Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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Site Updates

Jan. 2015 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.
June 2012
"Leaving, however, was only the first challenge."  One of the original teachers of Aesthetic Realism explains the cultic environment inside the group, and why she decided to leave. (more...)
December 2011
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. (more...)
November 2011 "Aesthetic Realism — a crackpot cult lodged down in the woodwork in Greenwich Village".  The Arts Editor of New York Magazine doesn't pull any punches! (more...)
November 2011 "The Victims of Aesthetic Realism". We tracked down an old article by a journalist who infiltrated AR to discover the group's methods of mind control.  Powerful, scary stuff. (more...)
February 2011
Growing up in Aesthetic Realism.  My own mother finally breaks her silence and describes what it was like to be born into a cult. (more...)
May 2010 "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 2010) (more...)

Village Voice ad from 1962.   The Aesthetic 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 2010) (more...)

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 2010) (more...)
February 2010
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. 2010) (more...)
Lies Aesthetic Realists tell. For the 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. 2010) (more...)
April 2009

"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 2009) (more...)

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". (more...)

Aesthetic Realism Glossary. We explain the real meanings behind the loaded language that AR people use. (more...)

Updated the "Cult Aspects of AR page". Added lots more examples and sources. (more...)

March 2009

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. (more...)

May 2008

Help for journalists - Media FAQ. After answering 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...)

AR member 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...)

Feb. 2008

Who's afraid to debate? Here's a video of me challenging AR devotee Arnold Perey to debate, while he ignores me. (more...)

Oct. 14, 2007

AR parallels. I compare AR to The Secret, and give the scoop on the gay cure episode of South Park. (more...)

Oct. 14, 2007

AR's "colossal arrogance". A former member explains how AR people feel qualified to lecture others about everything, including how others should react to some personal tragedy. Gives a good insight into the warped mindset of AR. (more...)

Oct. 14, 2007

Judgemental, round 2. Right after the former member above wrote in about how judgmental AR people are, a non-member wrote in to complain about an AR person criticizing her and her son. (It's one of the comments at the end of this statement)

July 13, 2006

AR in the public schools. A former high school student says he got poor grades for not buying into AR like his teachers were pushing. (more...)

Mar. 14, 2006

A real AR consultation! We got the holy grail -- a transcript of a real Aesthetic Realism consultation. Now the public can see what really happens in an AR therapy session. (more...)

Mar. 14, 2006

Cut off from his family. Wayne Smith describes how AR tried to change him from being gay, and convinced him to not spend Christmas with his family. (more...)

Feb. 8, 2006

High school Spanish teacher spent more time promoting AR than teaching Spanish. That's what a former student of his says in her blog. (more...)

Feb. 6, 2006

"I want Ellen Reiss questioned!" Yet another former writes to share her experiences, complaining about the mind control techniques, and wondering aloud why there hasn't yet been a class-action lawsuit against the group. (read it...)

Oct. 26, 2005

AR recruits on dating sites? A reader thinks an AR member is using dating websites as a vehicle to recruit new members. I think it's more likely that she was really looking for a partner, but any partner also had to be a potential convert. Anyway, see what our reader has to say... (in the orange sidebar)

Oct. 24, 2005

Transcript of my lesson with Siegel. The wait is over -- I've finally gotten around to posting a transcript of my lesson with Siegel at age two.

Oct. 24, 2005

AR's sneaky advertising tactics. Find out how the AR people are abusing Google's ad system.

Oct. 8, 2005

Hate mail to my mom. An AR student has taken to sending hate mail to my mother. Real classy. And so much for tolerating criticism. (on the cult aspects page)

Sept. 25, 2005

A scientific challenge. A former AR student has challenged the AR Foundation to provide scientific evidence of the efficacy of its gay cure. (in the sidebar on the "gay cure" page)

Aug. 26, 2005

Yet more craziness. Anonymous email insults from an AR supporter, and a supposedly former member throws a fit about the fact that I have a donation form on this website to help me pay for it. Oh, and an AR supporter says that *I'm* afraid to debate, when I've had an open offer to debate, which has been posted on this website for months, and even after I called the foundation twice to invite them directly. (Not a single AR person has even acknowledged my debate offer, much less take me up on it.) (more...)

July 20, 2005

The NY Post article. Here at long last is the infamous 1998 article on AR, the first exposé in the major media.

July 20, 2005

Coerced into signing. Yet more embarrassment for AR: As we suspected, not everyone who signed the "We Have Changed from Homosexuality" ad did so willingly. (more...)

July 16, 2005

News about the effort. I started a new page to highlight the various things that are going on, like the protest at AR's headquarters, and AR's refusal to debate.

July 16, 2005

Thoughts from the outside. An unbiased reader with no experience in AR reads our site and AR's and believes that they're a cult.

May 12, 2005

More details on Eli Siegel's suicide. A former student shares more details about Eli Siegel's suicide, and breaks the news that Siegel wasn't the only person in the group to kill himself.

May 7, 2005

"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." Read the latest statement by yet another former student.

May 7, 2005

More on the Wikipedia controversy. I added background on the controversy over at Wikipedia, to the "Other Sites" sidebar at right.

May 5, 2005

More on Eli Siegel's suicide. A former student adds some more info on Eli Siegel's suicide.

May 5, 2005

"They told me there would be no further consultations until I incorporated AR more radically into my life." Read the latest statement by yet another former student.

May 5, 2005

AR Reunion, Fri., June 17! See the sidebar at right about joining the reunion in NYC this summer.

May 5, 2005

#5 in Google. We moved up to #5 in Google for a search on "aesthetic realism".

April 5, 2005

A tale of getting sucked in. Yet another former member shares his experiences. This story is unique because he describes exactly how he initially got drawn in, and how he then kept getting more and more involved. (read his statement)

April 5, 2005

Google rankings continue to improve. We inched up another notch to spot #6 for a search on "aesthetic realism", and got two more spots on the front page. We did drop from page 1 to page 2 for Eli Siegel, though, although this is probably temporary.

April 5, 2005

New sidebar o' quotes. So many former students have written in to share their stories I've now been able to amass a nice selection of quotes, which appears in the sidebar at left.

April 5, 2005

Aesthestic Realists continue their attack on free speech. Aesthetic Realists keep removing any mention of this site and criticism about AR in general from resources like Wikipedia -- as well as any mention that their founder Eli Siegel killed himself. Particularly amusing was when a Wikipedian tried to add some balance to the article, and cult member Arnold Perey said he was full of bias and unfair to AR. Paranoid feelings of persecution, anyone?

Feb. 12, 2005

A former student describes how he was kicked out of AR because he couldn't change from homosexuality. Powerful stuff. (read his statement)

Jan. 30, 2005

Another former AR student voices support for our work. Yet another former AR student has written in to support our efforts to refute AR's ironically titled Countering the Lies. (on the former members page)

Jan. 30, 2005

AR founder acknowledged that others saw his group as a cult. There's a telling quote by Eli Siegel that I found in the transcript of my lesson I had with him at age two. (in Cult Aspects)

Jan. 29, 2005

Freedom of Mind goes to the front page of Google. The page about Aesthetic Realism on cult expert Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind website joins us on the front page of Google for a search on "aesthetic realism", thanks to our help.

Just as important as moving up is who we pushed down. When AR is a Cult and Freedom of Mind went to the front page of Google, and went down.

Jan. 28, 2005

Our Google rankings go through the roof. We're now #1 for "aesthetic realists" and we moved to the front page for "eli siegel". We also now have two out of the ten positions on the front page for "aesthetic realism foundation".

Jan. 24, 2005

WOW! A former Aesthetic Realism member who was involved for over ten years into the 1990's and at the highest levels of the group sent us their incredibly detailed account of what life inside AR is like. This puts to rest once and for all any possible lingering question about whether AR is a cult. The AR people will not be able to "counter" this on their Countering the Lies website because this account is from one of their own, and because it's so exhaustively detailed.

One of the tricks that AR used on Countering the Lies is to fudge the truth without telling the full story. For example, AR put up a bunch of testimonials on their website about how members aren't prevented from seeing their families. What the AR people don't mention is that AR started allowing family visits only after the press reported that former members complained that family visits were banned. Basically AR started allowing family visits specifically so they could claim that they do (which is exactly what they're doing on Countering the Lies).

Often when AR members protest "We don't do that!" they neglect to add the words, "...any more." (or "as much as we used to"). But even these seeming improvements are just cosmetic window dressing. AR is still as much of a cult as it ever was.

This is just one example. All over Countering the Lies AR does such a seemingly good job of countering because they never tell the whole story. But they can't get away with that any longer. This powerful new statement by a former member describes in excrutiating detail not only what happened in AR, but how AR tries to spin it to deny the allegations. AR won't be able to defend themselves against this one.

In the 60+ years that AR has existed, to my knowledge this is the first time anyone, anywhere has offered such an exhaustive account of its practices. It's so powerful I'm hopeful that even current members will be moved by it and decide to shake off their chains and leave the group. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I believe this article is the most important thing ever written about Aesthetic Realism. (read the statement)

Jan. 21, 2005

Reworked the Gay Cure page.

Jan. 21, 2005

Added more evidence of the group's paranoia about an alleged press boycott to the Cult Aspects page.

Jan. 21, 2005

A civil rights activist slams AR's new book against racism, suggesting that AR is "pimping" the struggle of black people for its own purposes.

Jan. 20, 2005

Another former AR student confirms that those in AR don't see their families, are discouraged from attending college, and shun former students. (in Statement of a member from 1971-80)

Jan. 20, 2005

AR supporter Marvin Mondlin says of me and this site: "So much for the stupid lying of Mali, Bluejay and the other liars...Why is he doing this? Feeling himself to be a failure in his own life, and joining with others also seeking revenge for essentially the same reason&emdash;notably Adam Mali&emdash;'Michael Bluejay' seeks the triumph of making himself important by looking down upon others." So much about AR's philosophy of not having contempt for others! (in Aesthetic Realism Strikes Back!)

Jan. 18, 2005

An Amazon book reviewer recommends staying away from Aesthetic Realism students (in Cult Aspects)

Jan. 16, 2005

Non-member agrees that AR is a cult (in Cult Aspects)

Jan. 14, 2005

AR says their founder's works are greater than the Bible or Shakeseare! (in Cult Aspects)

Jan. 13, 2005

We move to the front page of Google for a search on "aesthetic realism" (and pass the Countering the Lies site).

Jan. 13, 2005

Why we call AR devotees members even though AR says it has no members (in What is Aesthetic Realism?)

Jan. 12, 2005

AR has to revise their book when their "success stories" snap out of it and leave AR (in Gay Cure)

Jan. 11, 2005

"This is merely one example of the way people were controlled and humiliated if they stepped out of line." Another former member tells it like it is. (more....)

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.


(We won't publish your name unless you say it's okay, but we have to have it in order to verify submissions.)

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Your experience:

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Okay to publish your name?

Yes   No

Okay to identify your gender? (e.g., "his story", "her story")

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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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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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Google picks the ads, not me;
I don't endorse the advertisers.

“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.”

“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 students


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Photo of Eli Siegel's gravestone from Find A Grave