Sheldon Kranz, Aesthetic Realism Consultant, Writer, Poet

Sheldon Kranz
Aesthetic Realism Consultant, Writer, Poet  (1919-1980)

Aesthetic Realism Class of March 8, 1948
Taught by Eli Siegel
Report by Sheldon Kranz

The purpose of Aesthetic Realism is to present a philosophy of the world and of the self. It is to show what it is a self wants, what it must go after if it is to be wholly happy. Aesthetics is absolutely necessary for this, if the word is fully understood and wholly seen.

Mr. Siegel discussed the meaning of art and how what the artist is going after all the time is what every person also is going after, and must go after to feel good. Where people have been happy, whether they knew about Aesthetic Realism or not, he said, the principles of art have operated.

Art Is a One of Self and World

Mr. Siegel read the Aesthetic Realism definition of art--the joining of self and not the self so that they are one, showing sameness and difference, togetherness and separateness--and the Funk and Wagnall dictionary definition. The dictionary definition is useful in that it emphasizes original meanings of art that have been lost in the popular and sloppy connotations of the word. Art has always had to do with skill, with organization, with knowledge, with work, said Mr. Siegel. The artist of the middle ages was an artisan, a worker or craftsman. He took materials and organized them. How good a job he did depended on a combination of himself and the object. Mr. Siegel pointed out that this is every person's problem. How he, as self, is going to meet the objects of the world. The neurotic, whether he knows it or not, is deeply against art and aesthetics. He meets reality and pretends to like it, when actually he is against it, sees it as an enemy. How good a job could a painter or a cabinet maker do if he really hated his tools, his canvas, or his piece of wood? The utmost in art is a complete fairness to the object. There is a making one of artist and material, and the result of this is art. This combination is also work, said Mr. Siegel. It is a person doing something with something. Aesthetic Realism's purpose, he said, is to show that this is exactly what is going on with a person.  We are meeting objects, reality, all the time. How much we can make a happy one of self and world, that much we will be happy or aesthetic. Like the artist, we must be fair to objects.We must like reality.

Beauty and Usefulness

Mr. Siegel said that the useful phase and the aesthetic phase in art are really one. For example, a portrait can please a family because it is of a member of the family; it can also hang in a museum as a work of art a hundred years later. A building can be useful as a library, and still be a beautiful example of architecture. The work and aesthetic phases can really be seen as doing good, said Mr. Siegel.

Life, he said, in the same way is an aesthetic problem of having the world do the utmost good to us, and we doing the utmost good to the world. Life is different from art, he said, in that we don't know the end. Still, a person knows he wants to be happy; that is to have a sensible relation with things. Happiness, Mr. Siegel said, is an organization of facts with what we are. But before one can please himself he must know himself; and the reality being dealt with. Wherever good art has resulted, this has been true. There has been knowledge. And to be happy, one must be interested in all of oneself and all of reality. We would not be satisfied with a coat that only covered one arm. Like the artist, said Mr. Siegel, if self and world are to be dealt with beautifully, a good job must be done with reality as a whole. Where art reaches it highest point of relation of a self and everything else, it is the highest good sense, beauty and usefulness.

The Basic Principle of Art

The basic principle of art, of making a one of opposites, is clearly seen in the Aesthetic Realism definition of art: the joining of the self and not the self so that they are one, showing sameness and difference, togetherness and separateness. But this can be seen in many other opposites, all of which are put together in good art and which have to be put together in every person.

To show some of these opposites, Mr. Siegel read one of Francois Villon's most famous poems, which contains the well-known refrain: "But where are the snows of yester-year?"

Opposites in a Famous Poem by Francois  Villon 

Every person, said Mr. Siegel, wants to be free and precise at once. He wants to be able to do what he wants, and yet be orderly and accurate. This poem of Villon's brings these opposites together beautifully and aesthetically.  There is a feeling here of going into strange places, when Villon wonders what has happened to famous women of the past: Heloise, Joan of Arc, Charlemagne's mother. Yet the poem is written in a strict, exact form, the ballade.  Also the form is complicated and intricate, but at the same time the poem is simple, sentimental. There is also the mingling of conscious and unconscious in the poem. This is from the translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden,--
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine,
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there,--    
Mother of God, where are they then?...
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Said Mr. Siegel, Villon has said what he wanted, which comes from his unconscious--that is, the selecting of these ideas, these objects; but it has been given a conscious form, a certain arrangement. And just as a person wants to feel that things can change but also are, so Villon has accomplished that here. In the rhymes we feel movement, difference and yet the rhyme gives also a feeling of sameness, being like another word. And the opposites of speed and restfulness in the poem, of unity and diversity, are ones that a person is dealing with and which a neurotic person is dealing with badly. For example, the neurotic will go from doing nothing, being as motionless as possible, to a great deal of furious activity. He has not put together speed and restfulness, not made a one of rest and motion the way a symphony of Beethoven's does, for example.

Alexander Pope, Too

Mr. Siegel then discussed Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism, and showed how Pope was also aware of the necessity of putting opposites together if good poetry was to result:   

Soft is the Strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth Stream in smoother Numbers flows;
But when loud Surges lash the sounding Shore,
The hoarse, rough Verse shou'd like the Torrent roar.
When Ajax strives, some Rocks' vast Weight to throw,
The Line too labours, and the Words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o'er th'unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.

 A German Story in Verse
And as the final reading, Mr. Siegel presented a charming story in verse by Von Platen, a German poet of the nineteenth century. The story about a painter, Signorelli, shows, said Mr. Siegel, a putting together of personal and impersonal. The painter's son died. And the father painted a portrait of his son lying dead on his bier. The painter then felt he had his son truly and they could bury the body.

Said Mr. Siegel, a person has a job even with people who have died, for we still have them in mind. How we deal with people who have died, like how we deal with the past, must be understood, said Mr. Siegel, because otherwise we will play tricks with it, which will affect the present and the future.

Mr. Siegel concluded this class by saying: So what Aesthetic Realism says is that the highest good sense is to be found in art, for it is the only place where conflict is truly resolved in a happy way. What goes on in art, he said, is what the neurotic is always trying to understand. If he did, he would be happy, healthy, and aesthetic. 

Copyright: Sheldon Kranz, Aesthetic Realism Consultant

Note: We recently found the Von Platen verses in English translation on the web, and copy them here, reprinted from the 1849 book German Literature by Joseph Gostick:

Luca Signorelli by August von Platen
’Twas at the hour, of evening prayer—
The painter from his easel rose,
And gazed upon the picture there—
How life-like every aspect glows!

Hark !—what can mean these sudden cries ?—
A pupil comes with hasty tread,
Enters the painter's room, and sighs,
“Master, your only son is dead!

“Alas ! his beauty brought his doom;
He fell beneath a rival's hand,
And yonder, in the minster's gloom,
The praying monks around him stand.”

Then Luca cried—“Oh, misery!
Thus have I lived, and toiled in vain !
This moment takes away from me
The fruit of all my labour's pain!

“What care I that my paintings’ glow
With joy Cortona's people hail?
Or that Orvieto’s church can show
My ‘Judgment,’ making gazers pale?
“Nor fame, nor laurels round my brow,
Can bind this wound, and heal my smart;
Thy last, best consolation now,
Bestow on me, beloved art!”

Straight to the church the master went—
He shed no tears—he said no more—
His pupil, guessing his intent,
Beside him brush and palette bore.

He steps into the minster. See!
From many a shrine his paintings gleam:
The monks their funeral litany
Chant by the lamps’ undying beam. 

He gazes on the beauteous dead;
Then all night in that solemn place
He sits, with colours near him spread,
To paint the dear boy's sleeping face.

He sits and paints beside the bier,
With father’s heart and painter’s skill,
Till morning dawns—“I have him here—
Bury the corpse whene'er you will.”

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