LS Lowry and the Sociological Imagination

This isn’t the blog post I have intended to write for ages about LS Lowry’s profoundly sociological sensibility. But it is a percursor to it because this article so succinctly describes exactly the point I’m trying to make about Lowry’s work:

What is amazing, and what confounds all efforts to cram Lowry into boxes marked “pessimism” or “nostalgia”, is that all these masses of people, delineated so simply and sparely, are electric with individual life. No two are alike. They are no more realistic, conventionally speaking, than the caricatures in a strip cartoon, yet each of them is alive. Try this as an experiment: look at the figures in these paintings with concentration for some minutes, then turn to look at actual people walking in the street. Suddenly they all look like Lowry people, each instinct with desire, goal, daydream or preoccupation.

Lowry was fascinated by scale in a peculiarly sociological sense of the term, with even the teeming crowds that populate his most famous scenes exhibiting an undeniable individuality but one framed and formed by the relational and institutional contexts which he also took such care to represent. However while he is best known for his crowd scenes, the same attentiveness to individuality and context can be seen in his other work. It would be easy to see discontinuities within these but, if we see them in terms of a range of scales through which the social can be apprehended, then a case can be made for Lowry’s sensibility as being distinctively sociological.

Categories: Rethinking The World

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