“In reality opposites are one; art shows this.”


Aesthetic Realism:

Three Instances

By Eli Siegel

  1. Some Central Notions
  2. Hurrah for Sameness
  3. Aesthetic Realism: Essentially

Aesthetic Realism: Some Central Notions

A. Thing, Art, Self

AESTHETIC REALISM is about the world, art, and oneself; which means it is about everything. However this sounds, it is necessary to say; clearness asks that it be said.

A central question in Aesthetic Realism is whether everything has something in common. Aesthetic Realism says that everything does have something in common. Through the something in common all things have, there is a sameness among things, in things. But this sameness does not make things dull; rather, it makes all things part of a drama that is wild and recurrent, extravagant and economic. For the relation of sameness to difference, the deep likeness of the two, can be felt; and then the seeing of sameness as just dull will come to seem arrantly superfluous, engagingly preposterous—or something of the kind.

What, then, do things have in common? Things have in common a oneness of a series of opposites; things have within them, in common, an organization of opposites in oneness.

A walnut has shape and content in common, form and substance in common, rest and motion in common with all other things. So does an idea or picture of a walnut.

The opposites I have mentioned can be supplemented, made larger in number.

We have mind and body together as one thing in us; relation and individuality; continuity and change.

Do these opposites correspond to the opposites I have mentioned as had by the walnut? They do correspond.

Another point: When opposites like those I have mentioned are seen freshly as one, the art-feeling or the beauty-situation occurs. When a walnut is actually felt as a particular oneness of shape and content, that much beauty is seen in it by a specific mind.

When we see our weight, or our body, as at one with our form, or mind, beauty here, too, is present.


B. Succession of Notes

THE STUDY OF THINGS, then, is the study of opposites in them.

A card is flexible and firm. We are flexible and firm, and we mean to do a better job as to the relation of these two adjectives.

What is, therefore—because it contains the problems we have—is what we want to see. Being is a problem completed or met or answered through seeing, and the emotion going with seeing.

Desire in ourselves is the other form of our being; desire and being are opposites in us like motion and rest.

Ourselves are our own, but they belong just as immediately to the whole world, to existence.

The whole world is in us, since through it we are. The cause of a thing is present in the effect, so the world as cause is present in us as effect. If we truly saw ourselves this way, we should see ourselves as looking good. If we don't see ourselves this way—and within our freedom, is the freedom to be wrong—we look bad to ourselves. This last is guilt. Guilt is a free objection to the use of our freedom: guilt is a displeased response to ourselves looking for shape.

Present and past are a one in us, as are present and future. Future and past are one, by means of the extensive immediacy of the present. This, surely, is something to see.

Every person says something of ourselves, is ourselves, as outside explanation, deep comment. This is why we should know other people.

Outside and within are at one in ourselves, though we don't see this so well. Every thing, let alone every person, says something about us, explains ourselves. The structure of what thing cannot illuminate our own structure? Does not a sheet of paper in its wideness and narrowness bring some essential likeness to us, to ourselves? Is not a twig, on or off a branch, in its simplicity and complexity, continuity and discontinuity, an abstract and tangible presentation of what we are? The whole matter of how things as such are like ourselves is permeated with useful humor. Education, principally, is the pleasant finding out of how things can help us know who we are as we see them.

Education and instinct are one in a person, as are environment and heredity. Our instincts are given form or completed by education, not altered or contradicted in any hostile manner.

To be able to give form to what is hostile is to change it. Anger is a way of giving “form” to the hostile, by annulling it; by changing the energy in the hostile to stillness, specific absence of power. Authentic form is given the hostile when, through the way it is seen, the hostile is friendly, useful, by its being adequately known: the meaning of” adequately known” is here crucial. And hostility is internal, too. What we should like to be can be seen as at war with how we are comfortable; with ourselves as inertia; with ourselves as lazy. That hostility is not to be found only in external territory; that it is internal, too, has often been expressed or hinted in literature.

To know something is to make something not ourselves, ourselves. But the junction must be graceful, entire. If it is not, there is a jar, however unfelt, between thing seen and what we are. This is not commendable.

Separation and junction look to be one in ourselves. Separation and junction are likewise to be seen in the ridges of the walnut shell, the makeup of a leaf, the structure of a mountain. Separation and junction are an indispensable mode of existence.

Existence is everything, something, anything, and some things. That is what we are, also.

Anything is the surmise aspect of existence. Existence includes all might be’s. We carry around our might be’s, which are put into play, somewhat, with every new moment.

We are an interchange of inclusion and exclusion. We include and exclude for the same reason: to give form to ourselves, as we under-stand ourselves; or to establish ourselves in change. Where there is an authentic oneness of inclusion and exclusion, of more and less, there is art: for art includes and excludes, as one thing, so that the artistic effect be.


C. Five Considerations

REASON. The purpose of reason is to see the world as sameness and difference at once.

PURPOSE. Purpose arises from the felt incompleteness of anything, with the feeling, too, of what would make it complete. Things are constant studies in the simultaneity of incompleteness and completeness.

THINGS. Again: All things have in common the organization of opposites as one.

AESTHETICS. Aesthetics is the seeing by an individual, through himself, of reality as it is; or as the oneness of opposites. As soon as reality is seen this way, there is value. Aesthetics is the seeing by an individual of a fact as having value, through the oneness of opposites in it.

VALUE. Value is the seeing of a thing as more by seeing it as having opposites different from and completing the opposites first seen. To see, for example, a gentle thing as being strong, too, is to see the thing or fact as having value. To see an object not ourselves as bringing something to ourselves, that is, making us more, is to make the opposites which are in the object and ourselves, one. These opposites, for the object, are not ourselves, this; and for ourselves, ourselves, that. (All attention is the leaving out of ourselves for a while, and the seeing of something else as this.)

The value of a thing is the “something else” aspect of a thing.

This the opposites provide. The fact that wood can burn, and so be used to keep one warm, is a “something else” aspect of wood. Usefulness contains aesthetics implicitly: it is the beginning of aesthetics, before perception is comprehensive, precise, entire. Still, to be able to use a thing is to find a pleasing oneness between that thing and the person using it; and, primitively, both aesthetics and value are present.

The use of a thing is, further, a “motion” aspect of a thing; it is the thing going out, being more, being in relation: in use, there is, as I have put it, the “something else” aspect of a thing. When a thing has value in any manner, it is no longer by itself, or self-contained, only. Whenever we value anything, we, too, are more; in motion; are employing the “something else” aspect of ourselves; are no longer “self-contained” only.

To conclude this fifth consideration: The giving of value to reality through seeing it, is to make reality aesthetics, or a universal aesthetic situation. When value, in other words, is found in reality by an individual, that much reality becomes aesthetics for that individual. But reality has been aesthetics all the while, just as shape has been square, before it was seen as square; or round, before it was seen as round.



Hurrah for Sameness:

I Am Tired of Being An Individual:

A Poem with Footnotes

Hurrah for sameness!

I am tired of being an individual.

It is so narrow,

It is so confined—

That is, being an individual, individualistically,

An individual only.

Hurrah, hurrah for sameness! —

What I have in common with all things:

Bees, professors, mountains, little girls, time,

Hurrah for relation! —

Which makes sameness thrilling. ¹

Sameness is intense.

Sameness is wide. ²

It has perceptive thrills beyond computation:

It is surprising—sameness is. ³

When understood, sameness is difference, your difference;

You, there, looking for possibility;

It is to be hoped, not cowering. 4


¹ Definition of relation for purpose of this poem: Mobility in sameness.

² What is your substance, whereof are you made,

That millions of strange shadowes on you tend?


³ For, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.


4 Conformity is the meek, ashamed atonement for “individuality,” not the sameness here thought of.


Aesthetic Realism: Essentially

From a lecture, Aesthetic Realism and Beauty,

Friday, August 5, 1949.

IN AESTHETIC REALISM, beauty is the putting together of things that can be thought of as opposites. To show that this holds good for everything, from a complicated painting to a word, from a little child having beauty to a whole universe having beauty, is a large matter; but it can be done.

We find that when something in our bodies is working against something else in our bodies, when there is not composition, when there is not a feeling of oneness—a feeling of the parts or details working together—our bodies are not functioning in the best way. And when a mind is in a bad way, we also say it is disordered, discomposed, maladjusted, even unsymmetrical. These adjectives seem to be tinged with aesthetic substance.

What, then, is the relation between composition in beauty and composition elsewhere? That question, for the first time is asked as though it meant a great deal, by Aesthetic Realism.

Aesthetic Realism says that reality is aesthetics; that reality, as such, is composition-as-aesthetics; and that the only way for any person to be sensible is to see that what he is looking for is aesthetics. And aesthetics is the study of beauty as structure, being, will; the study of the relation and oneness of opposites anywhere.

The question remains: What makes the beautiful different from what is real? There is no difference! That is why I have called the philosophy that aesthetics and reality are one where they begin: Aesthetic Realism.

Reality is, when completely seen, beautiful: that is, reality consists of a mingling, in aesthetic relation, of such opposites as the orderly and disorderly, good and bad, gentle and terrible, important and trivial. But at the beginning (and that beginning is now, too) there is no true difference between the beautiful and the real.

It is true that some people find a little bit of reality that is soothing—a green meadow, or a nice looking dress, or the color scheme of a room—and say: “This is what I want to see as beautiful"; and don't go any deeper. These things are beautiful, but if we stop there, then what we are saying is that the reality which suits us is beautiful, but that the part we haven't seen yet, or haven't put into arrangement—this we'll send down the river. Doing so is a way of giving up our humanity.

The purpose, therefore, of Aesthetic Realism is to show, without evasion and without any false comfort, that reality is the same as aesthetics or beauty.

Aesthetic Realism believes that aesthetics should be studied because the study will make one more able to meet the good and evil in the world and the good and evil in oneself. The study of aesthetics will make confusion less.

All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.