What Is Aesthetic Realism?

Nancy Huntting
Nancy Huntting

Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy founded by the great American poet and critic Eli Siegel. Aesthetic Realism is education, true and kind, about the world and the human self, our hopes and possibilities. It explains and answers the questions we have about ourselves, family, friends, love, questions about our interests, hopes and despairs, and much more. 

On this website I’m glad to bring to people some of what I’ve learned that changed my life in ways I hoped for, enabling me to get to expression and happiness I never would have otherwise. You will find here articles by me that have been presented to audiences at public seminars  at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, about what causes pain in love, what love truly is, the fight between selfishness and generosity, and much more!

I grew up in the village of Glendale, Ohio, northwest of Cincinnati, graduated from Denison University, and moved to New York City. That’s where I first attended an Aesthetic Realism seminar.  I was electrified by the honesty & scholarship of the speakers, and what they were saying about art and life.

The Principles of Aesthetic Realism

I began to study these principles, stated by Eli Siegel, which are the basis of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism:

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.

They are true—and through them and thrilling Aesthetic Realism consultations, I became happier, kinder, more the person I hoped to be. I recommend the book Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism, and many other works about Aesthetic Realism in the Online Library.

Aesthetic Realism Explains Imagination, Good and Bad

Portrait of Charles Dickens by William Powell Frith 1859
Charles Dickens by William Powell Frith, 1859 (detail)

The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is serializing Imagination Has Emphasis by Eli Siegel, a landmark lecture in which Mr. Siegel looks at the biography Charles Dickens by G. K. Chesterton as a means of understanding a central thing in human imagination—our imagination—emphasis.  read more

Covid-19 Is Still With Us—

Editor Ellen Reiss has a series in her great commentaries to The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known on how to use Covid-19 in a sensible, strengthening way: 

“Decades ago, Eli Siegel asked the following vitally important question:

‘Is this true: No matter how much of a case one has against the world—its unkindness, its disorder, its ugliness, its meaninglessness—one has to do all one can to like it, or one will weaken oneself?’

I have seen, through many years of careful looking, the answer is: Yes, it’s true. So I’ll mention 4 aspects of that needed thing, using COVID-19 to like the world.

1) Evil (which the coronavirus stands for and has) is certainly real. But what is good in this world is just as real…” read more   

Reprinted from The Rock Island Argus

Seabiscuit Shows the Power of Kindness

By Nancy Huntting
Reprinted from The Rock Island Argus, Rock Island, IL, September 22, 2003, and the Tennessee Tribune, Nashville, TN, Sept. 18-24, issue. Appeared in the on-line Forum of the Thoroughbred Times, Lexington, KY.

War Admiral and Seabiscuit, scene from film

Most people do not think kindness is powerful. And most nations don’t either. In 1970, Eli Siegel, the great American educator and founder of Aesthetic Realism, stated passionately in one of the groundbreaking talks he gave on economics:

 I say that the whole purpose of history is to show that the greatest kindness is the greatest power.

I think the 2003 movie “Seabiscuit” is evidence for this, and that its huge popularity shows people are thirsting to see that kindness is not  a soft, weak, ‘nice’ thing— it has might and pizzazz!

The film, about the brave race horse who stirred all of America during the Great Depression, shows that kindness not only can bring out astonishing power in a horse, but brings out possibilities in people around him that might never have been!

Nobody saw what that little ornery horse, who apparently loved to doze in the shade half the day, had in him — until wrangler Tom Smith came along and tried to understand him.

Real kindness, I’ve learned, is not gush, or sacrificial. Mr. Siegel defined it as “that in a self which wants other things to be rightly pleased,” and he wrote:

A person is kind who feels a sense of likeness to other things…. to be kind, we must have the imagination arising from the knowledge of feelings had by others…. Kindness is accuracy…. To know a thing as it is, is to give it its due.  [from Definitions, and Comment: Being a Description of the World by Eli Siegel]

In this film, Seabiscuit’s tremendous success stands for the kinder America that came to be under The New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: where every person was seen as deserving to have a home, a job, decent food and clothes, and the best in him or her brought out!

It is now 2003, and economics in America has failed. In lectures he gave in the 1970s, Mr. Siegel showed that the profit system, in which men and women — and, yes, even children — are seen as existing for the enrichment of owners and stockholders, is based on contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” The contempt at the basis of economics has caused massive suffering and massive inefficiency, like the recent blackout. Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, describes the outrage in Americans when she writes:

Today there is this tremendous feeling in people: ‘We want to work on a basis that is respectful of us! We don’t want to be seen as profit-producing mechanisms for someone, to be paid as little as possible and discarded!’ This desire in America for a respectful economics…exists unquenchably whatever goes on in Washington, whatever is in the news.  [ from The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known,  2/5/03]

Seabiscuit, J. Pollard up

Our economy will recover only when it is based on good will, “ the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful, for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful.” Watching Seabiscuit, I felt — that is what is happening to the men who work to have that unlikely horse win against the mighty War Admiral, in one of the most remarkable races in history. Each of them becomes “stronger and more beautiful”!

This film goes along very deeply with the most important question for America now, which Eli Siegel asked: “What does a person deserve by being alive?”

Nancy Huntting on the chestnut horse, Rosalie
Author on Rosalie

Nancy Huntting is a teacher on the faculty of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, and writes and speaks on women in history and today. She grew up near Cincinnati and loved to ride and visit the horse farms in Kentucky.