the classroom. The article had a decisive effect: After the group was ridiculed for wearing Victim of the Press buttons and for not allowing members to have contact with family members, they stopped wearing the buttons and started allowing limited family contact. Near the end are comments from some of these teachers' high school students who either wrote in or whose comments I found on the net. Incidentally, the main reporter for these pieces, Susan Edelman, is an award-winning journalist who's been recognized specifically for her investigative reporting.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to help us pay for the reprint rights.

©1998 NYP Holdings, Inc. (The New York Post) All rights reserved.


'I threw out 15 years of my life,' says ex-follower


Former followers of Aesthetic Realism brand it a "cult" that controlled their minds and manipulated every aspect of their lives -- from money to sex.

They told The Post that their innermost feelings were scrutinized and condemned -- and that they were pushed to submit to the group's beliefs ultimately losing their free will.

They said Aesthetic Realism leaders told them where they should live and with whom, what friends and relatives to talk to, and how to use their spare time -- all to ensure complete devotion to the group's beliefs and its charismatic founder, Eli Siegel, who died in 1978.

"I feel I threw out 15 years of my life," said Heide Krakauer, a former city schoolteacher who lectured on Aesthetic Realism at the foundation. "It was the biggest mistake of my life."

Krakauer said she joined the group after she finished college and was unsure about her future. She said she was indoctrinated by Siegel and was completely enthralled -- until she was criticized for wanting to start a family.

"I wanted to have a regular life. But they didn't want that. They thought all I should do is be out there proselytizing."

Krakauer, who married another follower, said she had no privacy.

"They were in every aspect of your life. Every minute of your life was observed. I was criticized for buying too many clothes."

She said she and her husband were pressured to live with another couple -- so they could keep an eye on each other.

"I feel very sad for the people still in there," said Krakauer, who has a young daughter. "I'm speaking out because I don't want other people to get sucked in."

Another ex-follower, Ann Stamler, a Manhattan fundraising executive, agreed.

"It hurt me. It muzzled my expression," said Stamler, who left the group 13 years ago. "It's a system only allowing activities and thoughts that Aesthetic Realism would approve of."

Stamler, raised in the group from childhood, said her parents still belong and refuse to speak to her.

"For years, my parents and I had nothing to do with the rest of our family because they didn't believe that Aesthetic Realism is the most important thing in the world," she said.

Former followers say life revolved around the foundation's three-story SoHo headquarters, where seminars, classes and "personal consultations" are held.

They were required to pay $40 for the consultation, which they described as a grueling session at which they were bombarded with probing questions.

"The consultee [was] ganged up on to adopt certain ideas," said one former follower.

The Post spoke to former AR adherents who said they gave the foundation up to $20,000 a year.

Nothing was off-limits. Followers say they were told that marital sex can be a way of encouraging love for Aesthetic Realism.

Homosexuality and masturbation were acts of "Contempt" -- an Aesthetic Realism term used to explain social ills. Oral sex was taboo.

Adam Mali, a former follower who was raised in the group from birth, broke free at age 23 in 1988. now a ski instructor in Vermont, he said, "I was very lonely. I was getting yelled at all the time. My learning, my growth and my development were interfered with."

He said his high-school years were miserable because he couldn't go to dances, play baseball or keep friends who were not involved in Aesthetic Realism.

He said he finally fled after leaders pressured him to drop college courses. "They said everything I needed to know I could learn at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation."

He said his final days were horrific, with followers warning he would die, get cancer or suffer other "terrible things" if he left.

When he did, he said, his father, who still belongs, disowned him.


Aesthetic Realism center of storm

By Susan Edelman, Maria Alvarez and John O'Mahony

At least two dozen city teachers are spreading the beliefs of a group some consider a "destructive cult" to schoolchildren and co-workers in hopes of attracting new followers, The Post has learned.

Supporters of the tightly controlled Aesthetic Realism Foundation idolize the group's dead founder, Eli Siegel.

They are bent on giving Siegel the widespread respect they feel he deserves for his insights into the human heart and for his remedies for social ills ranging from war and racism to bad marriages.

The SoHo-based group gained notoriety in the 1970s for claiming it could convert gays into heterosexuals. It has since dropped that inflammatory issue and now focuses on denouncing the "profit economy" and pushing the "Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method" in schools.

City teachers trained by the foundation inject Aesthetic Realism and Siegel's name into classroom discussions and fervently praise his philosophy among colleagues whenever and wherever they can -- from teachers' lounges to professional workshops.

"It's a kind of recruitment," said Ann Stamler, a former longtime follower who used Aesthetic Realism in teaching college courses in New York.

"The idea was that other teachers and ultimately the students and parents would see how true Aesthetic Realism is and feel as worshipful as I did."

Heide Krakauer, a former city teacher who left Aesthetic Realism 14 years ago, called the teaching method a way to draw more followers. "The goal is to get teachers and parents involved."

She said followers were pushed by leaders to use Aesthetic Realism in their jobs and to spark interest among co-workers.

Krakauer said some teachers "thought it was too weird even laughed at us," but other teachers and principals were taken in.

Foundation leaders insist that they only want to share "the greatest knowledge and kindness in history."

But there's a dark side, former followers said -- the group's charismatic leaders demanded total devotion and dictated how they should live.

"I think they did harm to me, my family, and other people -- and are still doing it," said Stamler, a Manhattan fund-raising executive who left the group 13 years ago.

Arnold Markowitz, who runs a cult hot line for the Manhattan-based Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, said Aesthetic Realism "Has elements of a destructive cult, such as controlling the behavior, activities and choices of the members."

"Over the years, I have met with 20 to 30 former members and families who have complained that they were seriously and adversely affected by the group's practices and beliefs," he noted.

"It's scary," said Steve Hassan, a former Moonie and the author of "Combating Cult Mind Control," who has counseled several former Aesthetic Realism followers.

"These are cult members who are trying to promulgate and recruit," Hassan said.

Reached by telephone, two teachers associated with the foundation refused to speak to a reporter. Others did not return phone calls.

In a letter to The Post, foundation leaders said the teachers would consider granting interviews only if The Post assured them it had "good will for the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel."

Spokespeople insisted the foundation has no "members" or "followers," only "students" and "consultants" who teach Aesthetic Realism.

City teachers who use Aesthetic Realism have identified themselves in letter to The Post and other newspapers and in the group's literature.

They say they proudly use the "Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method" in city schools and believe it helps kids learn, abstain from drugs, and get along with each other.

The group's efforts to get the city school system to adopt the method have met with repeated failure.

For years, literature and letters sent by the group to the city schools chancellor asking for a meeting have been ignored.

"It's not the purpose of the Board of Ed to advocate any particular school of thought," explained spokesman J. D. LaRock.

In an essay in a Texas newspaper, Monique Michael, a first-grade teacher at PS 30 in Harlem, claimed the method works with kids "horribly brutalized by our ugly, unjust profit economy."

She wrote that she uses opposites like straight lines and curves to help kids identify the alphabet. She said she explained that opposites are found in people, too, and succeeded in teaching them that prejudice is wrong.

"I told the children what I was so grateful to have learned from Aesthetic Realism, that when we use the fact that other people look different from us to feel we are better than they are ... we are having contempt."

Last Thursday, at is headquarters on Greene Street, the foundation held its annual education seminar, "Through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, students choose knowing the world, not fighting with it!"

Moderator Arnold Perey compared Aesthetic Realism founder to Siegel to Darwin, Newton and other scientists whose theories were debunked before finding acceptance.

He blamed the press and the "educational establishment" for maligning the group's teaching method and preventing the city's children from benefiting from it.

Four city school teachers told the seminar audience of more than 100 how they used the method in the classroom.

The principles

These are the four principles of Aesthetic Realism, as outlined in the group's literature:

  • Every person is always trying to put together opposites in himself.
  • Every person in order to respect himself has to see the world as beautiful or good or acceptable.
  • There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.
  • All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making on of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.
Barbara McClung, a science teacher at JHS 56 in Manhattan, said she taught her students to think of their lives as similar to the stars in that sometimes they're turbulent ad sometimes at rest.

"But the two opposites are at one in the world," she explained.

The other speakers -- Lori Lerner, a kindergarten teacher at PS 59 in Manhattan; Donita Ellison, an art teacher at LaGuardia HS; and Leila Rosen, an English teacher at Norman Thomas HS -- also described how they worked "opposites" into their lessons.

No matter what the subject -- art, history, math or science -- students get an earful about Siegel and Aesthetic Realism from the teacher-followers who sometimes show up for class wearing the group's white button that says "Victim of the Press."

La Guardia HS senior Lauren Rabinowitz said she wrote to the foundation at the suggestion of biology teacher Rosemary Plumstead.

"She talked about it so much, I just had to figure out what could possibly make a person so devoted," Rabinowitz said.

"She forced it on us," said LaGuardia senior Yana Suzanova, who had Donita Ellison as her art teacher.

"From the first day of class she started talking about it, and didn't stop until the end of the term."

A Norman Thomas HS student described teacher Leila Rosen as soft spoken and sweet. "She mentions it [AR] all the time, that it makes the world a better place."

Norman Thomas HS Principal Joanne Frank told The Post she considers Aesthetic Realism "a wonderful means of instruction." But she conceded that she didn't know how to explain it.

Myron Liebrader, a principal of Grover Cleveland HS in Queens, said he would be concerned if any of his teachers brought up Aesthetic Realism extensively.

Earth Science teacher Larry Rabinowitz, in a union newsletter to other teachers, advocated Aesthetic Realism and explained how he used it to lead a lesson about sedimentary rock into one about self-analysis.

Noting that rocks break down and build up again, Rabinowitz wrote that he asked his class: "Can we break something down in ourselves so we can build up something more beautiful later on?"

He wrote that his students "spoke about mistakes they seemed to repeat, habits they were ashamed of and wanted to break. We saw that the way the Earth puts these opposites together gave us more hope for our own lives and had us feel more related to things."

Students dish out mixed grades


Most people have never heard of the late Eli Siegel, the little-known winner of a 1925 national poetry prize.

But his name and philosophy ring loud bells for many students at Fiorella LaGuardia HS in Manhattan.

The reason: art teacher Donita Ellison and biology teacher Rosemary Plumstead, who wear "Victim of the Press" buttons to school and weave Eli Siegel and his Aesthetic Realism into class discussions.

A student writes in

I was not in any way involved with this group but two of my HS teachers were, in 1993. I went FH Laguardia HS of music and art. There was an art history teacher named Donita Ellison and an English summer school teacher - something Rabinowitz.

They repeatedlty taught their courses from the perspective of AR and we were given low marks on tests if we did not reflect THEIR beliefs in our course work.

I never tolerated their obvious attempt to "rope us in" at our young ages and I was given low marks because of it.

There are other teachers involved in AR throughout the eduacation system. They need to uncovered and fired - they try to convert in the class room.

The most interesting thing about the AR people in the education system is that they are not a religion, they are not a political movement - they are a "methodology", loosely interpreted and, therefore, immune to the system that would get rid of them.

Feel free to publish this including my name.

Thank you for this website.

- Gideon Rettich, July 13, 2006

"She talked about it quite a few times in class," said senior Maurice Tyne, 18, who had freshman biology with Plumstead. He said he enjoyed the class.

"We were not only learning biology, we were learning about a new philosophy called Aesthetic Realism," he said. "It focuses more on why people do things and what makes them do it."

Tyne said he didn't fully understand Aesthetic Realism.

"I'm not sure exactly what she was talking about," he admitted. "I guess we were too young to understand exactly what it was. But we got a basic grasp of it."

The teacher told the class she attended seminars on Aesthetic Realism, Tyne said.

"She told us there was such a thing as an Aesthetic Realism discussion group, and if an individual wanted to know more about it, she'd be happy to answer their questions."

Vera Radunksy, 16, also liked Plumstead and enjoyed lessons peppered with Aesthetic Realism.

"She [Plumstead] explained how it helped her. She told us she was a negative person before and that she's really positive now."

Vera said Plumstead told the class that the place where she learned Aesthetic Realism "is accessible if we wanted it."

Heide Krakauer, a former city teacher who studied Aesthetic Realism for 15 years, said a popular teacher can draw students into Aesthetic Realism.

"It's really the personality of the people who present the ideas that wins people over," she said.

Krakauer argued that high-school students who are insecure or have suffered setbacks are likely to be attracted.

"What the Aesthetic Realism followers say is that through AR, you can resolve your inner conflicts."

Some LaGuardia HS students were not won over.

Eric Sanchez, who took art with Ellison, said he felt he had to understand Aesthetic Realism and its theory of opposites to pass the class.

"I asked her to explain it 20 times," he said.

Another student, Yana Suzanova said Ellison seemed to favor students who showed interest in Aesthetic Realism.

"I think she pushed that on us too much," Suzanova said. "She'd tell you that that's the way everything is supposed to be."

A Board of Education official said the high school has received no complaints about Plumstead or Ellison's use of Aesthetic Realism in the classroom.

In fact, he said, other LaGuardia HS teachers asked Plumstead and Ellison to give a presentation on their method. Six to eight teachers attended the workshop last November.

But he added that educators should not step over the line in espousing their personal beliefs.

From another student's blog

From a blog I just found from Oct. 31, 2005:

"Since the 10th grade I had a teacher, Carmine Pulera, for Spanish. Mr. Pulera was a follower of Aesthetic Realism, a cult that, in the 60's or 70's, had a major influence in shaping NYC's education curriculum.....Mr. Pulera was also an extremely closeted homosexual...[H]e always seemed quite guilty about being a queer, and would, in my opinion, try to balance this all out by not just including [AR founder] Eli Siegel in his class discussions but also God. Mind that this is suppossed to be a Spanish class. Did we learn Spanish? Not at all. We learned about Aesthetic Realism however...."

Read the full blog post here

"Every teacher brings their individual personality into the classroom to some extent," he said. "That becomes a problem only when it reaches the level of proselytizing or dogma."


Aesthetic Realism Foundation followers refused to be interviewed by The Post. Instead, they sent letters defending the organization.

They refuted suggestions that their group is a cult.

"One can accuse anybody of anything -- and no matter how preposterous the accusations are and no matter whether they are denied, an impression has been given to people," foundation officials wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to The Post.

"You can even make a course in political science at Yale look like a cult by labeling the students 'members' and the teacher 'the leader.'"

In response to allegations by former followers that the foundation controlled their lives, the letter suggested that the grievances could all be traced to "an individual who has been trying to smear Aesthetic Realism."

"She resented the scholarship of Aesthetic Realism and its ethics" and wanted to use the foundation "as some vehicle for personal power."

"She has been on a vendetta, which has consisted of trying to present us as a cult," said the letter.

The foundation praised its philosophy.

"Aesthetic Realism explains: the economic agony in America and how it can end; the cause of prejudice and racism and what can stop these; what real love is and what interferes with it; why children can't learn and how in New York City classrooms through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method they do."

The letter concluded by saying that Aesthetic Realism is "not only great, but loved by many, many people. We are immensely proud of the integrity of Aesthetic Realism!"

Another letter stated, "There is no greater friend to children than Aesthetic Realism.

"The insinuation that through Aesthetic Realism hurt is coming to children is sick and a complete malicious lie.

"It is also damaging to the reputation of teachers who, with pride and gratitude, use the Aesthetic Realism teaching method in New York City and elsewhere and to many other professionals known for the study of Aesthetic Realism and the use of it in their work."

Maria Alvarez and Susan Edelman

Ed Board probes reports of ‘cult’ teachers

February 3, 1998 • by Susan Edelman

The Board of Education is probing "troubling" reports that city teachers linked what some call a cult, are foisting their beliefs on students.

"People are always entitled to their beliefs, but when they start to push those beliefs on children, it's a major concern" board President Bill Thompson said yesterday.

"When any individual or group attempts to expound its ideas in front of our students, and continuously pushes those ideas, it's troubling."

The Post reported Sunday that at least two dozen city teachers are associated with the SoHo based Aesthetic Realism Foundation, which mental health experts and former followers call a "destructive cult."

Leaders control the lives of followers, critics claim, and insist on total devotion to the study and promotion of Aesthetic Realism and its late founder, Eli Siegel.

The philosophy dwells on the harmony of opposites.

Teachers and foundation representatives refused to be interviewed. But in letters to The Post, they disputed suggestions it is a cult  and defended its "teaching method."

The Post interviewed students at two Manhattan high schools  Norman Thomas and La Guardia who said teachers who belong to the group often injected Siegel and Aesthetic Realism into English, biology and art classes.

Some enjoyed lessons peppered with the philosophy, while others found it awkward, confusing or annoying.

One La Guardia senior said she wrote to the Aesthetic Realism Foundation at the suggestion of biology teacher Rosemary Plumstead because the teacher spoke so fervently about the philosophy.

Plumstead offered to give the address to any interested students, classmates said.

Students of LaGuardia art teacher Donita Ellison said she wove Aesthetic Realism into most lessons and assignments. Some felt that they had to understand the philosophy to pass the class  and that Ellison favored those who showed interest in it.

"She forced it on us," one senior complained.

Thompson said the students’ comments prompted him to ask the chancellor's staff to investigate.

"No student should be made to feel that way. That’s ridiculous," he said.

©1998 NYP Holdings, Inc. (The New York Post) All rights reserved.


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.

What is "The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method"?

If this is the first page you came to, then the first thing you need to know is that Aesthetic Realism is a small mind-control cult group based in SoHo.  They believe that their founder was "the most important person in the history of the world" and it's their goal to convert everyone on the planet into Aesthetic Realism devotees.  See "What is Aesthetic Realism" for more.

So that's Aesthetic Realism, but what is the "Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method"?  That's the AR idea of teaching K-12 classes from the perspective of Aesthetic Realism doctrines — for example, showing kids how all evil in the world is the result of "contempt" and how "beauty is an aesthetic oneness of opposites".

The Aesthetic Realists claim that their teaching method means that students are excited, engaged, and learn more!  And they use exclamation marks when they write about it so you don't miss how important the AR teaching method is!  Of course, they provide zero evidence that their method is effective at all, unless you want to count the gushing testimonies of the AR cult members who employ it.  They've never conducted a single experiment comparing a class using the AR method to a control class to see if there were any difference.  Not even once.

In fact, what evidence we do have points in the other direction:  Several Aesthetic Realists are teachers in the NYC public school system, and their reviews by students on the teacher-rating sites are nothing special.  In fact, when students write about their AR teachers, they invariably complain about AR doctrine being shoved down their throats.  Here's a sample of what students say about their Aesthetic Realism teachers:
  • "I never tolerated their obvious attempt to 'rope us in' at our young ages and I was given low marks because of it."
  • "She forced it on us. From the first day of class she started talking about it, and didn't stop until the end of the term."
  • "It was supposed to be a Spanish class.  Did we learn Spanish?  Not at all.  We learned about Aesthetic Realism, however."

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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I don't endorse the advertisers.

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?

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' statements in their entirety

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" 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 student


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