Aesthetic Realism is a cult

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

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Aesthetic Realism's 1962 ad in the Village Voice

 by Michael Bluejay, former member • May 2010

     The very first time the Aesthetic Realists threw down some major cash to buy ad space in the media was probably for this ad, shown at right.  It was a half-page in the March 1, 1962 Village Voice (page six), and it contains some excellent evidence of the cultish aspects of AR.  Let's start with the milder stuff, getting juicier as we go along.


Aesthetic Realism members

   One of the things the Aesthetic Realists have their panties in a wad about these days is that I and other former members describe ourselves as former members.  Because, according to the Aesthetic Realists, there are no "members" of AR, only students.  Here are some examples of their protest, each made by a different Aesthetic Realist on their website:

  • "Michael Bluejay writes in his article: 'they actively recruit new members' and 'they shun former members.' First of all, it is impossible that there exist former Aesthetic Realism 'members' because there has never been one, to begin with. The Aesthetic Realism Foundation provides education for whoever wants to study. There are no members, but only students and teachers."
  • "...and I’m not even discussing the fact that he uses the completely inaccurate yet charged word 'members'."
  • "I also resent, object to and despise the way the trasher of Aesthetic Realism calls students and teachers of Aesthetic Realism--Members."
  • "This attacker has stated in big bold type that the only persons talking in favor of Aesthetic Realism are those he calls 'current members.'...there are no 'members'..."
  • "The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is not a membership organization; it is a not-for-profit educational institution. There is a fundamental distinction."
  • "And what is this nonsense about Aesthetic Realism being a cult with members?"
  • (and on and on)

Okay, and so what do we see at the bottom of this ad bought and paid for by the Aesthetic Realists?

"Members of the Society of Aesthetic Realism"

Huh.

Digging a little further, we see that Aesthetic Realism founder Eli Siegel himself used the term "members", in a letter to the Village Voice:  "The members of the Society for Aesthetic Realism...have come to see [AR] as having a meaning for them.]" (source)

The Aesthetic Realists' hypocrisy is amusing, and there are certainly plenty more examples.  But anyway, I don't call them members because they themselves used to use the same term.  I call them members because that's the best way to describe people who huddle together in a strong allegiance to a particular idea.  That's why others use the same term as well.

By the way, the "members" (their word) who signed this ad include my birth father (who left the group in the 70's) and my maternal grandparents (deceased).  Another one of the "members" signing the ad is the current leader of the group, Ellen Reiss.


Aesthetic Realism a cult...in 1962!

If you listen to the Aesthetic Realists, then I'm practically the only person saying that Aesthetic Realism is a cult.  According to them, I'm just a solitary, bitter, drop-out, and no one should pay attention to me.

In reality, Aesthetic Realism has been called a cult by dozens of other former members, New York Magazine, Harper's, and a whole slew of others.  And now, we have this defensive gem from AR's newspaper advert:

"Aesthetic Realism is not a cult.  We find particularly bizarre that tendency in artists and critics to call Aesthetic Realism a cult..."

So what this shows is that people were calling Aesthetic Realism a cult in 1962, long before I was even born!


Proof positive that non-believers aren't welcome

Once you join Aesthetic Realism, you're expected to recruit your family and friends.  If you can't, they're not your family and friends any more.  The Aesthetic Realists deny that, of course, and say that that's a lie.  But look what they said in the newspaper ad:

"We cannot consider any person a friend who does not want to be fair to Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Incidentally, "being completely fair" is part of AR-speak.  If a person doesn't believe in the supremacy of the philosophy and the founder, then the AR people say that the person isn't "being completely fair".


By the way, most of the signers of the ad are no longer Aesthetic Realists, either because they left the group or they're no longer alive.  One of the authors of the ad, Chaim Koppelman, died only recently in December 2009, at age 89.  He is survived by his wife Dorothy, who is still inside.  Some others are still alive and still in the group too.

Anyway, this ad is a good example of one of my main points:  My best evidence against the Aesthetic Realists is not what I say about them, or even what other former members say about them, or even what the media says about them:  it's what the Aesthetic Realists say themselves that shows them for who they really are.  (For more examples, see the tape of one of their secret internal meetings, their double-page ad in the NY Times, their hysterical complaints to New York Magazine, and their book, ad, and interviews about their alleged cure for homosexuality.)
 

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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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