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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1294.—January 21, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Mistake about Art and Love

Dear Unknown Friends:

We continue to serialize the great 1966 lecture Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, by Eli Siegel. And we print part of a paper by Aesthetic Realism consultant Margot Carpenter, from an Aesthetic Realism public seminar of last month titled "Can a Woman Respect Herself in Love and Sex?" Despite all the centuries of bitterness (hidden and shown) on the subject, the answer to that question is Yes! And I am boundlessly grateful to say, as Margot Carpenter does here, that because of Aesthetic Realism this joyful Yes, this self-respect, can be in the lives of women now.

In the lecture we are serializing, Mr. Siegel shows that when a critic responds unfairly to a work of art the reason has to do with ethics, with conscience. I know of nothing more important in this world than Aesthetic Realism's explaining what it is that interferes with our responding justly to anything—whether concerto, person across from us at a table, or situation concerning many people we never met. In the section published last week Mr. Siegel said, with clarity and passion, "How we respond to things is our lives. If we respond ill, our lives that much are not what they should be."

And Aesthetic Realism shows that the mistakes people make about art and about love are the same mistakes: we will be wrong about love for the same reason a critic is wrong about an artwork. This fact is amazing, thrilling, logical, and I know that learning it can give a person a beautiful life.

In the following principle, Mr. Siegel has identified the thing in us that interferes with all our judgments, including as to love: "There is a disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." This statement is a description of contempt. Contempt, Mr. Siegel showed, is the source of every unkindness that has taken place in human history. At the basis of contempt is the assumption that the value of a thing or person consists of how much it or he or she pleases us or makes us important. This is a horrible and utterly false assumption, yet people go by it all the time. And it is what has given rise to every critical blunder. Last week I quoted Mr. Siegel explaining, "A person can use a work of art to love oneself in a spurious manner. That which enables one to be a critic of this kind... comes to this: that is good in this world which pleases me or likes me."

In 1880 Matthew Arnold, in "The Study of Poetry," tried to describe the central mistakes a critic of poetry makes; and a phrase he used was "the personal estimate." He felt a critic could misjudge a poem, perhaps see it as better than it was, because it had some personal meaning for him. But Arnold didn't know what this narrowly "personal" meaning consisted of. He didn't see that a critic could rave about an insignificant work because there was something about this work that ratified the critic's own sense of superiority to things and people, or soothed the critic, made him pleased with himself in some fashion. Arnold did not see that a person could be repelled by a work because the work made the critic feel deeply questioned, unsure about how well he saw the world.

Arnold himself—who in so many ways was courageous, graceful, and right—was unjust as critic to Shelley. And Mr. Siegel explained the reason: there was a kind of dignity through restraint that Arnold increasingly went after in his life, and the poems and life of Shelley were such a questioning of that false notion of dignity.

The Mistake about Love

As critics have erred, so people who thought they were in love have felt later that they miserably erred. The reason for misjudgments in the field of amour is the one I quoted Mr. Siegel describing in relation to bad criticism: it is the assumption that "that is good in this world which pleases me or likes me."

Women have had "the personal estimate" as to men: he is wonderful because he makes me feel wonderful; he is a hero because he makes me feel I'm the most important person in the world. Then, some years or months later the woman feels disappointed, angry, and ashamed, and asks, "What did I ever see in him?"

The One True Basis

Aesthetic Realism explains that there is only one true basis for caring for anything: how does it stand for the world,—how fair is it to the world? Mr. Siegel showed that there is in every instance of true art the structure of reality itself, the oneness opposites: the artist has been fair to the world through the object he is dealing with. "In reality opposites are one," Mr. Siegel wrote; "art shows this." For example, Wagner, whom he speaks of here, had people feel in a way not felt before, the mightiness of the world and its sweetness as one thing; reality seemed vaster, more forceful than ever, yet gentle too.

The awful mistake about love is the being interested, not in how a person sees the world, but in how he treats just oneself, the supreme Me. George Wither put that approach in a swift 17th-century couplet: "If she think not well of me, / What care I how fair she be?" And in later lines of the same poem, "The Author's Resolution," we have this:

Be she meeker, kinder than
Turtle-dove or pelican,
If she be not so to me,
What care I how kind she be?

And if a woman doesn't like the world herself, and wishes to get away from it and be superior to it, she will want a man to dislike the rest of the world and focus on her. But as this "love" goes on, the depths of both people scream in indignation, though the indignation may be stifled under praise and kisses for a while. The indignation is inevitable, for we ourselves are the world too; our very beings and thoughts and manner are a oneness, in our particular fashion, of the world's rest and motion, delicacy and strength, for and against, energy and ease, surface and depth.

The deepest desire of everyone, Mr. Siegel showed, is to like the world. And after two people have snubbed the rest of reality, made it unimportant and each other supreme, there comes that inescapable critical judgment: "I despise both you and myself, for we have been unjust to the world." This judgment is usually inarticulate. It takes the form of ill temper, resentment, sarcasm, pain. But it is as inescapable as blood circulation, and means, "What we tried to put aside is the main thing: how fair are we to the world?"

An anonymous poem, likely of the 16th century, begins in a way that has one feel a man loves a woman not because she makes much of him, but because of her ethics, her justice to reality: she is "kind"—"There is a Lady sweet and kind, / Was never face so pleased my mind. " The man says he will "love her till I die." It is a beautiful fact that through Aesthetic Realism, men and women can learn to look at people and art, love and an event in the news, on a true basis—and therefore can be deeply sure at last, and proud.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

When We Dislike Something
By Eli Siegel

Note. From Norman Demuth's Anthology of Musical Criticism, Mr. Siegel has just read Ruskin angrily criticizing Wagner.

The music of Wagner came to England, and he wasn't liked. Samuel Butler, the author of The Way of All Flesh, I recommend as the worst music critic who ever lived. He had one criterion: was the music like Handel? We know that he was grouchy and had ill temper, and also there was something very likable about him. But he and his friend Henry Festing Jones would go to concerts in order to think that all the other concert-goers were foolish. There's not a composer whom Butler says anything good of, but on Wagner he is with Ruskin.

When we dislike something, is our conscience concerned? It is. The artist has a conscience, but the listener has a conscience too. This is Butler:

Then I heard an extract from "Parsifal" which I disliked very much. If Bach wriggles, Wagner writhes. Yet next morning in The Times I saw this able, heartless failure ... without one spark of either true pathos or true humour, called "the crowning achievement of dramatic music."

(This is later; at the beginning there wasn't much praising of Wagner in England.) "I am glad that such people should call Handel a thieving plagiarist." And that is the Handel motif. It happens that Wagner did try to get the joyousness of things into his operas, but he is most successfully religious. "If Bach wriggles, Wagner writhes": Butler didn't like human beings to seem uncomfortable.

Butler was not the Savonarola type. He wasn't given to grand musings; he didn't see the beginning of the world, and as far as he was concerned, the sky ended where the city roof did. He is not a visionary, and he is somewhat unfair to the religious person in The Way of All Flesh. He does have the great quality of seeing what is close.

Wagner went after everything, and he was poking around the borders of his mind and the borders of the world. This wouldn't go with Butler—but hardly anything went. So Samuel Butler has something to worry about.  black diamond

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Love and Self-Respect
By Margot Carpenter

What I learned from Aesthetic Realism about love and sex revolutionized my whole life and enabled me really to love another person—Aesthetic Realism consultant Robert Murphy, to whom I am very grateful to be married. In 1971, when I was in pain because love once again had failed, Eli Siegel, in an Aesthetic Realism class, wrote the following—which articulates beautifully every woman's greatest hope:

Margot Carpenter's Most Important Question
How can I have love for a person, or love from a person, in such a way that I feel I see the world in the best way I can and myself in the best way I can?

Right now a woman is weeping bitterly, as I once did. She is tormented because, though she seemed to get the love she wanted from a man, she is now furious with him and cursing herself, and can't understand why. In his great 1948 lecture Aesthetic Realism and Love, Mr. Siegel explains:

Our biggest desire is to feel that the big world in which we are is something that makes us grow, something that makes us what we want to be. But we'd also like to think that the world is bad, disorganized, ugly, and that we're superior to it. We would like to be a god in our own right: that is the victory of contempt. We would also like company; so if we can get somebody out of this world and possess that person, we think we have really pulled a universal fast one. [TRO 946]

I was a woman who thought the way I would be happy was by finding a man to build a world of my own around. I would say, "A woman should be everything to a man: a lover, a sister, a mother, a friend." All I needed was a man who would sufficiently value my being everything—that is, praise me, cater to me, and accept gratefully my ministrations to improve him. Years later, with humor that was tremendously kind, Mr. Siegel said, "Miss Carpenter sees Mr. J a little like a pony on her ranch that she has to train." 

When I began to study Aesthetic Realism, Mr. Siegel comprehended me to my very depths. In one class, for example, he asked about a man I knew, "What makes us not like the way we see someone?" "What he brings out of me?" I responded. "Your motives," Mr. Siegel said. "Would you like somebody to be devoted to you and depend on you?" "I would like that," I answered. And he explained, "Do you feel not generous and caring enough? If someone is devoted to us and we can give happiness to a person, we feel we're not as hard as we thought. This is a very deep matter; we can make another person happy and not be accurate. Importance is had in various ways."

He explained, "Aesthetic Realism says if you are close to a person, you should think more of yourself and the other person. Ecstasy should make one feel that one was good to oneself; otherwise rapture would be the same as self-disparagement. ... Sex is a way of not being contracted. A woman can feel if she's liberal as to sex, she'll feel she's liberal with the world. But being liberal to the whole world is more indivisible, more comprehensive than that."
As my study of Aesthetic Realism continued, I came to see the utter truth of this fact: the purpose of loving a man, being in his arms, touching his body, holding his hand, is to like the world. My gratitude to Mr. Siegel is beyond measure.

When Robert Murphy and I began speaking deeply with one another, I was amazed to find out how richly so much of the world was in a person I had known for over twenty years as a colleague studying and teaching Aesthetic Realism. His pleasure in understanding and strengthening the young men he teaches as a consultant with The Young Mind, and his knowledge and interests—from the construction of a building, with its electrical wiring, bricks, moldings, to Rembrandt, James Stephens, Dickens—stirred me profoundly. In knowing and being close to Robert, I feel the large meaning of what every person is comes closer to me. And as he kisses me, I know he wants me to be kinder, more intelligent, not less. I want my husband to like the whole world, not just me. And boy—does this make a woman respect herself !  black diamond

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Aesthetic Realism is based on these
principles, stated by Eli Siegel:

1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.


2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.


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

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First Thursday of each month, 6:30 PM: Seminars with speakers from Aesthetic Realism faculty

Third Saturday of each month, 8 PM: Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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