Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

The Inability to Appreciate--What Does It Come From?
From an Aesthetic Realism Seminar
Lynette Abel 

     Aesthetic Realism shows definitively that the inability to appreciate comes from contempt, the "false importance or glory from the lessening of things not [one]self."   Contempt can be very ordinary, and a common aspect of it--which I had, is snobbishness.   I didn't see the feelings of other people as valuable, as real as my own.   Instead, I unknowingly was building a life for myself of having as little feeling for other people as I could, quietly looking down on others, and getting colder and more immured within myself with every year. 

 The Fight between Snobbishness and Honest Like of the World

     Eli Siegel explains in his great essay "The Serious Aspect of Snobbery": 

    Snobbery is the unwillingness to like something, unless at the same time it makes one feel more important;...[It] is the inability or lack of desire to appreciate justly. 
     Growing up in Virginia, with my five brothers and sisters, there were things I did appreciate--like the white and pink flowering dogwood trees in our yard.   In 5th grade, I liked doing a research paper on Virginia--learning about its agriculture which included corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, apples growing in the Shenandoah Valley and oysters and crabs from the Chesapeake Bay.   I liked learning, too, that Virginia was the first of the original 13 colonies, important in the early days of American history.   But I also felt important thinking I was better than other children, more refined and well-bred.   My mother's maiden name is Wright, and for years I used thinking that I was distantly related to the Wright Brothers to feel snobbishly distinguished, until, to my chagrin, I found out much later that I really wasn't. 

     Aesthetic Realism explains that how we come to see ourselves and the world begins with how we see persons close to us--our family. My parents were both interested in the arts, and I came to feel we were more interesting and cultured than other families in our neighborhood who I saw as dull, inferior, not having the sensitivity to appreciate the finer things in life, as we did. 

     Once, our family was invited to an art exhibition of one of my parent's friends.   I snobbishly felt important because I was going, but I was not interested in the work one bit, and felt the real thrill of the day was when a photographer wanted to take a picture of my brothers and sisters and me standing in a line as if we were the Rockettes. 

     I was a snob in many ways. In high school, I saw people's worth as based on who they "knew," how they dressed, where they lived.   This contempt took a brutal form in how I saw people who lived in a very poor area we frequently drove through, called Gum Springs. Instead of being outraged that people had to live in these dilapidated homes, I was uncomfortable and would ask with irritation, why they didn't try to fix them up.   I was relieved after we got through this part of town. 

     I made no relation between this cold attitude to people and my being painfully shy and anxious around others most of the time, and throughout high school wrote often in my diary about how desperately unhappy I was. Years later, in an Aesthetic Realism class I was honored to attend, Eli Siegel explained to me: 

    The whole purpose of life is to be exact about value.   Either people want to be exact or they don't. Aesthetic Realism says if you aren't exact, you're rooking yourself. 
I learned from Aesthetic Realism that appreciation is not something we bestow--it is the same as being exact about value, "seeing [a thing] as it is." 

     At Florida State University, I thought I would become more interested in things and hoped to fall in love. When I met Tom Welsh, I was attracted by his liveliness and good-looks, but I was more concerned with making a big impression on him than in wanting to know him--what he was hoping for. In fact, I don't remember ever having asked him one question about himself. 

     During spring break, I planned a trip with Tom to visit my mother and stepfather in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I thought their home, which had been written up in House Beautiful was the height of elegance and style--and I also thought that once there, I would have Tom all to myself.   But when he came to pick me up, and I saw that he had brought one of his fraternity brothers, Lee, to come with us, I was mortified. Then when we arrived, I pointed out all the highpoints of the house and surrounding landscape and felt heady with importance.   Lee was not impressed, and said to me, "You know, just because you are associated with these things, it is of no credit to you." Ashamed and embarrassed, I felt like a big fake, and I also worried about whether I would ever be able to love anyone.

A few years later, in the first Aesthetic Realism class I attended in 1973, Eli Siegel asked me: 

      ES   Do you like your motive in love? 

      LA   No, I don't. 

      ES   What is it, to have a good effect or to have distinction? 

      LA   It's the second. 

      ES   ...Is something in you sick and tired of old motives? 

      LA   Yes. 

 And in another class, he explained: 
    "There are two desires in a person: 1) to esteem..., to glorify ourselves, and 2) to care for something else.   They have to be the same thing or else there will be trouble....Do you think your chief hurt in life comes from having two motives: justice and glorification?" 
       LA   Yes, I think so. 

       ES    Justice should always win over glorification, because glorification is a garbage can. To have the purpose of being interested in someone to glorify ourselves is hideous. Should [we] see a person to see the whole world better or to glorify [ourselves]?... 

 And Mr. Siegel recommended I be able to say "I want to respect my thoughts from now on, particularly about people."   I thank him for his good will, for encouraging me always to value the world and people truly.
See next page for Part 2 


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