Sunday, January 20, 2008

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Steve Weiner, and I live in New York City.

I am an Associate of Aesthetic Realism which is the philosophy founded by the American poet and critic, Eli Siegel. Here are its three main principles:

1. Man's deepest desire, his largest desire, is to like the world on an honest basis.

2. The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt.

3. The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.

One of the joys of my life is presenting what I have learned from Aesthetic Realism at its not-for-profit foundation in Soho, and elsewhere.

Here are some of the subjects I have spoken on: "Mind and Body: Can a Man Use Both to Be Kind?", "The Pleasures and Perils of Conceit", "What Do Fathers and Sons Really Want from Each Other?" and "What Stops a Man from Having True Love?"

I have also discussed in talks artists such as Rembrandt, Alberto Giacometti, Diego Rivera, Louise Nevelson, and Roy Lichtenstein.

For many years, I was a Computer Specialist for the New York City Department of Education, and a labor union official.

Please make sure to look at my archives for additional articles.

If you wish to contact me, my email address is


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Simplicity and Complexity: Roy Lichtenstein's “Stepping Out”

The following is an art talk I've presented at the Terrain Gallery, part of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in Soho. "Stepping Out" by Roy Lichtenstein is part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From the first time I saw Roy Lichtenstein’s 1978 painting “Stepping Out”, I was moved by how much human emotion is conveyed by the most primary of colors and simplest of forms. I believe that what the artist does in this work affirms the question about simplicity and complexity Eli Siegel asks in “Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?”

Is there a simplicity in all art, a deep naivete, an immediate self-containedness, accompanied perhaps by fresh directness or startling economy?--and is there that, so rich it cannot be summed up; something subterranean and intricate counteracting and completing simplicity, the teasing complexity of reality meditated on?

Lichtenstein definitely accents “fresh directness” and “startling economy.” This very large painting, it is seven feet high, nearly six feet wide, consists of strong, bright colors with definite lines and forms. There are essentially five colors--the primary ones--red, blue and yellow, plus black and white. They are flat and unmodulated and on their own do not give a feeling of depth or texture. And, yet, with all this simplicity, I think the complexity of love is here--the hope and pain, closeness and distance that men and women have felt for centuries.

I believe this work is a criticism of how a man has often wanted to see a woman as simple, as just a “pretty face”, without too much substance, and how a woman may accommodate herself to this unjust, contemptuous way of seeing her. All we see of the woman are features and clothes—wavy blonde hair in a barrette, one blue eye, vivid red lips and yellow scarf and coat. Where her head should be is a mirror with no reflection in it. But unlike most men, Lichtenstein uses these features to show that beneath a bright, seemingly vapid surface, there is the depth and complexity of a person. Her vertical eye is surprising and critical. Her unsmiling lips are closed, but they are dual; solid red on top, complex red dots on the bottom. And the duality, the mystery is right on top, on the surface, not hidden.

Lichtenstein is both critical of and compassionate towards the man. He shows him, with his sad Leger face and a yellow film over his eyes, as uncomprehending and far away from the woman even as he is so close to her. The man is almost presenting her as an ornament; yet she is part of him. She completes his shape but not quite. She is the same and different. But he doesn’t see her, who she is. She is on the other side of the mirror that forms her face.

In an Aesthetic Realism class, Mr. Siegel once asked me questions that I think have very much to do with one of the subject of this work: how men have made the mistake of seeing women as too superficial at one time, and too confusing at another. He asked me:

ES: Do you think women should be simple?

SW: I guess I do.

And he continued with humor:

ES: The more you know of women, the more you’ll find them baffling—so the prospects are not so good. Do you want to feel you’re the only complex person?

These questions and others I’ve heard have made for a great change in me. Where once I was shallow about women, I now see and honor their depths much more. This in turn had made my own life and emotions so much deeper and richer.

In this painting, while the man and woman seem so far away from each other—the sharp diagonal line in the middle accents this--the artist also shows their deep relation to each other in a way that has tenderness, even humor. Their lips have a similar outline but hers are red and have those dots while his are solid black and white, and the line that separates her upper and lower lip is curved; his is straight. The outline of her lower lip almost meets and has the same lovely shape as his jawline and chin. Both their faces have red Benday dots that Lichtenstein is so famous for that become more intense as their faces meet.

One of the deepest parts of this picture is the way her scarf both hugs herself and also reaches out to him, touching his striped blue tie, in a manner that is both playful and yearning, and perhaps even a little desperate. Do these two directions of her scarf stand for the fight that I learned is in every person, including centrally as to love--between wanting to love only ourselves and longing to care deeply for another person? I think so.

Lichtenstein sees deep meaning in the complexities of a situation that many people use to be cynical about love. Through my study of Aesthetic Realism, I came to see that I used the chilly distance I saw between my parents to have contempt--for them, all people, and the world itself. My scorn, my feeling that humanity was deeply messy, made it impossible for me to see people the way Lichtenstein did here--with largeness, respect and compassion. When I learned a true way of seeing the world and people, the art way, my life changed beautifully.

Once, I never would have seen that this painting, complex and yet so forthright in its composition, could be a means for me to see all people more deeply. I thank Eli Siegel for enabling me to care for both art and life and for showing the deep relation between the two.

For more information about how Aesthetic Realism sees the relation of art and life, please click on:

The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation

Aesthetic Realism Foundation

Photography Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint

Dorothy Koppelman, artist

Louis and Amy Dienes, photographers

Anne Fielding, actress

Barbara Allen, flutist

Aesthetic Realism Theater Company

Monday, December 31, 2007

More information!

There is a wealth of material about Aesthetic Realism on the Internet. Here are some websites you can visit to find out more:

The truth about some of the most ridiculous misrepresentations about Aesthetic Realism on the Internet

Aesthetic Realism: A New Perspective for Anthropology & Sociology

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method

The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company

Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism: A Biography

Photography Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint

The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation

Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, on poet Robert Burns

Ellen Reiss comments on eight poems by Eli Siegel

Ellen Reiss on J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and Romanticism

Ellen Reiss on the criticism of John Keats in 1818

Eli Siegel's 'Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?'

The Answer to Racism

Aesthetic Realism Foundation Faculty

Aesthetic Realism Online Library

Definition Press

Leila Rosen, Teacher

Rosemary Plumstead, Teacher
Rosemary Plumstead article on Emperor Penguins--Part 1
Rosemary Plumstead article on Emperor Penguins--Part 2

Lynette Abel, Aesthetic Realism and Life

Alice Bernstein, Aesthetic Realism Associate

Mike Palmer on the Questions of Men

Devorah Tarrow and Jeffrey Carduner

Nancy Huntting, Aesthetic Realism Consultant

Bennett Cooperman and Meryl Nietsch

Ruth Oron on Art and International Questions

Philippine Post Magazine: Aesthetic Realism — A Cure for Racism?

Aesthetic Realism and Our Lives

Christopher Balchin on How Can Racism End?

How Should a Child be Seen?

Aesthetic Realism Is True Christopher Balchin

Ann Richards on Teaching The Miracle Worker

How Aesthetic Realism Explains the beauty of New York City!

What is Art For? by Eli Siegel

The Greatest Gift: Authentic Criticism

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We’re Determined but Are We Right? The Criteria for Good Determination (about the life and work of Alberto Giacometti)

Awhile ago when I asked several persons in my family if they thought I was a determined child, there were no puzzled looks on their faces, no vacillation in their voices, they immediately answered “Yes!”

Aesthetic Realism makes eminently clear: there are two different kinds of determination: one that does a man’s life good because it comes from wanting to know the world, be just to people; and another determination based on contempt in which we are relentless in trying to have our own selfish way, and what others deserve from us be damned.

As a child, there were times I had good determination. In school, I was eager to learn, and if there was a subject I found difficult, like chemistry, I kept working at it.

But mostly my determination was of a different kind, and I was intense about it. I was set on being one of the favored children in school, and realized that I had a tremendous built in advantage--my older brother of three years, Fred. He was very lively and definitely a BMOC—big man on campus. “Are you Freddie Weiner’s little brother,” was frequently asked of me by teachers and older students. “Yes,” I eagerly replied, and was often made a lot of. I came to feel this special treatment was my due, and used it to dismiss all the other “ordinary” children.

However, even as I used Fred for self-importance, I also wanted to be superior to him. Having gotten better grades than he did, I rubbed this in as often as possible. But no matter what I did, Fred wasn’t going to be managed by me. That I found easier to do with my twin brother, Paul. In exchange for helping Paul with his homework, or doing his errands for our mother, I expected total submission and when I didn’t get it, I was irate. Once, when Paul refused to go to a party with me, I punched him. He said, “You always have to have your way, don’t you, Steven?”

And there was another big way I was determined. Even though my father worked very hard so that our family could live in an apartment in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn, I felt humiliated because friends of mine were better off than me, and some of them were moving to large homes in the suburbs. In a class years later, Eli Siegel asked me, “Is there anything greater in you than your desire to be bitter?” I began to see that I had a drive, a determination, to feel the world had hurt me, and therefore I had the right to despise it.

I had no idea that the way I was bent on proving that I was above everyone and everything made for my very low opinion of myself, and feeling that my life really didn’t matter too much.

Through my study of Aesthetic Realism, I have a determination today to be a kinder, deeper person, useful to others, and I’m grateful my education continues. Once in a class, Mr. Siegel encouraged me to look at where I had been unjust to my brother, Fred. I wrote about specific ways I’d been mean, and showed what I wrote to Fred, and he felt I was trying to be honest. I’m very glad to say that with each year there is more friendliness and respect between us.

I. Right and Wrong Determination in a Noted 20th Century Artist

I now discuss some aspects of the life and work of Alberto Giacometti, one of the few artists eminent in three media—drawing:


and most famously for his sculptures of tall, thin, anonymous women and men:

In his art, he had as beautiful a determination as any: the critic Charles Juliet called it a “quest to understand art, man, and life.”

Born in Switzerland in 1901, Alberto was the son of Giovanni and Annetta Giacometti. His brother Diego to whom he was close for his entire life arrived a year later.

In Self and World, Eli Siegel has sentences that while deeply philosophic have so much to do with how Giacometti and many men have been rightly and wrongly determined. He writes:

“A person is separate from all other things and together with all other things…All art puts separateness and togetherness together. All selves want to do this.

[And he continues:] So the problem that faces a self is how to make its separateness at one with its togetherness. This is the problem which is underneath all others. It can make for agony and it can make for triumph.”

In his fine biography of the artist, James Lord tells of the drama in the young Alberto of wanting to be “together” with other things but also “separate.” Early, it seems he preferred objects like stones and trees to people, and a nearby cave to his own home. Lord writes: “From the first, Alberto was made aware of a distance between himself and the rest of the world.”

And in his reveries, Alberto often traveled to Siberia. Of this land, he said: “There I saw myself on a vast plain covered with gray snow: there was never any sun and it was always cold.” I, too, as a child had dreams of being enveloped by snow. When I spoke of them in a class, Mr. Siegel asked me: “Do you have a tendency to vanish? “I think I do,” I answered, remembering how from a young age I was intent to be off by myself. Mr. Siegel continued: “Do you think it shows an attitude to the world?” It did in me, and I think in Giacometti too. Throughout his life, even as he had to do with many people, including the renowned artists and thinkers of his day, his determination to “vanish” made for a pervasive loneliness.

Meanwhile, his biographer also describes how Alberto wanted to be “together” with things, which showed in his care for art. He showed an aptitude for sculpture early on that was encouraged by his father, himself a well-known artist. By his teens, he was sculpting his family. This is a work he did when he was just thirteen of his younger brother, Bruno:

Giacometti said, “I began doing sculpture because that was precisely the realm I understood least. I couldn’t endure having it elude me completely. I had no choice.” This is a beautiful resolve that every man can learn from. Too often, men have associated determination with arrogantly imposing our will on others; not by being deeply affected by something big in the world, and feeling we have to be fair to it. Here is a self-portrait at age 20, showing his intense desire to see:

II. A Determination for More Seeing

As a young man, Alberto moved to Paris. At first, he took up cubism, and then surrealism. These are some of his works from that time, and I think many of them have a deep charm:

Giacometti was praised a good deal for these works, and he could have rested. But he had a determination to go deeper, get to something greater—he wanted to produce sculpture that would embrace, what he called, “the totality of life.”

For the next ten years, Giacometti worked in relative obscurity. Then something profound happened to him one day. As he walked down a Paris boulevard, he experienced a “complete transformation of reality.” He said:

“I began to see (the forms of people in the space that surrounds them (and) I trembled…as never before.”

I think what he saw is about the philosophic concept that a person exists in all of space. This idea engrossed Giacometti, and in trying to show it visually, he came to magnitude as sculptor. As we look at these works, we can see Giacometti’s insistence on showing humanity at its most elemental, not decorated or covered up.

At a certain point, pedestals became more important in his work:

Part of the great power of his works is their colors, indentations, and patinas. James Lord writes: “Rough, rippling, gouged, granular, the texture of his sculptures has a glimmering animation all its own.” This is so evident in details from two of the above works:

Pablo Picasso said Giacometti brought a “completely new essence” to sculpture, and I think we can see that in “The Chariot” of 1950:

Here, a woman, shorn of all accoutrements, stands gracefully atop a pedestal supported by two very large wheels. The weightiness of the chariot is counteracted by the etherealness of her elongated torso and legs; the diagonal spokes are related to her asymmetrical open arms. And she seems to looking out at all space.

Aesthetic Realism explains that the biggest hope of a woman is to be in a beautiful relation with all of reality. But hurtfully, many men have been determined to lessen women and see them in terms of narrow comfort. This woman, in all her delicacy, is resolute that she be seen in her largeness and depth, even abstraction. I believe this work is a visual representation of what Mr. Siegel describes so deeply about the nature of femininity, as reality has determined it to be, in his essay “A Woman is the Oneness of Aesthetic Opposites.” He writes about “Form: Body”:

“Meaning, form, ethics, mind, spirit, value are all in woman as much as they are anywhere in the universe…But body is begun with, is claspingly, pressingly honored because in the possibilities of body, meaning lodges, ready often to go the limits of the world.”

“The Chariot” is a beautiful composition of a feminine “mind” and “body”, and the “limits of the world.”

III. Determination, the Family, and Love

The art of Giacometti came, I’ve learned, from what all art does: an impulsion to see the world and people deeply and justly. But too often, with the people we know, we’re determined very differently: to own. This was so of Giacometti, and it made for much agony in him and the persons to whom he was close.

For instance, there was a lot of feeling between Alberto and his brother Diego, and some kindness. At a low point in Diego’s life, Alberto asked him to assist in his studio. There, Diego became indispensable, including applying the patinated touches to the works that made for such a vital part of their beauty. But Alberto got very angry when Diego did not do just as he was ordered. What hurt Diego most of all was Alberto’s refusal to ever publicly acknowledge his contributions. Meanwhile, as artist, Alberto said: “Diego has posed for me ten thousand times; but each time he poses, I no longer recognize him.” These are two of his works of Diego:

There is a good separation here, an objectivity, for the purpose of being more deeply of, inside a person.

And then there was his mother, Annetta, who favored Alberto over her other children. James Lord said that from them, she expected “unconditional devotion” and Alberto was very willing to comply. Though he had to do with many women, from the time he was a young man, he found it difficult to have a sustained feeling for one particular woman. Instead, he had casual relationships with many women—he called them his “shadows”—with whom he would “vanish” into the night.

In his mid-forties, he met Annette Arm and was taken by her liveliness and youth--she was twenty years old--and her veneration of him. They wed a few years later. But as a husband, Alberto was, as James Lord writes, enormously “at fault.” For example, while he gave money away very freely to others, with his wife he was parsimonious; and he often belittled her in public. Meanest of all, he obstinately continued his life with other women. As his wife became increasingly distraught and enraged, he referred to her sarcastically as “The Sound and the Fury.” In a class years ago when I was angry with a woman who was not submissive enough to me as I saw it, Ellen Reiss asked me: “Would you rather have love that is not tremendous but where you are the master? Would you rather have tyranny than love?” I had and it made me mean and unhappy.

Though his biographer said that Alberto shed real tears about his marriage, and repeated often that he had destroyed his wife, he never changed. But the art in him demanded that he be fair, and so he was impelled to draw, paint, and sculpt his mother and his wife over and over again. In “The Artist’s Mother, 1950,” Mrs. Giacometti is seen as part of the large abstraction of the world, made up of horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and circular lines. Seated in an upright chair, she is framed by a doorway and beyond that a void.

And this is the deeply moving sculpture of his wife, “Annette VIII”:

As Giacometti shows her looking out, we get the sense of a particular person, even as she has such wonder and mystery.

Through Aesthetic Realism, men can learn how to have a beautiful determination as to a woman. Miss Reiss explained what this would mean when she asked me in a class:

“Do you see trying to [know a woman] forever as thrilling? “So the chase takes up one’s life, that’s all” is a line from a poem by Robert Browning. Do you think there’s something you’re after that can take up your whole life?”

Yes, and this intention to try to understand what a woman feels, I’m seeing more clearly each day, makes me prouder and kinder.

IV. Art: The Oneness of Separateness and Togetherness

Many critics of Giacometti’s day said his work represented man’s separation, his alienation and anxiety in an insecure, cold universe, brought on by the desolation and destruction that ravaged Europe during World War II. But the Giacometti protested, saying: “I have no intention of being an artist of solitude. Moreover, I believe that all life consists of a fabric of relations with others.”

We can see this “fabric of relation” in his “City Square.”

Giacometti was very taken by pedestrians on Parisian streets, and here, on a platform, four men coming from different directions pass by a stationary woman. While we can insist on our distinction as we walk by other people, Giacometti shows these persons’ “togetherness”: they are part of a larger composition, even a choreography. Still, these figures, just about eight inches tall, are subtly different from each other but all have a lovely grace. Should we be determined to see people this way, with dignity and depth, and like us?

Here is one of Giacometti’s works that moves me most: “Walking Man, 1960.”

As we hear Mr. Siegel’s words from Self and World, we can ask: does this being stand for me?

“All of us, in a way, are separate from the world. We seem to end with our bodies. And yet we can look out. Everything is around us, indefinitely close, indefinitely inescapable, becoming ourselves. This means we are not only separate, we are together.”

See the strong diagonal line that is formed by his back leg and torso. It separates but also impels up, out, and energetically forward.

Look at the lift in his foot even as it merges with, becomes the pedestal beneath it.

Then there is the relation of matter and space, and they are “indefinitely close, indefinitely inescapable.” This is the lovely triangle formed by his legs and the base:

And here is the vibrant, pulsating space between his arm and midsection:

With a gleam in his eye, and a light shining on his forehead:

this man is alert, keenly affected by what is around him. Like him, does the “totality,” the completeness of our lives depend on how determined we are to be “together” with reality, see it truly and deeply, and have it become us? Art shows that the answer is yes!

It is a very large tribute to Alberto Giacometti that what he was determined to understand was so vast, he never felt he succeeded. Towards the end of his life, he said:

“I see my sculptures before me: each one…a fragment, each one a failure. But there is in each a little of what I would like to create some day…That gives me a longing, an irresistible longing to pursue my efforts—and perhaps in the end I will attain my goal.”

Our greatest “goal”, our greatest determination is to like the whole world on an honest basis. And it is the large good fortune of our time that Aesthetic Realism can teach us how to do so!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Man's Imagination: What Kind is Good? (about the Life and Art of Diego Rivera)

“What is imagination?,” asked Eli Siegel in a lecture of 1952, and he explained:

"One of the answers to that question is: imagination is that which changes the world in order to see better what it is. The other is what changes the world in order to make us better able to live without it; that is bad imagination."

I’ve learned that our imagination is working well when we use it to think about the world and people deeply and fairly. But there is that in every man that can use his imagination badly--to alter the world into something smaller and uglier, a world he
has the right to feel superior to and have contempt for. This contempt hurts a man’s life very much.

I. Two Ways of Seeing the World

Early, one of the things I most liked to do was read stories about children in other times and lands. As I imagined what a boy felt growing up at the time of Alexander the Great, or during the Revolutionary War, I had a sense of wonder about people and a world different from the one I was accustomed to.

But I also spent a lot of time using my imagination to collect hurts and grievances. Writes Mr. Siegel in Self and World:

"One of the earliest and most frequent things that can happen to a human mind is to see the world as inimical."

The person I used most to feel the world was against me was my father, Sam Weiner. It never occurred to me to think about his life, for example, as a teenager growing up during the Depression, or as a WW II soldier, or as a husband and father who worked very hard to support his family. Instead, in my mind I turned him into a tyrant whose chief purpose was to make me suffer, and deny me all the things I spent much time dwelling on that I didn’t have--a home in the suburbs, fancy vacations, expensive summer camps. This mean and cold way of seeing my father hurt him and had me dislike myself very much.

Aggrandizing myself was another frequent way I used my imagination. I envisioned the ecstatic reviews for the autobiographical play which I would one day author, and, of course, star in, reviews that said things such as—“a masterpiece of self-perception.” And I’d imagine the many awards that would be bestowed upon me. The high point of the play would be a dramatic monologue on a darkened stage with a spotlight on me. You may be asking what I said in it, but since I never actually wrote any words to my play, I can’t tell you.

I used both getting hurt and puffing myself up to feel I would be “better able to live without” the world and people. By the time I was eighteen, I had few close friends; and a recurrent dream was my being alone in a cabin in the Catskills enveloped by snow.

In his lecture, Mr. Siegel explains:

"The first thing we need in imagination is to get away from what we are for the moment and see adequately what we are not."

To “see adequately what we are not” is to put our egos aside and use our selves to have a strengthening effect on other people. This is good will, and I didn’t have it. It was nearly impossible because of my large self-absorption, my feeling, as it is put today, that “everything was about me.” For instance, in an early consultation, I was asked: “Do you resent the pain of other people?” “That I cause it?” I asked. “No, that they have it.” “That they have it?” I repeated. And I saw that I actually did resent it.

As I will tell of, I’m glad to say that my ability to think deeply and imaginatively about people has increased a good deal through my study of Aesthetic Realism.

2. “Dreaming With His Eyes Open”

I tell of now about some aspects of the very rich life and work of the Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

In Self and World, Mr. Siegel wrote:

"We all of us have pictures of the world in our minds—and these pictures are of imagination; the beauty and rightness of these pictures depend on how much we can see the world as what it is."

Because of the way, as artist, Rivera used his imagination to see the world as “what it is”—as a relation of good and evil, wonder and ordinariness, human feeling and abstract shapes, many of his works have a large “beauty” and “rightness” which make him one of the important artists of the past century.

Diego Maria Rivera was born, along with a twin brother, in 1886 in a small town in central Mexico. His heritage was amazing; that is, he was of Mexican, Spanish, Indian, African, Italian, Jewish, Russian, and Portuguese descent.

Before the age of two, his brother who was sickly from birth, died, and his mother had a nervous breakdown. After this, it seems she turned her affections to Diego in a way he found stifling. He had the question every child has, and this is a question about imagination, how much did he want to think about what his mother felt? From what his biographer tells of in "Dreaming With His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera", it seems not so much. Patrick Marnam writes:

"[In all his years] Diego almost never mentioned his mother except in belittling or dismissive terms."

It can be asked: Did the scornful way Diego saw his maternal parent affect badly how he would come to see all women? Marnam indicates that this was so. He says:

"Rivera’s emotional elusiveness [from his mother] was to become a distinguishing feature of his adult life."

But imagination also worked in a very different way in the young Diego. He writes in his autobiography "My Art, My Life":

"As far back as I can remember, I was drawing. Almost as soon as my fat baby fingers could grasp a pencil, I was marking up walls, doors, and furniture. To avoid mutilation of his entire house, my father set aside a special room where I was allowed to write on anything I wanted. Here I made my earliest 'murals'.”

By the age of nine, he was very adept at sketching; two years later, he was attending art school full-time. Here is a very deep and thoughtful portrait of a woman he did at the age of twelve:

In 1907, he left Mexico to study in Europe, and spent much time in Paris. There, the great Picasso befriended him and saw value in his work. For awhile, Rivera became a Cubist and gained some notice. This is his most famous work of that time, “Zapatista Landscape”:

And here is a portrait he did of himself at age twenty.

As Diego Rivera traveled about Europe, he became aware of poverty in a way he hadn’t been before—how people had to sleep under bridges, and scavenge for food. What he saw was to have a profound effect on his future as artist. He said of himself at that time:

"I now had a vision of my vocation—to produce true and complete pictures of the life of the toiling masses."

But it was not until he traveled to Italy to see the frescos of Giotto, did he find the technique he wanted to work in.

After spending many years in Europe, he felt he needed to return to his homeland. When he did, something very deep happened to him inspiring his artistic imagination. He wrote:

"In everything I saw a potential masterpiece—the crowds, the markets, the festivals, the workingmen in the shops and the fields—in every glowing face, in every luminous child. All was revealed to me. I had the conviction that if I lived a hundred lives I could not exhaust even a fraction of this store of buoyant beauty."

3. The Murals of Rivera: Warmth and Abstraction

Soon, Rivera began to receive commissions to create murals for buildings in Mexico. One of his greatest works was for the Ministry of Education in Mexico City which consisted of 128 individual panels on three floors covering a total of 17,000 feet that took him over four years to complete. Here is one section of the building:

And here are three of his panels:

He himself said of them: “Each fresco was individual and separate in itself, yet all were interrelated.” He used his imagination to show human beings who had been subjected to such poverty and neglect, who had been horribly misused—as having grandeur and nobility.

In a lecture, Mr. Siegel said:

"To see what many people feel is already a job of imagination which most people have given themselves the privilege of not doing."

This kind of imagination is what Diego Rivera was going after in his murals, including this one entitled “Entering the Mine.”

Here, miners descend into what was called the “mouth of hell.” Rivera gives these “toiling masses” dignity, even religious meaning: with their shovels and wooden beams, they have a relation to Christ on the cross; their sombreros are similar to the halos of Giotto.

I think a central pair of opposites in Diego Rivera's murals is personal and impersonal. Eli Siegel asks about them in “Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?”:

"Does every instance of art and beauty contain something which stands for the meaning of all that is, all that is true in an outside way, reality just so?—and does every instance of art and beauty also contain something which stands for the individual mind, a self which has been moved, a person seeing as original person?"

In customary life—and I know this from personal experience—a man can not want to see large “meaning”, or be “moved” by the reality of another persons. This makes us mean, and robs us of emotions we’re desperately hoping to have.

In "Entering the Mine", there is much humanity and pain, but there is also the abstract forms and directions of “reality just so”: the miners and their tools form an oval shape. Look at the man in the bottom center surrounded by darkness. His isolation is interrupted by the lit lamp, and he is joined to the other men by the diagonal lines of their tools. The plank he is holding is a continuation to the arch above. These arches, along with the upward thrusts of the tools, counteract the downward motion of the work. The self of Rivera was “moved” by the plight of these miners, and we in turn are “moved” also—and educated.

These are some other murals that I see as very good because of how powerfully they put together impersonal and personal, human feeling and abstraction: “The Burning of the Judases”:

Here is the “Festival of the Distribution of the Land.” Look at how Rivera had people sitting (and one child standing) above the door. That took wonderful imagination!

And these two are of the Mexican revolutionary hero, Zapata, and both are very fine.

However, in some murals there is a crowdedness of figures that I think hurts the composition. Take for instance, “Friday of Sorrows”:

I think the “Day of the Dead is a mingling: the skeletons on top are very lively but again the bottom of the work is too busy.

Rivera loved the earth and people of Mexico, and saw them as deeply of each other. He said: “The land belongs to everyone like the air, the water, the light, and the heat of the sun.” And he hated how the conquistadors with their desire for profit at all costs, made for a horrible sundering, enslaving millions of Mexicans for the enrichment of a few.

We can see his feeling in this beautiful mural: “Crossing the Barranca” in which Spanish conquerors drive Indians, some of them already slain, across a deep gully.

Intertwined with branches, many of them in brightly colored clothing are hanging onto the branches for dear life, lest they fall into that abyss.

At the bottom is a very surprising being: part-human, part-animal, and it is wailing in protest at this horrible scene.

All this is surrounded by a blue sky, mountains, and lush green foliage. We feel the richness and vacancy of reality, its “buoyant beauty” and confusion, the separation and togetherness of men and nature.

4. Rivera and Women: Too Much Imagination, and Too Little

In his definition of kindness, Mr. Siegel explains: “To be kind, we must have the imagination arising from the knowledge of feelings had by others.” In his murals, Rivera was kind as he thought about the effect hundreds of years of imperialism had on thousands of his fellow countrymen.

But this kind imagination was much lacking in him in his relations to women. He was married four times and had many to do with many women, including with photographer Tina Modotti, and actresses Dolores Del Rio and Paulette Goddard.

The woman who affected him most was his third wife, Frida Kahlo. Their 25-year relationship was a complex and agonizing mingling of respect and contempt, dependence and defiance, and as his biographer writes, “idolization and neglect.”

They met when she was just fifteen, and Rivera, 36. A few years later, Frida was badly injured in a bus crash, became bedridden, and then took up painting. One day, she went to him and spoke in a way that I’m sure made for respect in Rivera. Asking him to look at her work, she said: “I have not come to you looking for compliments. I want the criticism of a serious man.” This, along with her pride in her Mexican heritage, her passion about the inequities in her land, and her vivacity, affected him very much. He said of Frida: “Her sparkling presence filled me with a wonderful joy.” After a brief courtship, they wed. Here is a photo of them at a May Day parade in 1929:

But there was something in Rivera that was against having a large, sweeping, respectful emotion about a woman. In a class, when I spoke coolly about a woman I respected and who had deeply affected me, Ellen Reiss asked me: “Do you think you now want to show that she’s not so necessary to you, and that you can take or leave her?” I saw that this was my purpose.

This ugly use of imagination became Rivera’s attitude to Frida; it took a very mean form. Just after a year of marriage, Rivera began having affairs, including with some of Frida’s closest friends. Meanwhile, Rivera despised himself for this. He wrote: “And what sort of man was I? I had never had any morals at all and had lived only for pleasure where I found it. I was not good.”

Every man needs to ask: Do I use my imagination to try to be fair, or for some other purpose? Some time ago, I met a woman and very quickly felt she “fit the bill” and I began to make my “plans”: forming the guest list for our wedding, and looking for a new apartment--even though we had gone on just one date. When I told of this in a class, Miss Reiss said to me:

There has to be a large enough desire to know a person before deciding if she “fits the bill.” Otherwise, we are looking for someone to fulfill a function of ours. If we have to do with a person and are not interested in knowing them, what are we interested in?

I saw that I was using a woman for self-love, and no woman wants to be used this way. What a woman is most hoping for from a man, and what I’m asking for from myself, is to use my thought, my imagination, to try to understand. Becoming increasingly clear about this has made for a new happiness and confidence in me.

At his kindest, Diego Rivera encouraged Frida Kahlo in her art, and was pleased when she received recognition. But I also think he had contempt for Frida’s idolization of him. “You are my life itself,” she wrote to him, “and nothing and no one can change this.” At a time a woman acted as if she needed me very much, Mr. Siegel asked me “Do you have a kind of power over her that is detestable?” I did, and I think that the callous way Rivera treated his wife shows that he did too. Marnam writes how he was “possessive” and “overbearing” at one time, and then so neglectful even as she was in great physical pain from her earlier accident. Writing critically of himself, Rivera said:

"If I loved a woman, the more I loved her, the more I wanted to hurt her. Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait."

I think the unjust way Rivera used his imagination as to women hurt his imagination as artist. His depictions of women are various, but some are clearly not good. Take for example, this one in which a woman is made to look smooth and cold, not as having the true depth and richness of reality in her.

None I have seen is as deep or as moving as the one he did when he was twelve.

I end with a work that has a relation of the "toiling masses" and "buoyant beauty" that I care very much--“The Flower Carrier”:

In this somber but lush work, an Indian wearing a yellow hat that partially hides his face is kneeling on the ground, weighed down by a large basket of flowers, and holding himself up with his columnar-like arms. An abstract yellow band of cloth connects his heart to her heart. She is gentle and strong as she uses her body to try to ease some of his burden. I believe the largeness of the figures on the canvas is a criticism of the small, insignificant way people such as these were seen. And the irony is that because of the economic exploitation of the land and people of Mexico, these lovely and delicate flowers that stand for a kind earth have been turned into a source of pain and oppression.

The life of Diego Rivera—his fineness as artist, his unkindness as a man and a husband—is evidence for the crucial difference between good and bad imagination. It is the difference that Aesthetic Realism is teaching me and can teach every man to recognize so he can make a proud, wise choice for his life., Search Engine Submission and SEO