Thursday, April 21, 2005

A note about a most important new way of seeing aesthetics

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation, listed in Aesthetics Online (see, is a not-for-profit educational foundation that is so innovative—so important to the advancement of aesthetics today—that I think everyone ought to know about it.

As I once wrote in my doctoral thesis (Columbia University, 1973)

“Eli Siegel sees aesthetics as more comprehensive than other authors. He defines it poetically in 'Free Poem on "The Siegel Theory of Opposites" in Relation to Aesthetics' this way:

Aesthetics is the science of what is,
When that which is, is seen as opposites—
In common language, when it's beautiful. (1958:51)”

The above page reference (1958:51) is to Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems.

And so, the Aesthetic Realism approach enables aesthetics to be used, scientifically, to more deeply understand anthropology—which it has been my pleasure to pursue these 30 years (see A New Perspective for Anthropology). And if you visit the Terrain Gallery website (the Art Criticism and History page) you will see how Aesthetic Realism enables a critic to relate paintings, architecture, photography, to the very self of a person (see

One can only be deeply affected to read, for example, how the portrait of an American beauty, Madame Pierre Gautreau, is analyzed by an American woman today; how she describes the great dilemma of woman as to assertion and retreat-- and the solution to this dilemma in technical aesthetics. See SARGENT'S "MADAME X"; OR, ASSERTION AND RETREAT IN WOMAN by Lynette Abel.

For these reasons and much more – for the fact that aesthetics can now be respected as adding to one’s perception in everyday life, as one pours coffee or eats a croissant or bagel, or speaks to a loved one, or thinks about war and peace – it is of immediate importance that this new understanding of aesthetics be known.

I hope that whoever you are reading this, you will join me in this effort wholeheartedly.


Important Links to know about

Here is biographical information about Eli Siegel. An introduction to Aesthetic Realism is in his Preface to Self and World together with The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict. There are lectures by Eli Siegel online, as well as essays with his definitive scholarship in diverse fields. Also see his historic questions about the nature of beauty, "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" Together with reviews of Eli Siegel's poetry and other works and reviews of newly published books he wrote for Scribner's Magazine in the 1930s, these provide a beginning point to know more.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Aesthetic Realism Can Resolve the Confusion in Men about Warmth and Coolness--including in Love and Marriage

From the Aesthetic Realism Seminar of April 14, 2005

All over the world, men are confused about whether they want to be warm or cool--hot-blooded or "calm and collected"; intense or restrained. A man can be a fiery advocate in a cause representing justice. And a man can also be overheated in the cause of his own narrow ego. We can feel we are being passionate about a woman--her body, her lips--while in reality we are deeply cold to her. At work, we can be cool and efficient under pressure, and then later at home get into a rage because someone drank the soda we were saving for ourselves.

Aesthetic Realism is new in understanding our conflict about coolness and warmth. "Every person," Eli Siegel explained, "is always trying to put together opposites in himself." And warmth and coolness are two of those opposites. They confuse us because we don't know what our purpose is for being either cool or warm. Both can be in the service of contempt or respect. And when they are in service of contempt--as they were very frequently in me--a person is both pained and deeply unkind.

A man learns from Aesthetic Realism how to use his warmth, energy, passion in behalf of the world--and this includes having good will for a woman--and to use our capacity to be exact and organized for the same purpose: to be fair. Then, these opposites come to make sense, which is what a man desires most.

1. Aesthetic Realism Explains Warmth and Coolness in the Self

"The danger in a self," Mr. Siegel explained,

is about heat and cold, a bad mingling of them or a separation of them. In this way our life is incomplete, or we don't like it; and our own selves are likewise incomplete.....we can get too excited, or we can become too cold. We can expand ourselves in a sloppy fashion, or contract in a hurtful fashion...
[TRO 997]

This describes what I did. The way cool and warm were separate in me, and also intermingled badly, confused me because I largely didn’t have good will.

I was most often cool to a person's troubles and went about my own business, saving my warmth for my own concerns. This, and the way I was hotly argumentative, hoping to be superior; the way I could be loftily apart, and then become explosive--be an icicle that got hot under the collar--were forms of contempt and they made me dislike my life very much. Mr. Siegel once said of me, commenting on my coolness and heat: It's hard to think this of such a calm being, but he has been "Furnace Perey."

The place I felt most composed and most excited was as I studied anthropology. In graduate school I began to learn what is called participant observation in courses with Margaret Mead. For example, I remember liking the feeling I had when I went to a service at a mosque on Riverside Drive for an assignment and took part in the ritual, observing other people's responses and my own. And when I wrote my description, which I called “The L-Shaped Room,” I tried to be exact and show my feelings.

But this was very different from what I felt most of the time. In college, with women, the way I was excited and cool, what I was warm to and cold to, did not make sense. For example, on my first and only date with a girl, Linda, a counselor at an upstate NY camp, while we were driving and having a very interesting conversation, I got hungry and brought out the "emergency" cold chicken sandwich that my mother had made for me. I was amazingly unaware of Linda and didn't offer it to her. She asked, "Can I help you eat this?" I felt a flood of warmth and said, "Of course." Not only had my mother served me in making the sandwich, but another woman was going to assist my eating it! As I waited for Linda to feed it to me, she gave me half and began to eat the other half herself. Suddenly I realized what she meant: she really wanted to help do the eating! This incident was emblematic of my social life--the way I was too often warmed and excited by the wrong things and separate from, and cold to, another's feelings.

A great worry arose in me and it is something that affects many men. In college there were several women whom I thought pretty and intelligent and gazed at with melting looks, but then, when close bodily proximity came to be, I felt nothing--the seeming flame I had felt before was just cold. This made me feel deeply incomplete as a man, and I was afraid that there wasn't any answer.

How often this happens, and how many men want to be warmer, is evidenced by the explosive popularity of prescription drugs such as Viagra. But while a chemical remedy is presented, the deep cause of insufficient response in how a man sees, remains generally unknown.

Some years later, in an Aesthetic Realism lesson--the one place I ever really thought I would get a solution for this--I spoke about my concern. I was very surprised when Mr. Siegel asked me if I was against my own conceit. "Do you believe," he asked, "there is a desire on your combat [your] lofty tendencies?" There was! He explained what was not present in any book dealing with the subject--and I had read quite a bit--that this difficulty about potency was an elaborate way of punishing myself for, he said, "declaring yourself to be better than" people, including women. And I began to see, with great relief, that there was an answer. As my study of Aesthetic Realism continued and I heard incisive criticism of how I had exalted myself and lessened a woman's mind, her ethics--this situation decisively and definitely changed.

And I'm proud that my colleagues and I have been able ask questions in Aesthetic Realism consultations on this subject, such as: Have you felt so ashamed of your desire to use a woman's body without respecting her, that you have been unable to be close to her? Do you think a man can feel the world itself, including in the form of a woman's body, is not good enough to please him? If a man is angry at a woman, which would he rather do: punish her by being cold, withholding himself at a crucial moment, which is deeply mean, or try to strengthen her through being critical with good will, which is the real warmth?

2. Warmth and Coolness in an Etching and Life

Unlike all the disciplines I looked into--without finding the self-knowledge I hoped for--Aesthetic Realism understands the human self, and central in that understanding is its showing how we see the world affects everything in our lives, including sex. In order to understand myself better, I brought this etching in to a class with Eli Siegel only days after beginning to study.


As he looked at it, Mr. Siegel, referring to the eye in the upper center, began to ask about the coolness and detachment that had confused me so much. "What you would like to do, is gaze at everything?"

AP Yes.

ES There is an eye here that seems rather uncomfortable and alone -- it
also seems to act as if it's the wisest thing going.

AP That eye is being swallowed by the bird.

ES I don't think this would be swallowed because you make that bird ineffectual....If I looked into the allegory, I would say the bird, being Arnold Perey, wanted to swallow his desire to be one-eyed Arnold Perey looking too composedly at things.

This was true.

Then Mr. Siegel asked, "You are against yourself for being just an observer, but you also don't like to participate?"

"Yes," I said.

And he pointed out the way to solve this is not to do away with being composed, or with observation, but to join those with the desire to be active, energetic--and have a good effect. Mr. Siegel said, "The eye, instead of simply looking, also wants to be somewhat more like these whirling globes." This oneness of observing and actively participating is good will--the encouraging of other people's lives, with the hope that they be stronger and more worthy of respect. This desire is true warmth, and because it is also exact, it has a right coolness, too.

3. Good Will Brings Cool and Warm Honestly Together, in Love

A man can change how he sees the world and women. My life, and my marriage to Barbara Allen, are witness to that. I learned that the purpose of love is not the ownership and conquest I was after, it is to use a woman to like the world with. I changed fundamentally as I learned what this means. I heard beautiful, tough criticism for my unjust and really brutal way of seeing -- wanting to possess a woman, have her absorbed exclusively in me and not have a mind that ranges far and wide, comes to new knowledge; wanting to use her to complain about other people and have her soothe all my presumed hurts by monumental praise of my brilliance--and agreement with me in all matters.

In one class, early in my study, Mr. Siegel explained:

You have the feeling that you, in some way, have conquered the world because a woman is, in a silly fashion, solicitous towards you....[she] fixes the bandages with a little kiss.

And he also said:

You'd like to have a situation with a woman like that with your mother: you'd torment her, she'd forgive you, and life would go on.

Had this not changed I most assuredly would not have the marriage I am grateful to have now.

Shortly before Barbara and I married, I met Mr. Siegel as he was taking an evening walk. It was early spring and the sun, surrounded by glowing red clouds, was setting. Eastward the sky was blue. Mr. Siegel looked up and said--"My hope for you in your marriage is that you be like the sky--as cool as that blue (he pointed) and as passionate as that red."

I love him because my Aesthetic Realism education has made that emotion possible. The lack of bodily feeling in sex that troubled me so much, ended. This is a magnificent change for which I am unboundedly grateful. I love my wife, both body and mind, with a fulness and physical completeness that means so very much to me. I love her depth of thought--her desire to be just to the grand­est and subtlest thought in history. I respect what has come from that desire: a new understanding of music and of the flute's capability to cause melting and stirring beauty as she plays it; and the way she teaches what she has learned to men, women, and children. And I am proud to be able to be close to her.

4. A Young Man Learns Aesthetic Realism Today

I describe and comment now on the consultations of Daniel Venner. Born in Maine, where, he told us, "I went fishing, hunting, and had many good times," he also cared for the piano, the mountains of Maine, literature, and computers. After he graduated from college in New York, he began to work in the engineering department of a nonprofit organization, where he is valued for his terrific efficiency, his ability to be calm under pressure.

Mr. Venner had a large desire to care deeply for a woman, to be devoted to someone, but, he told us, he was ashamed of angers that seemed to explode out of nowhere, including towards women. He was at the point of leaving New York to see if somewhere else he would feel better--would "figure out what was causing me to feel I had this great void to fill. I ached for happiness," he wrote. [8-14-99] Then, he learned of Aesthetic Realism.

In his first consultation, he told us he wanted to change his "relation to people--and women especially." We saw a cheerful but serious looking young man with a warm smile, glad to be there, who said, factually, "I can feel a rage with people and then shut down--feel stifled and be unable to express myself."

When we asked which was greater--his temperature when he was angry and protecting himself, or his temperature about understanding a woman, he said wryly, "My temperature about understanding a woman wouldn't melt metal." He was in the midst of a man's confusion about coolness and warmth--a confusion that arises from contempt for the world, which didn't know he had. From this contempt came that feeling of void he wrote of.

We asked him, "Which is more complicated, a woman or the electronic pathways of a computer network?"

DV. The pathways. To me they are more unpredictable and unknown.

Cons. That answer, Mr. Venner, shows lack of respect for the self of a woman.

Many men have felt that women were predictable: all they need to be happy is oneself. Dan Venner said women turned to him for understanding. "All my life," he said, I wanted to please women -- show I care for them by adoring them -- filling their needs at the moment." But there was another side: "If I don't get my adoration in return," he said, "I can get very angry." His previous relationships had failed, and now that he was seeing a woman he hoped to care for, Sharon Kelly, God, how he wanted to be different!

We saw that Dan Venner had a notion of warmth which was simply false. Ellen Reiss describes in The Right Of,

Our egos define "warm" as "making us the most important thing in the world, the way our mothers perhaps did"; and anything that does not do that seems cold to us. [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, issue no. 1300]

This way of seeing began with Dan Venner's boyhood. "My aunt," he wrote, "was always doting on us and her place had fruit trees. Deer came to eat the apples in the fall. It was a wonderland." He felt his devotion was indispensable to her. When we asked why, he said:

DV. I thought my aunt was missing affection from my uncle and wanted to make up for it with me.

Cons. Do you think that you made it too easy? You thought what she was looking for from life was you?

What does a woman really want, what is real encouragement, real warmth? To be equipped to answer this question, a man has to become intelligent about the women we first knew -- see their inner lives scientifically and artistically. We assigned Mr. Venner to write about his Aunt Tanya: What was she hoping for? Get within her feelings. What criticism did she have of herself? "I see now that I did not care to know her as she hoped," he said. "I looked more for how I affected her."

Daniel Venner had a true desire to be sweet, to be honestly warm--but this was right next to a feeling that he had to be on his guard. He would begin thinking suspiciously about a woman: "What is she up to???" and quickly get to what he called a "misty rage"--at the outset of which, he said, he often would "shut down." We asked if this meant he got to the repose of contempt: "Who cares what I feel--None of you matter--I'm somewhere else." And he said it did.

In one consultation he spoke about a quarrel he had with Sharon Kelly.

DV. We made arrangements to go to a concert with our friends, but that day, Sharon came down with a bad cold and I had to cancel going out. Meanwhile, she felt well enough to go to work anyway. All I know is I started to get into a bad mood and somehow when she came home, I blew up at her.

Cons. Let's look at this scientifically. Was there a certain structure of logic that led up to this anger, or is it like a thunderstorm that flies out of the sea onto the Maine coast?

DV. That's what it feels like.

Mr. Venner told us he had stayed home from work that day to do domestic chores, so Sharon could rest when she got back from work. He cleaned the house, put the laundry in the wash, and waited--but he was saying to himself:

DV. "This would have been a nice day to go out. But Sharon is sick. And look at what I have to clean! The laundry isn't even done yet--the dryer isn't working. When she gets home she'll probably just waltz out to the concert anyway, and I'll be stuck in the house with wet laundry, trying to get it dry for tomorrow."

Cons. The cleaning, the laundry--and Sharon's cold ... were you looking to hate one thing after another?

DV. Yes, I was

Cons. Did you see them as in a conspiracy to get you? -- Then you felt like a hero fighting against some big enemy?

DV. Boy that's the just builds and your adrenaline starts to get going!

Cons. Do you think Sharon has enough goodness and sense to see what you are doing and appreciate it?

DV. Yes I do. Thank you. I felt awful.

In The Right Of, Ellen Reiss describes what was going on in him, when she writes:

In our desire for contempt, we hope the outside world is cold, because a cold world is a world to which we, in our sensitivity, can feel superior. If things are truly warm to us, we will have to feel grateful to them! [TRO 1300]

"It really started to get clear in my mind," he told us in a later consultation--"that I have an attitude to the world!"

Dan Venner is changing, because the way he sees the world and the inner lives of women is changing. His colleagues at work have seen he only rarely gets into a "mood." He is studying the opposites in objects, and people, and has written about, for example, freedom and order in a musical composition; heaviness and lightness in an East Side building. The young man who felt, with desperation, that life was a void is coming to feel that the world itself is not the cold, inimical place he had once thought--that, in fact, it can be a warm, and unexpected friend. He and Sharon Kelly have been closer and their conversations are deeper.

My colleagues and I are proud to be part of this ongoing education--and that men like Daniel Venner are learning how to make sense of warmth and coolness in their lives: making them happier and kinder.


Important Links to know about

As an educator myself I have used, and highly recommend to every teacher, the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. This educational method, taught by Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism, has been successfully used to teach a wide variety of subjects (K-12 and beyond) for over 30 years. Students learn their subjects with a beautiful eagerness and thoroughness. The most compact introduction to the theory of aesthetics on which Aesthetic Realism is based would be "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" and the chapter "The Aesthetic Method in Self- Conflict" from Self and World. Some of the many subjects Aesthetic Realism is resoundingly true about include not only the very basis of aesthetics in general, but photography in particular; not only conflict in the human self as such but a new perspective for anthropology and sociology in particular and a way of seeing a person, whether man or woman, in relation to history, current events, and art--as the website created by Lynette Abel shows -- and that by journalist Alice Bernstein, an Aesthetic Realism Associate. The large online body of work on these very subjects has been provided by Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, who writes on the "criticism" of John Keats as well as, for example, on poet Robert Burns, and much more. Meanwhile, to learn more about Mr. Siegel, you can visit the Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company, as well as biographical information on the Aesthetic Realism Foundation website. Meanwhile, I am sorry to say that as has occurred so often in history, a very few people have attempted to smear this new knowledge and present it as far from what it truly is. This is documented on the important website titled Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies--which I hope you visit.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation

This is the 50th year of the Terrain Gallery's steady artistic and philosophic presence in the New York City art scene. And the Terrain is celebrating its 50th Anniversary!

Soon there will be an anniversary exhibition--look for it, and the exciting works of many artists which will be shown.

Visit the Aesthetic Realism Foundation / Terrain Gallery website -- learn about the history of the Terrain -- and read the articles in the news about the Terrain, its exhibitions, and the Aesthetic Realism art history and criticism that are unique to this Gallery.

Additional Links