Self-determined Lowry

Dr Aspasia E. Paltoglou takes a self-determination theory perspective on the film 'Mrs Lowry and Son'.

This poignant movie, with excellent cast, describes L.S. Lowry’s creative journey in relation to the difficult relationship with his controlling mother. I learned to love Lowry at my parents’ house; my mother had brought a couple of reproductions of Lowry’s paintings from her study days in the UK, including my favourite, ‘An Organ Grinder’. 

Looking through my Self-Determination-Theory (SDT) goggles, it looks like Lowry had very strong intrinsic motivation to paint. Intrinsic motivation is thought to have very positive creative and health outcomes. Furthermore, Lowry seemed to have strong 'relatedness' to the people he painted: working class people, going to work at the smoky factories, living difficult lives under the cloudy sky. It was particularly moving when he described his encounter and the connection he felt with a bearded lady on the bus. 

The struggle between his strong internal need to express himself and his desperate need for maternal approval was vividly illustrated when he nearly burned his paintings in the garden during a row with his mother, who disapproved of his paintings. SDT predicts that an environment that is not supportive of autonomy and relatedness is not conducive to a healthy and creative life. Thankfully, his intrinsic motivation to paint was very strong – plus he did not want to smoke the washing in the next door garden!  

I was intrigued to learn recently that the painting ‘An Organ Grinder’, depicts Hulme, where I work. As I walk to work in a very busy campus in this surprisingly sunny day, I wonder what Lowry would make of the Manchester Metropolitan University’s First Generation scheme. The scheme aims to help students be the first in their families to go to university, and thus encourages social mobility. I hope he would approve and cheer the students on as they embark on their own creative journeys.

- Dr Aspasia E. Paltoglou is a Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The film is available on digital from 20 December.

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