Barbara Buehler, NYC planner and Aesthetic Realism associate, writes about Ruth Oron’s important article “What I Learned about Kindness: Looking at a Painting by Vermeer”:
Most people would say they want to be kind, and yet too often we feel we’re not. I thought I was kind in remembering friends’ birthdays and writing thank-you notes for gifts I received, but even as I tried to be polite, I felt deeply cold and separate from people. When I began to study Aesthetic Realism, I learned this tremendous fact: kindness begins with the desire to know and be fair to another person or thing, and that is the purpose of the artist.
Reading Ruth Oron’s thrilling article had me care more deeply for Vermeer’s great painting Young Woman Standing at a Virginal. And through the article, I felt more understood, usefully criticized—and kinder, too. Ms. Oron writes:
I will describe what I learned about kindness from the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, founded by the great American poet and educator Eli Siegel. I’m writing in relation to the painting in the National Gallery, London, that we’re looking at now: Jan Vermeer’s masterpiece Young Woman Standing at a Virginal.
First, I’ll say that Aesthetic Realism is completely new in world thought, in its showing that there is a deep, inseparable relation between art and life, and that we can actually learn from the technique of art how we want to be in our lives. “All beauty is a making one of opposites,” Eli Siegel explained, “and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
I. What Is Kindness?
Like most people, I wanted to feel I was a kind person. But also like most people, I wanted to be strong. In an Aesthetic Realism consultation I had in New York City, I told my consultants that I was worried about how I went from being warm to people at one moment to being aloof and severe the next. In consultations a person’s individual life questions are understood and explained, through the principles of Aesthetic Realism. My consultants asked me to read this definition of kindness by Eli Siegel: “Kindness is that in a self which wants other things to be rightly pleased.” “What does it mean for a person to be rightly pleased?” they asked, and explained:
Kindness is not just saying: ‘Oh yes, I want to be nice to you and give you things.’ Kindness begins with whether we really want to think about another human being or an object.
They showed me a reproduction of Jan Vermeer’s Young Woman Standing at a Virginal. I thought it was beautiful. Then, they asked: “Do you think in this painting Vermeer was kind?—was he kind to the objects in the room—say, the window? Was he thinking deeply about each object and their relation to each other?” I was surprised, but I felt, Yes. >>Read more