|Popular Photography, November, 1969
This is an attempt by six artists to explain the basic tenets of a philosophy called Aesthetic Realism and to convince the world it's worth further investigation. Among the six, all students of the poet-philosopher Eli Siegel, are two photographers, two painters, and two actors. Their approach is to explain with both grace and exactitude how they've benefited, as artists and people, from studying under Siegel.
Aesthetic Realism means what its name implies: that the structure of reality is aesthetic. This philosophy says that man sees both the world and himself as composed of opposites—conflicts, polarities. If one learns to see both self and world aesthetically, the opposites will merge, for "in reality opposites are one" (italics mine).
Art is seen as a prime means for studying and achieving this oneness in self. The opposites in art are the same ones we find in ourselves. To learn about art is to learn about self.
Siegel's philosophy is meant to be lived, not just thought about now and then. All of the six authors have been working toward it as a way of life and thought for a number of years. My conclusion from personal observation is that it has done them an enormous amount of good, both as artists and people. They themselves wouldn't differentiate, for to be a whole person is to be an artist by definition—an expert at putting together the opposites in self and world.
The book is well written and well conceived. I think it deals with fundamental truths concerning the nature of man, art and reality. It is not, however, an easy book to swallow and digest. You'll have to work at it. True, it does have grace and humor; but these are wrapped around very large philosophical concepts.
The two contributing photographers. David and Louis Bernstein (not brothers), show that entering deeply into a well-structured ethical system has helped them really see what they're photographing and understand what their photographs mean. Through their study with Siegel, they've started to fall in love with the world and even come to like themselves.
The essay by Eli Siegel talks about art as life, summing up all else said in the book and giving it a large philosophical perspective.
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