Aesthetic Realism and Self-Expression
Miriam Mondlin, Aesthetic Realism Consultant

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Can We Be Expansive & Contained
Like Van Gogh's Starry Night?


By Miriam Mondlin

I first saw Van Gogh's Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art, when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and I kept going back to look at it again and again. I loved the intensity of the sky, with its tremendous energy and bright, swirling stars, yet the valley below with its snug houses seemed so peaceful. I thought it was beautiful.

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Starry Night    Vincent Van Gogh

Ten years later, I met the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel, and I learned the reason I loved this painting, and why it has stirred people for more than 100 years: what makes this painting beautiful is the way it puts opposites together, and these are the same opposites we are trying to put together in our lives. I am grateful to be studying this principle, Eli Siegel's statement:

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

Technically, beautifully, this painting answers the central question of my life. When I was a child, though I liked going to museums and to the big movie palaces of the 1940's with stage shows that burst with energy and excitement, like many people, I was essentially disdaining of things, preferring to stay close to home, where I could manage my family, which I made into my world. I learned from Aesthetic Realism that one of the results of my wanting to have contempt for the world, to see it as unfriendly and not worth getting too excited about was that I punished myself by having inordinate fears.

I will speak about how the opposites of expansive and contained are made one in this great painting. The composition has many energetic brush strokes in a circular motion bursting forth in the dark sky. There is a feeling of expansiveness.  At the same time, the black outlines of the cypress, mountains, houses and trees gives them containment. The downward blue and black brushstrokes of the mountain slopes are both contained and flowing, and there is a moonlight glow which makes for expansiveness. 
The round forms of the trees curving down, make for a feeling of containment, yet with the light on the edges of these rows of tight curves, they are related to the curve of the stars, and the nebula above. There is a lovely diagonal formed by the trees going from the lower right of the canvas towards a point in the center of the painting near the horizon, almost like a path to the sky.

In Aesthetic Realism lessons, as Eli Siegel talked to a person, he brought the structure, the grandeur of the whole world to the seeing of a particular question. He explained the cause of a fear I had so truly that I never had it again. I was to see that In my desire to be self-contained, to keep myself to myself, I was not honoring the best thing in me--my desire to be expansive, to go out to the world and to be affected by it. He explained: “Every perception has order and disorder in it. The idea of being contained and trying to get out is frightening to Miriam.Mondlin." And he related these opposites in myself to the art I cared for most: "Every painter," he said, "is trying to get out of the canvas or be contained. It arises," he said, "from a philosophic idea--in and out; point and line." 

I am thrilled to see that every square inch of this painting shows Van Gogh was "trying to get out of the canvas," and "be contained"--and both have the same purpose—to see the world truly.

A rising mist above the sloping forms of the mountains, hugs the mountains. Yet through it, the mountains expand and rise in space. How is this different from how members of a family may see each other?  The kind of hugging that went on in my family was used against expansiveness. The hug had the feeling "I have you and you have me, and we don't need anything else."  This attitude is the very opposite of what this mighty painting teaches us. Eli Siegel taught me that through seeing my relation to things, I would be more myself. This principle is what we see in Starry Night.

Another section of Starry Night.

In another Aesthetic Realism lesson, Mr. Siegel said:: 

Every person is a center looking for an area and illimitably flexible circumference; if that area and circumference are brought to that center, that center is safe—because a person is saved when self while remaining self, as a center does, takes on this expansion in fact.

This is what we see in Van Gogh's painting. One of the most beautiful things about this painting are the stars. With all their expansive radiance they are all circular. There are 11 stars, and the center and area of each star is different; yet each consists of some warm yellow, some having more white, some less. All have, too, the blue of the sky, yellow ochre and black of earth

Section of Starry Night

Look at the star at the top of the upper left.

Star in upper left of Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

The chrome yellow center is surrounded by a yellow band then by a thinner, darker yellow band that simultaneously contains the center and enlarges. Then, as it continues to expand, its area is added to with short, white, blue, blue-green and yellow strokes until they mingle and blend with the dark blue-black sky surrounding this star. Van Gogh has painted each star as he himself and every person hopes to be: a center--as Eli Siegel explained to me—and an illimitably flexible circumference. And the lines Van Gogh painted throughout the stirring sky connect every star to everything else in the picture. Nothing is isolated; each star is distinct and also becomes what surrounds it. 

Another way Van Gogh joins things in this painting is through allowing the pale yellow canvas to show through. In this night scene, light is within and comes forth in everything--in the sky, in the cypress, in the houses, in the mountains, the trees, the mist--everywhere! The pale yellow glow is related to the intense yellow in the stars, which are so thickly painted, and seem so much on the outside. The houses with their snug, inward quality have bright yellow lights in them, like these stars. So the bright rectangles of light within the houses are like the expanding points of light in vast space. The contained and expansive are made one. 

There was no limit to Eli Siegel's desire to understand both the feeling of a human being and the world itself. In 1960, as Mr. Siegel said to me in a lesson, "The universe is not big enough to find out who you are. Everything tells you something of who you are," he was deeply commenting on what Van Gogh, one of the greatest artists of any century was hoping to find as he looked for meaning in what he called "My starry sky..." 

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

This paper by Miriam Mondlin was one of a series of Talks, Art Answers the Questions of Your Life given at the Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation in NYC. To see more articles about Art History & Criticism click here. It will take you to the Terrain Gallery website.


Aesthetic Realism:
Some Beginning Notes

Aesthetic Realism is the philosophy founded in 1941 by poet and critic Eli Siegel. He was by then already famed as a poet, for in 1925 he had won the much desired Nation magazine poetry award. Aesthetic Realism is kind and scientific — see "About Aesthetic Realism" on the Aesthetic Realism Foundation Online website, which tells you more.

In my paper on the subject of stuttering (see How My Stuttering Ended) I tell how Eli Siegel's philosophy Aesthetic Realism encourages self-expression. This large overall matter — expressing oneself and what interferes — is my theme.

Where the economy is unjust, the fullest self-expression of many, many people is interfered with. I am for a just economy and say so, with colleagues of mine, in articles reprinted here.

The Aesthetic Realism Online Library is a definitive source for publications about Aesthetic Realism.

For example, visit the online library to learn about how this philosophy, founded by Eli Siegel, explains Poetry, to read Reviews written by Mr. Siegel; reviews of his poetry and prose.—Essays on art and life; Books—including chapters from Self and World, the Williams-Siegel Documentary, James and the Children, Children's Guide to Parents and Other Matters and more.  

"The Ordinary Doom" By Eli Siegel

In studying Aesthetic Realism— the great interference in every person to expressing just who he or she is, is understood. When we don't know what keeps us from showing ourselves we have "The Ordinary Doom"


Aesthetic Realism encourages

Two of Miriam Mondlin's articles are featured in The Indian Stammering Association's quarterly newsletter, Samvad, May, 2011. The first article, which they titled "Genes and ‘Something Else," is an answer to The indian Stammering Association's request: for her "opinion on neuro-biological aspects of stammering. "Her second article is about the film "The King's Speech: An Approach to Stuttering."

The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #1751 titled "Stuttering and the Human Self" includes a 1946 lecture by the Founder of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel, and parts of my paper "How My Stuttering Ended." click here to read the understanding of the cause of stuttering and so much more

On stuttering— Read, "How My Stuttering Ended." by Miriam Mondlin

The Answer for Our Schools by Arnold Perey, Ph.D,.—about a young man who stuttered and because of what he learned in Aesthetic Realism consultations—
his stuttering diminished.

Articles in the press & media about the ideas and principles of Aesthetic Realism in relation to life, economics, love, art, youth and age and Includes WKCR-FM "The World of Art" interview of Eli Siegel.

Reports of Aesthetic Realism Lectures by Eli Siegel, by Miriam Mondlin

1) "Look, the World is Poetic!"
2) "The Rhythms: They Are There." 

"Best U.S. Short”
Avignon/New York Film Festival
"Hot Afternoons
Have Been in Montana"
Directed by
Ken Kimmelman,
Emmy award-winning filmmaker


The Economy:
Articles about this Aesthetic Realism question:
"What does a person deserve by being a person?"

"Children must not go hungry in our rich economy!
" "Women's Health Care is a Fundamental Right!"

Aesthetic Realism asks: What is real economic recovery? Do we have it now? Article by Timothy Lnch, President Teamsters Local 1205

Profit Motive of Drug Companies Damaging Seniors' Lives by Devorah Tarrow, sociologist and Aesthetic Realism consultant

See UnionsMatter!, a blog by Friends of Labor, of which I am proud to be an Administrator

On The Family:
A Father Seen Anew" by Bruce Blaustein, published in Senior News (Suffolk, New York)

On Anti-Racism:
Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism edited by Alice Bernstein

Novel based on Aesthetic Realism:
Gwe, Young Man of New Guinea by Arnold Perey

More resources...
Photography Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
Aesthetic Realism: A New Perspective for Anthropology & Sociology
Lynette Abel / Aesthetic Realism and Life
Alice Bernstein, Aesthetic Realism Associate
Ellen Reiss writes on the "criticism" of John Keats
Ellen Reiss, on poet Robert Burns
About Eli Siegel
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—
Countering the Lies

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