The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941

Objection, Unions, and Art

Dear Unknown Friends:

We continue to serialize Eli Siegel's powerful, beautiful 1965 lecture People Have Objected in American History. And we continue publishing statements by speakers at the Dedication of the Eli Siegel Memorial in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park.

Mr. Siegel grew up in Baltimore. And its mayor, Martin O'Malley, and the governor of Maryland, Parris N. Glendening, proclaimed the centenary of his birth—August 16, 2002—"Eli Siegel Day" in Baltimore and the state of Maryland. The gala Memorial Dedication took place that day, sponsored by the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks in partnership with the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. Among the Supporters of the Memorial were both of Maryland's US Senators and many others representing government, education, and culture.

The statements we publish here are those by Dorothy Koppelman and Timothy Lynch. Mrs. Koppelman, an Aesthetic Realism Consultant, is an artist whose work has been shown in museums throughout the nation. In 1955 she founded the Terrain Gallery, where exhibitions were and are based on Eli Siegel's landmark explanation of art—the subject on which she spoke on August 16. Timothy Lynch spoke on labor and economics. He is President and Principal Officer of Teamsters Local 1205.

Unions, of course, have much to do with what the lecture we're serializing is about, People Have Objected in American History. The objection by unions has been some of the most courageous in our history. Because of it there came to be such things as laws against child labor, minimum wage laws, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, laws in behalf of safer working conditions. Some of what unions have objected to—what men and women literally risked their lives objecting to; were blacklisted and beaten by thugs and shot at for objecting to—is described in this sentence by Eugene V. Debs, 1918:

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and...forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul.¹

The fundamental objection had by unions is described here by Timothy Lynch. It is an objection to that which Eli Siegel identified as the source of all cruelty: contempt. The objection at the very basis of unions is: a human being deserves to be seen and treated with respect, deserves to live with dignity, deserves to get what has been called the fruits of one's labor—a person should not have those fruits robbed from him or her by a boss or corporation; a person's ability to work, a person's wages and safety, should not depend on the wishes of someone who wants to make money from that person's body, mind, and life.

Dorothy Koppelman writes here about Mr. Siegel's great principle "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." A pair of opposites she speaks about are central to unions: oneness and manyness.

A union is beautiful—strictly, technically beautiful—because it is many people become powerful by working as one, in behalf of justice. Mr. Siegel writes in Self and World: "The organization of a trade union is akin to organization in aesthetics." A union is based on each single person saying, My well-being depends on trying to have all these other people get what they deserve. It's based on all people saying, Together we'll try to have each individual get what he or she deserves. We see this oneness of opposites in the century-old motto of unions: "An injury to one is an injury to all."

And these great opposites, one and many, America needs, urgently needs, to put together now. The following sentences by Mr. Siegel, written 56 years ago, are about them, and have his magnificently unyielding and graceful love of justice:

It follows that the world should be owned by the people living in it. Every person should be seen as living in a world truly his. All persons should be seen as living in a world truly theirs.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Objections Have Variety

By Eli Siegel

Note. Mr. Siegel has been discussing very diverse American objections, beginning with 1637.

I get to another kind of uprising, which took place in this fair city, as they used to say, as to a little known matter. In 1788 word went around that doctors were hiring persons to go to graves and steal newly buried bodies for the doctors' purposes: that is, to study them and dissect them. The people didn't like that, so they tried to break into the hospital, and they threatened the doctors. The doctors came to be more careful in how they got subjects. It's one of the notable riots in New York City. People were very angry, because they did feel that cemeteries should be respected and, who knows?, a friend of theirs might suddenly become a scientific subject. I am presenting what the people felt. The slight documentation I am going to read is from the Every Day Book edited by Joel Munsell (NY, 1858):

April 13, 1788. Great riots in New York occasioned by the imprudent manner in which the physicians procured subjects from the burying grounds. Several lives lost.

Well, people were very angry, and this kind of anger has occurred at various times.

Along with Shays' Rebellion, which is in the economic field, there's another which has an absurd title: the Whisky Insurrection, or the Whisky Rebellion. It made Washington worry. Farmers in western Pennsylvania were trying to make a living by distilling; and they didn't like the tax:

The first serious test of the Constitution came in the summer of 1794....The internal tax on distilled spirits bore heavily on outlying communities,...and in western Pennsylvania the discontent broke into open rebellion.... 

Washington issued a proclamation commanding the malcontents to desist; he also sent a commission to...endeavor to induce them to obey the law. These efforts being unsuccessful, the President...called upon the governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia for troops, and in a short time fifteen thousand men were marching across the Alleghanies under the lead of Governor Lee of Virginia....The great question had been, Will the citizens of other states march into a sister state to enforce a national law? The army marched on, however; and on its approach the insurgents dispersed. No blood was shed.²

However, Jefferson, shortly to become President, repealed this excise tax, so the country was safe again.

Sometimes these objections, insurrections, rebellions, uprisings, pugnacious demonstrations are good, and sometimes they are bad. I'm just presenting some of them, showing the variety.

The War of 1812 is still a mysterious thing. It's one of the strangest wars—it seems so ineffectual. Just to show how strange a war it was: the greatest battle was fought after peace was declared. The country was divided. The people in New England were against the war, but in the South it had more favor, and in the West too. I'm not discussing now the way the War of 1812 showed the temper of the country.

However, while Baltimore, Maryland, was for the war, there was a paper there, the Federal Republican, that opposed it. And the people were so angry that they did that which has occurred at times in American history: they attacked the newspaper office. I am reading from Harper's Book of Facts (NY, 1895):

Office of the Federal Republican at Baltimore, Md., attacked by a mob, for denouncing the declaration of war with England....On promise of protection by the military, the defenders of the office surrender and are taken to jail. The mob reassemble and break open the jail; kill Gen. Lingan...and mangle 11 others, leaving 8 for dead.

Things like this, for various reasons, are pretty plentiful in American history, and they show that emotion, instinct, are part of history. That is the purpose of this talk: to show how permanent instincts are brought out in new fields, new milieus, and new contexts of destiny, what with events. This particular riot or attack is different from others, and also there is a likeness.

Unions Oppose Contempt

By Timothy Lynch

Having organized many workers and studied labor history, I have seen that Eli Siegel understood what other economists and historians have not. He explained that the central matter in economics is ETHICAL: the fight throughout history is not the class struggle; it's the fight between respect for people and contempt for people. 

Mr. Siegel showed that the desire for contempt—to make oneself more by lessening someone else—is the only reason why there is poverty in this world. Contempt is what has a person see another in terms of money for oneself—not in terms of who that other person is and what he or she deserves. I've seen many people who were maimed or diseased because of the contempt which Mr. Siegel showed is at the basis of profit economics. I know men whose fingers were severed on table saws because the boss didn't want the flow of profit slowed down by safety mechanisms. I know workers whose lungs are damaged from years of inhaling dust because employers didn't want to lose profit by remedying the hazardous conditions. Mr. Siegel was clear early, here in Baltimore, and all his life: jobs should be for usefulness, not for profit.

In many lectures he gave, he showed that unions have been one of the biggest opponents to contempt and forces for respect in world history, because unions have insisted, with power and often beautiful rudeness: These are people, not mechanisms for someone's profit! A statement I love and believe needs to be known by everyone is this, from a 1970 lecture by Mr. Siegel:

The most important thing in industry is the person who does the industry, which is the worker. That...can never change. Labor is the only source of wealth. There is no other source, except land, the raw material....Every bit of capital that exists was made by labor, just as everything that is consumed is.

In that year, 1970, Mr. Siegel explained that we have reached a point in history at which economics based on using people contemptuously, for profit, no longer works. Good will has to be the basis of production and distribution for our economy to be efficient and kind. A poem he wrote here in Baltimore when he was 20 years old has in it his tremendous feeling for people, and his hatred for a way of economics that has crippled their lives. He uses the phrase "stupid masses" ironically. Maybe he saw a little girl like the one he tells about, in this park:

Present Sight

A little child of seven years,

Innocent as little children are,

Though very poor, she has no fears

Now that she may not go

Just as far

As any other child.

She's very mild

About her woe,

Though later

She'll be

Among the "stupid masses,"

This one of millions,

Poor dirty lasses;

May strike as a showily attired

Shop girl

Working where cigars are made,

May lose in the strike and be fired,

May of hard work be very tired,

May even for her body be desired,

May live unhappily

And not so very humanly.

Because of Mr. Siegel's conviction and clarity about justice, people come to feel that being just to others is the same thing as having a great time and taking care of yourself! I've seen this-and it's the most hopeful news in the world.

Art and Our Lives

By Dorothy Koppelman

Eli Siegel explained the true meaning of art for our lives, and I am proud today to say only a small part of what that is. He said this: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves." No one—no scholar, no artist, no person—in all the centuries ever saw this before: that we can learn about ourselves from the very technique of art!

The opposites are around us and in us now. Take one tree: it is firm and its limbs are flexible; it is rooted, attached securely to the earth, and those delicate leaves sway in the wind. That is how a person wants to be: feet on the ground, firm and flexible, secure and happily responding to what's not us. We want the many aspects of ourselves to go together the way many branches of a tree are so gracefully one tree. These opposites—firmness and flexibility, oneness and manyness—are together in all good art.

One of the worst things that people, including artists, have done is separate art from life. Art is seen as a superior make-believe world used to get away from the real world of family, worries, the world's turmoil, our miseries. Eli Siegel described that mistake and opposed it with the bravest constancy. He showed that far from being in a separate world, art has the answer to the trouble in this one.

In an Aesthetic Realism lesson I attended as a young artist, at a time I saw myself as very separate from most people, Mr. Siegel asked me: "Are you unique and related?" I felt a great relief seeing that I was. And I learned that is the purpose of every line in a painting: it separates and joins at once. Each apple in a Cézanne still life has a boundary, is unique, separate, and yet is joined with, related to, enhanced by every other red and yellow and green apple on that white tablecloth. We need to feel we're more ourselves, more individual, through seeing and liking our relation to other people, both near and far. That, Eli Siegel taught me, is the message of all art—and every person, every family, every nation needs to hear that message and learn from it.

I'm very glad to read a short poem by Mr. Siegel that I love, titled "This Is Asked":

What is art for?—

To like the world more,

To like ourselves more,

To like time more.


¹ R.O. Boyer & H.M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story (Pittsburgh, 1991).
² H.W. Elson, History of the United States of America (NY, 1926).