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Aesthetic Realism

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Dec 15, 2021

Aesthetic Realism is a philosophy founded in 1941 by the American poet and critic Eli Siegel (1902–1978).[1] He defined it as a three-part study: “[T]hese three divisions can be described as: One, Liking the world; Two, The opposites; Three, The meaning of contempt.”[2]

School of philosophy
“Aesthetic realism” redirects here. For the view that there are mind-independent aesthetic facts, see Aesthetic realism (metaphysics). For other uses, see Aesthetic realism (disambiguation).

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation
is located in SoHo (NYC)
Founder Eli Siegel (1902–78)
Purpose Philosophy dedicated to the understanding of, and greater respect for, people, art, and reality.
Coordinates

40.725989°N 73.99882°W / 40.725989; -73.99882

Chair
Ellen Reiss, Chairman of Education
Website AestheticRealism.org

Aesthetic Realism differs from other approaches to mind in identifying a person’s attitude to the whole world as the most crucial thing in his or her life, affecting how one sees everything, including love, work, and other people. For example, it says racism begins with the desire to have contempt for what is different from oneself.[3][4] The philosophy is principally taught at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, an educational institution based in SoHo, New York City.

In the 1980s the Foundation faced controversy for its assertion that men changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality through study of Aesthetic Realism. In 1990, it stopped presentations and consultations on this subject.[5]

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Eli Siegel described the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism as a study in three parts: “One, Man’s greatest, deepest desire is to like the world honestly. Two, The one way to like the world honestly, not as a conquest of one’s own, is to see the world as the aesthetic oneness of opposites. Three, The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt. Even more briefly, these three divisions can be described as: One, Liking the world; Two, The opposites; Three, The meaning of contempt.”[6][7]

A central principle of Aesthetic Realism is that the deepest desire of every person is to like the world. It states that the purpose of art education—and all education—is to like the world.[8]

Honest like of the world does not depend on how fortunate one is, but on seeing that reality is made well because it has an aesthetic structure, which art shows.[9] Siegel asked, “Is this true: No matter how much of a case one has against the world—its unkindness, its disorder, its ugliness, its meaninglessness—one has to do all one can to like it, or one will weaken oneself? [10]

Aesthetic Realism is based on the idea that reality has an aesthetic structure of opposites. Siegel stated that all the sciences and arts provide evidence of reality’s aesthetic structure and can be used to understand and like the world.[11] For example, motion and rest, freedom and order can be seen as one in an electron, the ocean, the solar system. These opposing forces of reality are within every person, and we are always trying to put them together.[12] In Siegel’s critical theory, “The resolution of conflict in self is like the making one of opposites in art.” A good novel or musical composition, for example, composes opposites that are often in conflict in a person’s mind or daily life: intensity and calm, freedom and order, unity and diversity. A successful poem or photograph or work of art in any medium, is therefore, a guide to a good life, because it shows the aesthetic structure of reality and ourselves. “All beauty,” he stated, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”[13][14]

Siegel recognized that the desire to like the world is in a constant fight with another competing desire: the desire for contempt, or the hope to lessen what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.[15] He writes in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, number 247:

Aesthetic Realism differs from psychoanalysis and differs from other ways of seeing, when it says that contempt is the greatest danger of an individual; of society. … Contempt is the one sure means people all over the world have of building themselves up. Contempt is in families, chancelleries, lodges, on pillows, in halls. It is that in [a person] which says: “If I can make less of this and this and this, my glory is greater.” …And it should be remembered that having contempt is the same as disliking the world.[16]

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