Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Daughter Is Grateful - Alice Bernstein Speaks at Congressional Auditorium

On October 21, 2009, an event took place in the Congressional Auditorium in the US Capitol Visitor Center, "The People of Clarendon County"--A Play by Ossie Davis, & the Asnwer to Racism! based on the book edited by Alice Bernstein and pubished by Third World Press. The featured guests at this gala event were House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, and Congressmen John Conyers (MI), Elijah Cummings (MD), and Jose Serrano (NY). What follows is Ms. Bernstein's bio as it appeared in the printed souvenir program:

Alice Bernstein is a journalist and Aesthetic Realism Associate whose articles and regular column, “Alice Bernstein & Friends,” appear nationwide. She is the editor and co-author of the anthology Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism (Orange Angle Press, 2004). Mrs. Bernstein was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she attended Abraham Lincoln High School, and majored in English literature at Brooklyn College. She is grateful to her parents, the late Jack and May Musicant, who were among the earliest students of Aesthetic Realism with Eli Siegel, for encouraging her desire for knowledge and her interest in people of all faiths, races, and backgrounds. Alice Bernstein had the honor to study in classes with Eli Siegel, and continues her studies in professional classes taught by Ellen Reiss at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City.
In 1963 she married noted photographer David Bernstein, and they have a daughter Rachel. Throughout their marriage, the Bernsteins have collaborated on many projects, including news stories and interviews, often illustrated with his photo­graphs, and essays on cultural and historical subjects—for example, “Photography and Feeling: The American Indian” (1968), “The Opposites Visit Old, Old Egyptian Art” (1973), “A Ceremony of Grief and Triumph: The African Burial Ground” (2000), “Bronzeville and Harlem: Photography and Justice” (2004), and “Remembering the Civil Rights Struggle in Brooklyn—and Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality” (2006).
Mrs. Bernstein began writing about Aesthetic Realism as the knowledge that can end racism in 1982 with a story against apartheid in South Africa. She is a scholar and contributing writer of many entries in African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Oxford University Press, 2008), “the largest collection of black lives ever assembled.” Her entries include the great tap dance master Dr. Jimmy Slyde and South Carolinians Rev. Joseph Armstrong DeLaine, civil rights leader in Clarendon County, and Judge Matthew J. Perry, the first black lawyer from the Deep South appointed to the federal judiciary, after whom a U.S. courthouse in Columbia, SC was named in 2004. Her research also uncovered extensive information about North Carolinian Israel B. Abbott (c.1843-1887), carpenter, editor, and state representative during Reconstruction. In 2005 Alice Bernstein began the oral history project of interviews with unsung heroes, “The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights,” which in 2009 includes over 140 men and women— black, white, Asian, Latino, and Native American— around the country, videotaped by David Bernstein. About this project, State Representative Tyrone Brooks of Georgia writes, “I am grateful for what Alice Bernstein is doing to preserve our history and bring it to the forefront so that it captures the attention of young people.” The project was awarded grants in 2007 from the Puffin Foundation and the Yip Harburg Foundation.
Photo: Alice Bernstein at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Harlem, 2008), on the occasion of the first revival of "The People of Clarendon County" by Ossie Davis, after 53 years!
To read about the event in the Congressional Auditorium,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Their Love for Literature

Jack and May Musicant had a love for literature, and I'm grateful that they encouraged this love in me. Their appreciation for the world literature was broadened, strengthened, and encouraged in the hundreds of Aesthetic Realism lectures given by Eli Siegel, which they attended for many years. I remember my mother coming home after hearing Mr. Siegel speak about Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and reading it aloud to her children and our friends. My father read us Walt Whitman's poems, and some of his journal entries as a nurse during the Civil War. There were humorous books, like Life among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson--the "savages" being her children and the predicaments they got themselves into. And, of course, there were novels, like Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and The Pirate; the plays of Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, and short stories and histories--the wealth of knowledge the world provides.
At a recent Writers' Conference in Connecticut, I had the privilege of speaking about how I came to love writing, reading, and research based on my Aesthetic Realism education. That education began in classes I was privileged to attend, taught by Eli Siegel, and classes taught today by Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism. It gave me great pleasure to speak at this conference about the influence of my parents in my passion for literature, which is so much a part of my life and thought.
Here are some links to literary criticism by Ellen Reiss and others, which I see as thrilling, and having the exactitude that makes for the deepest pleasure and respect.
Ellen Reiss writes on poet Robert Burns: "I comment on two poems of Robert Burns that are a means of asking, How should jobs and work be in this land?"
Ellen Reiss comments on eight poems by Eli Siegel. The poems are titled "The Persistence of Fabric." She writes: "They are beautiful. They have the factual immediacy of cloth one can touch—and also the mystery that can be in the feelings of people: the emotions that whirl within us, or rustle in us, even as we put on a well-fitting garment."
Aesthetic Realism Can End Racism / Writing by Ellen Reiss and others. Educator Christopher Balchin Includes links to not-to-be-missed articles and websites countering racism.
Class Conducted by Ellen Reiss. "How Should a Child Be Seen?" A Report by Barbara McClung and Lauren Phillips, elementary school teachers
Ellen Reiss on J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, & Romanticism. Commenting on Eli Siegel's lecture Aesthetic Realism and Nature Ellen Reiss tells of these opposites: the ordinariness and strangeness of reality.Ellen Reiss on "criticizing" John Keats in 1818. In her important commentary on Eli Siegel's lecture "Poetry and Keenness," Ellen Reiss describes the motive behind a notorious attack on the great poet John Keats, illuminating an anger in our time as ugly as the anger at Keats in his time.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Beauty of New York City

Jack and May Musicant were both born in New York City, Jack in Brooklyn and May (nee Schultz) in Jamaica, Queens. They each had life-long love for this city. I feel sure they would have loved the new website, "The Beauty of New York City." You can visit this website at:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Marriage Is for Liking the World

Jack and May Musicant were married on September 14, 1941, and like most couples they had the joys and turbulences of love. They were very fortunate to meet and study the education Aesthetic Realism, founded by the poet and philosopher Eli Siegel (1902-78), and to learn that the purpose of love is to use another person to honestly like the world. Here are some early photographs of my parents around the time they married--photographs showing two people liking the world. I'm very grateful to my sister Judy Rappaport for preserving these photos. In a recent visit to her home, we had a moving time looking at them and talking about them.

I am immensely happy that because my parents wanted to value what they were learning, they enabled me to learn it, too. On result is my cherished marriage of 43 years to photographer and cameraman David Bernstein.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Musicant Family

May and Jack Musicant with their daughters
(l to r) Alice, Judy and Gerri Ellen. Photo credit: Louis Dienes Posted by Hello

A Father, Carpentry, and Beauty

This article by Alice Bernstein, Aesthetic Realism Associate and journalist, appeared in her regular column, “Alice Bernstein & Friends” in many newspapers nationwide. She co-authored, “Aesthetic Realism Explains the Economy” published in The Carpenter, (Jul/Aug1992), the magazine of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners; and her story, "Union Leader Outlines Most Important Study for America,” about Timothy Lynch, president of Teamsters local 1205, appeared widely in 2002. About the present article, she adds the following:
"A love for carpentry and a passion for unions have been big things in my family. Both my grandfathers were carpenters in the early decades of the 20th century: Reuben Musicant was a stairbuilder and Aaron Schultz was a woodturner and joiner who died on a picketline in the 1930s. My father's older brother, Harry Musicant, was a carpenter and I have fond memories of watching him build window sashes in the workshop of a Brooklyn factory. The following is dedicated to them and to all who love fathers, carpentry, and beauty."

A Father, Carpentry, and Beauty by Alice Bernstein
As Father’s Day approaches, I think of my father Jack Musicant. He was one of the most fortunate people who ever lived. In 1946, when he and my mother May had been married five years and were parents of three little girls, experiencing the vexations, joys and hardships representative of many Americans, they had the good fortune to meet and begin studying Aesthetic Realism, the education founded by the great poet and critic Eli Siegel. What they learned made their lives happy, and I love them for enabling me to study this grand, kind, scientific education. “The deepest desire of every person,” Aesthetic Realism teaches, “is to like the world on an honest basis.” And the means to truly satisfying this desire is in the principle: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
Although Jack Musicant died many years ago, I learned that I still have the job of trying to know him and using him to like the world. And so I look at a question he had, which others have had, and which Aesthetic Realism explained in a way that made my father feel understood to his depths.
My Father, Jack Musicant Posted by Hello
Carpentry Puts Together Thought and ActionMy father was a carpenter, and as a girl I liked to watch him use tools to build and repair many things. I remember the excitement of seeing him draw a plumb line with a chalked string, which he plucked to make it snap, creating an exact vertical line. I also learned from him the correct use of a level – the suspense of watching the bubble move until, there! it lined up in the exact center! The exactitude made for enormous pleasure!
Jack Musicant also liked to read and kept notebooks in which he pasted newspaper articles and copied passages from books. I had no idea that even as he cared for these things – carpentry and books – he also felt they were different and didn’t seem to go together.
Shortly before he died, my father wrote an essay, “My Fifty Years as a Working Man.” I am proud to quote Jack Musicant’s description of an Aesthetic Realism lesson he was privileged to have in 1953:

Mr. Siegel explained why I felt like a different person when I was studying than when I worked with my hands. He asked: “Can you combine thought and action?” I said No.
Mr. Siegel said he knew a person who felt he could only think while sitting down. “You have a feeling that thought is taking it easy, and when you are active that is something else. You’ve made a division between the resting and active life. Were you born with this division?”
JM: No, I wasn’t.
ES: You’ve been interested in words, and then in the active. Could a person punch a punching bag and still read Voltaire? Can you clench your fist and still think of America? You thought you should be very active, so you can give yourself the right to be in yourself later. Can you see thought as athletic? As you are listening to me, you are going through a lot of action. Thought is work. Trying to understand things takes energy.”
And he asked,

“Can you pound with your fist and say, ‘concept of justice’?”

As I pounded the table and said “concept of justice,” two things came together, and I felt very happy. I learned that honest pride comes from respecting reality and myself as a oneness of opposites. Mr. Siegel was going after my being a more integrated person. I saw it was possible to be actively thoughtful and physically active at the same time. For this I am very grateful, because my life, including my working life, took on more meaning. My mind had more energy, and my work became more careful and accurate. I had a new pride.
Jack Musicant, working Posted by Hello

Thought and Hands Are OneI learned from Aesthetic Realism that my father represents the questions of all humanity. The burgeoning interest in home improvement -- with television shows, tools, and do-it-yourself stores – while very practical, also includes the hope in people to make thought and action, mind and body one. In his great essay “Art As Logic,” Eli Siegel writes:

“Thought goes on in art, and it is the very basis of art; it is art itself. It is thought that makes the hand right, and if the hand and eye help thought, why, then, hand and eye help logic: there is no reason why our bodies or senses should be seen as inevitably against logic.”

Ernest DeFilippis, Aesthetic Realism Consultant to men, has spoken and written importantly on this big subject. Recently we discussed notes of an Aesthetic Realism class early in his study when he was doing carpentry work. Like Jack Musicant, he spoke about feeling a division between wielding a hammer and studying literature, and Mr. Siegel explained to him, “Force is anything that can affect something else. It’s usually seen as physical, but there’s no such thing as body work without mind, thought. Mind is a force.” And with beautiful imagination, Mr. Siegel illustrated this by singing a popular folk song, and changing the last word:
There ain’t no hammer
On the side a this mountain
That rings like mine boys
That rings like mind!
In seminar papers and art talks at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation (, Mr. DeFilippis has spoken about the immense value of this education, including what he learned from Mr. Siegel about the aesthetics of carpentry and the15th century Italian artist, Lorenzo Ghiberti. In a thrilling talk, “Ghiberti’s Bronze Doors—or, How Can Men Make Sense of Mind and Body?” given by Mr. DeFilippis in the Terrain Gallery’s historic series “Aesthetic Realism Shows How Art Answers the Questions of Your Life,” he discussed these doors which Michelangelo said, “might fittingly stand at the Gates of Paradise.”
Quoting Ghiberti’s description of “infinite delicacies which the eye alone cannot grasp, but which only the hands can discover by feeling,” Mr. DeFilippis said that the artist saw hands as an extension of mind. He continued:

“I’m very grateful to Eli Siegel for encouraging me to study…the relation of hands and mind with more accuracy, wonder and joy. As I do carpentry work now, I have come to see there is a dialogue between my hands and mind. For example, as I am chiseling, digging a groove, making an edge or a curve, my mind has an idea, a picture of what it should be and my hand responds to it and also says what it thinks. As my finger runs along an edge it might suggest, ‘it’s got to be sharper; it doesn’t feel right this way,’ or mind will say to hand, ‘don’t make the groove too deep, go easy, keep it shallow.’ And when I stop and look, there is a feeling of wholeness because hands and mind have worked together to try to make something beautiful.”

Beauty in a Hammer and a Crowbar

Sledge Hammer and Crowbar from Hardware,
64 etchings by Steven Stankiewicz
I remember feeling wonder about the variety of tools in my father’s workshop, including a micrometer which measured the thickness of wires, some as fine as a hair; and a power saw which could cut a tree trunk with ease. I love Aesthetic Realism for encouraging me to think about the people in history who used their minds to devise the right tools for all kinds of work. Recently at the Terrain Gallery, I was stirred by Steven Stankiewicz’s bound book of 64 etchings, titled Hardware: a homage to tools: wrenches, pliers, hatchets, bolt cutters, hammers, saws, power tools, dancing calipers. The artist’s lovingly exact, sometimes mischievous rendering of these tools, had me see opposites in the world, the workman, and in myself in new ways.
There is a proud and humble sledge hammer, standing modestly, bathed in radiant light. While this simple object with its heavy head and slender handle has the power to smash matter, we feel through the delicate lines and the subtle changes of light and dark, a soul within, faintly trembling, perhaps even yearning, to be known. And there is a severe and jolly crowbar. This solid, heavy object - made of dense metals enabling it to pry loose the hardest spikes - has jaunty curves depicted by exquisite cross-hatching making its blackness velvety. Though it weighs a number of pounds, the backlighting sets it out daintily in silhouette. And little star bursts of light running along its edges, cheerfully lift up all that heavy, black weight. We respect the mind of the artist and others who came to these useful, beautiful objects.

These, then, are instances of using Jack Musicant to know and like the world, which I look forward to continuing all of my life.

Alice Bernstein is an Aesthetic Realism Associate and journalist whose articles appear nationwide.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Jack Musicant Loved Baseball

As America celebrates baseball through the World Series, I am reminded of Jack Musicant's love for the game which began, as it does for many, at a tender age. Here is Jack (center) with two of his friends in the Kendales. Raymond is on the right. I don't know the fellow on the left. One of the many things my dad loved in my mother, May Musicant, was her enthusiasm for the game.

In coming posts I'll write about what my father and others learned from Aesthetic Realism about the beauty of baseball and how it can be used to know and like all people and reality itself.

My family were fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I remember the great World Series of 1955--when the Dodgers beat the Yankees! This photograph was taken in Brooklyn in the 1920s, but the youthful energy and grace are as fresh as ever!--Alice Bernstein

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism

Orange Angle Press has published a book, Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism--Articles Published Nationwide and Abroad by Alice Bernstein and Others. To find out about this book and speaking engagements on this urgent subject in colleges, libraries and other educational venues, visit the website of the publisher:
Blog Searches
Blogwise   Blogarama   News Is Free   Blogstreet   Feedster   Globe of Blogs   Blogdex   Bloghop   Blog Universe