Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

"Presence and Absence: A Consideration
of the Arts and Sciences,"
part 2
Report of an Aesthetic Realism class
by Lynette Abel

Commented Mr. Siegel "The camel is presented as if God or evolution were just working to have certain areas of Asia inhabited. If the camel were absent other things wouldn't be present.” I was affected to hear about the camel and to see how the opposites of presence and absence are in his very structure and show his value. Of Volney's writing here, he explained: 

"The description of the camel is careful enough and emotional enough to be a dual presentation of art and science. Volney is a mixture of scientific explorer and letting emotion go as much as emotion can go."
Next, Mr. Siegel read from a book he had used in Elementary School published in 1909 by Ginn & Co., and part of a series which he said are the most famous textbooks of their kind in America: Wentworth's Complete Arithmetic. He said, "It was this very book. Arithmetic that you didn't write down I just loved. " Ms. Reiss commented later in the class, "One got a sense of Mr. Siegel himself, developing, as he was in the midst of Elementary school, this beautiful way of seeing the world which made for Aesthetic Realism.  He wanted to like the world.” 

Commenting first on an illustration of a girl and a boy with a string across a pit, he said, "There is a quality of things present and absent." And under the heading "Rectangular Solids" he read this: 

"These children are measuring an excavation, and find it to be 6 ft. 2 in. wide, 8 ft. 4 in. long, and 4 ft. 3 in. deep. Assuming it to be practically rectangular, how many cubic feet of earth have been removed?"
Said Mr. Siegel "You get the feeling cubic feet are present and absent. All mathematics," he continued "is a study in presence and absence." And he showed that these opposites are in reality as such: “A pore, a hole, a pocket, a vacancy is a oneness of presence and Absence.” 

Then Mr. Siegel went on to more complicated problems. He said, "I know I loved some of these questions years ago. This is one of them": 

"If the greatest known depth of the Atlantic Ocean is 27,366 feet, and Mt. Washington is 6,279 feet high, how high does Mt. Washington stand above the bottom of the Atlantic at its greatest known depth?"
Mr. Siegel went through the calculations saying, "You add 27,366 to 6,279. It is 33,645 feet above the bottom of the Atlantic. The idea of a mountain and the bottom of an ocean is already taking." 

Under the chapter heading "Common Fractions," Mr. Siegel read a problem, which he said "gives one a scientific sensation and also an aesthetic, sensation." And he added, "I must say, I worked it out.” 

"A boy lost 1/4 of his kite string in a tree, 1/3 in some wires, and 1/5 in a hedge. What part of the string was left?"
"Here the common denominator has to be 60" Mr. Siegel explained. "There would be 47/60ths lost, 13/60ths left. To feel 13/60ths of some string has been saved—it is exact and also right in the midst of reality." 

What Mr. Siegel said next, points to the understanding of self he came to through his seeing that the structure of all reality is an aesthetic oneness of opposites. “I asked in lessons,” he commented, "what is the common denominator with people. What do people who are different have in common?" And in a discussion, which followed this talk, an elementary school teacher said that through what she has learned from Aesthetic Realism she is able when teaching math to her class, comprised of students who are Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and white, to show how "Equivalent fractions" are both the same and different as people are. For instance: "2/4ths, 1/2 and 8/16ths all look different but they have the same value. I’ve asked “Does that show that the persons sitting next to you, though they may look different, may be more like you, have more in common with you than you may see at first?" 

In the Wentworth there is a definition of a circle. "We have the definitions of what can happen to space," Mr. Siegel said. And he read this: "A plane figure bounded by a curved line all points of which are equally distant from a point within is called a circle." "You get a sense that the world makes sense at last. Things have happened but that center from which all points in the circumference are equally distant will always be the same. People don't answer letters, there could be fires--it is the same." Mr. Siegel used so many more examples of problems about pickles and olives and firkins of butter and rolls of matting, all having within them scientific principles while also making for new and surprising emotion about the world. He said, "Whatever can cause emotion is very close to art." 

About the last example I'll read, Mr. Siegel said "This... problem is one of the most beautiful I can think of—it makes you concentrate exactly and makes you see reality in such a way.” Under the chapter heading "Problems of the Farm" he read: 

"Taking the annual rainfall of Indiana as 41.5 in., what will be the weight of water that will fall on 1 sq. ft. of land per year? on 1 sq. rd.? on 1 Acre?"
"The idea of rain falling in Indiana on a sq. ft. for a whole year is exceedingly engaging," Mr. Siegel noted. And he continued, “It is well to feel we're thinking of possibilities of quantity, possibilities of life, and at the same time we are thinking of beauty.”

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  by Lynette Abel
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