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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 
A PERIODICAL OF HOPE AND INFORMATION
 NUMBER 1295.—January 29, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

Art, Integrity, and Self-Doubt

Dear Unknown Friends:

We have been serializing Animate and Inanimate Are in Music and Conscience, a 1966 lecture in which Eli Siegel relates, greatly, things that have been seen as far apart: ethics and beauty; music at its most technical and that thing so involved with humanity's dignity and trouble—conscience. We print too part of a paper that Edward Green presented at a recent Aesthetic Realism public seminar titled "Self-Confidence and Self-Doubt: Can They Make Sense in a Man's Life?" Mr. Green is an Aesthetic Realism associate; a composer; a professor at the Manhattan School of Music; and, with Barbara Allen and Anne Fielding, a teacher of The Opposites in Music, a course at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. 

Aesthetic Realism, the knowledge that explains what art is, also explains why artists have been untrue to their art. It explains why an artist can deal beautifully with notes, or shapes, or words at 2 PM perhaps, and at 3 tyrannize over his wife, or drink excessively, or be a terrific grouch. There has been much stupid writing on the subject, and there is a tendency even now to feel that depression and ill nature are part of the artistic "temperament." But Aesthetic Realism explains that there are two purposes fighting in everyone, whether that person is Beethoven, you, or the child down the block. The deepest purpose of everyone is to like and respect the world. Our other purpose is to have contempt for the world. And it is that best of human purposes—to respect the world—had with fullness and intensity, which makes for every instance of real art.

When an artist is being an artist, having art come to be, it is because he wants more sincerely than others to see meaning in the world; to like the world. His selfishness, obnoxiousness, nervousness, and grumpiness do not come from the thing in him that makes for art; they come from the thing in him that everybody else has too. A butcher and a composer, salesperson and novelist, stockbroker and actor are ill-natured for the same reason. And Eli Siegel has identified that reason. 

He showed that the thing impelling all meanness and mental distress is contempt: the desire to get an "addition to self through the lessening of something else." Our desire to look down on the world, despise it, belittle it, forget about it, see things and people as existing to make us comfortable and important, makes us stupid and cruel. It also makes us grumpy and ashamed, because it is against the deepest purpose of our lives. And an artist, because he so much wants to give justice to the world, can feel even more troubled than others by the unseen fight within him between this beautiful purpose and the other, ugly purpose—contempt. Because of Aesthetic Realism, artists and everyone at last can learn what is the best thing in us and what is the worst, and be able to have the best not just incidental and accidental but thriving, steady, victorious!

There Is Byron

Let us take, for example, a short, very good sentence from a letter of Byron, December 9, 1811. At age 23 he wrote to William Harness: "In a morning, I am always sullen, and to-day is as sombre as myself."

Sullenness, Byron had in common with millions of other people that year and every year. It came—Aesthetic Realism could have shown him, and he would have been enormously grateful—from his scorning and lessening the things around him and also from a feeling he had been untrue to himself in doing so.

But that short sentence is art. And its goodness—its rhythm, its organization, its rightness and surprise—came from the opposite of the sullenness. It came from Byron's desire to see meaning in things. It came from his delight in being fair to morning, weather, his own feeling, the world itself.

The World in a Sentence

"In reality opposites are one, " Mr. Siegel explained; "art shows this." Byron's sentence is in three parts, and the first two take the weight of sullenness and tell of it swiftly, make it also lightsome. The rhythm is trochaic—a heavy syllable followed by a light: "Ín a mórning, Í am álways súllen." Weight skips, stodginess becomes brisk. There is a musical drama of sameness and difference in the rotund sounds of "morning," "always," "sullen": personal morosity here has width and charm.

In the longer final phrase Byron relates his "sullen" self to the wide outside world. The rhythm becomes different. There is delicate mystery in the whispering s sounds and tender ms: "and to-day is as sombre as myself." Byron began with a state of mind against the world, sullenness. But he used looking at it to see and love the world: the opposites of reality are one in his really beautiful sentence.

There is a statement in Byron's journal of November 27, 1813 which shows he felt that his art came from something opposed to the narrow, selfish thing in him, which he so disliked himself for. He wrote: "To withdraw myself from myself (oh that cursed selfishness!) has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all." Byron, whom Mr. Siegel described as one of the kindest people who ever lived, didn't know that the thing he despised in himself, which made him feel selfish, was contempt. Eli Siegel, who understood humanity, and was the critic who understood Byron, could have enabled him to know himself as he longed to, and have the justice to reality that impelled his art be also the impelling thing in his ordinary minutes and hours.

Throughout history, people whose thought has been large and new have been opposed ferociously by cheap persons in established positions. Such persons have been furious at Mr. Siegel's and Aesthetic Realism's integrity and greatness of knowledge. They have felt their own sleazy purposes were shown up by Aesthetic Realism. But as Byron today is more living than ever, and Brahms is, so Aesthetic Realism is made of that stuff which renders things immortal: it is justice to humanity and reality all the way. And that is how people in coming years and centuries will describe it, with love in their grateful hearts.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

What Is in a Good Conscience
By Eli Siegel

Brahms died in 1897. And what is in a good conscience is in Hubert Parry's words in a lecture of 1897 about him. This is as good prose as any in the book I am using [An Anthology of Musical Criticism, ed. Norman Demuth]. The runner-up is Peter Warlock, or Philip Heseltine, on the work of Delius. The effortlessness, the indiscernibility of Delius was never expressed better: it seems just like some violet that didn't quite make it; some arbutus that, well, failed to come forth while other arbutuses were seen. But what I'm trying to get from this book are exemplifications of conscience shown in music and by music.

Parry talks of the work of Brahms, and a conscience adequately satisfied is here. Whether the conscience of Brahms was adequately satisfied is another matter, but Parry makes it seem so. Part of having a good conscience is to do one's work in the best way and respect the work that one does. This is Hubert Parry on Brahms:

The mortal part of him lies fitly in close proximity to the resting-places of Beethoven and Schubert in the cemetery at Vienna. And what comfort have we? Truly, the comfort of heroic work heroically done—a noble life lived out in untainted devotion to generous ideals. The knowledge that here was a man who formed the most exalted ideals of art, and carried them out unflinchingly; who ... never belied himself by putting trumpery catch-phrases into his work to... gain a little cheap popularity.

Brahms is the uninterrupted artist. He is a little like William Blake. Blake wrote strange things, but there is nothing in his life that seems to question the main thing in it. Brahms didn't go mad, as Schumann did. He wasn't too much distressed by bar girls in Vienna, as Schubert was. He didn't have to write unfinished symphonies and stay in taverns until one o'clock, making up new songs and singing them right away. He doesn't have the grimness of Beethoven; and also isn't surrounded by mystical family trouble, as Bach was. 

There's something straight-line in Brahms. He stays in Vienna; he writes his work; he's criticized, of course; he's a little afraid of Hanslick—but everything goes pretty well. When we think of his trying to do the best he could and asking questions for a true reason—he's the opposite of Meyerbeer. Meyerbeer would go behind the stage and get tips—how was it doing? He was so anxious, and if there was anything he could do that could get the public he would get it in. Another person, the other Giacomo, was questioned too, towards the end of the century: Puccini. Puccini was too bent on pleasing the Italian and later the American public.

The character of composers is something to see. But Brahms does very well in this prose of Parry. However, I think there were questions in Brahms that Parry omits. 

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Confidence & Doubt in Men
By Edward Green

I learned from Aesthetic Realism that there is a way to make sense of confidence and doubt. It is to see what Eli Siegel so magnificently explained: our deepest desire is to like the world—and that very much includes hoping to respect people.

I learned that the worst thing in a person is our hope for contempt. With its swift feeling of superiority, contempt is fake confidence. One way of going after it is by trying to show other people up, and that is pretty much how I tried to make myself confident. I wanted to show my parents I knew better than they did about nearly everything. Whenever a teacher asked a question, I tried to be the "bright boy" who had his hand up first. I wanted my friends to feel I was an intellectual cut above them.

A Double Purpose

I also wanted to find meaning in the world. I loved seeing the beauty of nature. I loved learning the German language. I studied music seriously and was interested in history and philosophy. But like men everywhere, I had a double purpose with the world; and that doubleness, I learned from Aesthetic Realism, made me doubt myself.

I wanted my college girlfriend, Cynthia Malloy, to show I mattered more to her than anything. When she spent a summer in Israel on an archeological expedition, I wrote her every day, but I never asked about the amazing things she was seeing—for instance, ancient Egyptian idols that were being unearthed. Instead, my letters were filled with hyped-up descriptions of my day on Long Island. Cynthia later told me she had hated these letters. She said I was wrapped up in myself and didn't care about anything else. She was right, but I was annoyed hearing it.

In the first Aesthetic Realism class it was my privilege to attend, Mr. Siegel asked, as part of a class discussion, if I had ever had a recurrent dream. I had: I was running desperately from someone who was attacking me, but as I ran my feet grew heavy and planted themselves in the ground. I always woke up in terror.

Dreams, Mr. Siegel explains in Self andWorld, "are a criticism," and are always about "the way a self wants to be, and the way a self can stop itself from being what it can be." He asked me, "The fact that in this dream you can't retreat—do you think you are saying you should hear things from other people, criticism, and not run away? ... If someone says something direct to you, are you uncomfortable?"

"Yes, I am," I answered. And Mr. Siegel asked, "How do you take criticism from Cynthia Malloy?" I said, "Not well." With great good will, he then explained that my being against people and aloof from them hurt me as to music too. He asked, "Have you used music to see people better or worse? Can you use music to look at life more fully, or do you want to use it as a solace against life? " I answered, "I think I've used it as a solace." And he said, "Then you are prone to a great weakness. It is the weakness of people in the arts: to feel, 'Here, at least for a while, everything is manageable.'"

I love Mr. Siegel for teaching me what was interfering with my life—and enabling me to have real belief in myself!

Confidence, Doubt, & Love

For a man to believe in himself as to love, the thing necessary, I've learned from Aesthetic Realism, is that he use a woman to value the world, and to ask more of himself. 

In 1993 1 was just beginning to know the woman I now care for very deeply, my true friend and colleague, Aesthetic Realism consultant Carrie Wilson. While I respected her very much, I was troubled by nervousness when I was around her. And in an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss with great kindness explained why: "Do you think as you are knowing Carrie Wilson you have gone for—not 'I want to value rightly'—but 'I've got to make sure I am valued rightly'?" 

"Yes, I think so," I said. And Ellen Reiss asked, "Is that wise and useful? Do you think it would set you back as a cornposer?—because the idea in composing music is to use one's sense of sound, not to glorify oneself, but to be fair to something." 

In a later discussion she said to me, "The question is, Is the thing that most interferes with our belief in ourselves the not getting praise? That's the current opinion; it's what the magazines say. But Aesthetic Realism says what makes a person feel not at ease with himself is that he has not seen the world fairly. We want praise, but we also want our self-respect."

Aesthetic Realism makes clear and conscious what art embodies: that true confidence is a oneness of opposites. We believe in ourselves because we question ourselves. We are proud of ourselves because we are saying, "What matters to me is fairness to the world, and I won't let anything in me stop me from giving reality and people what they deserve!"   black diamond

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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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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