On Art and Aesthetics

On art and aesthetics: Tim Lowly

This new monthly series in collaboration with the blog OnArtandAesthetics.com features talented painters, sculptors, photographers, etc., who offer new perspectives on important cultural, social, philosophical and spiritual issues. 

Tulika Bahadur, the founder of OnArtandAesthetics.com, introduces the work and themes of artist Tim Lowly and provides an extract from the interview she conducted with him. For the full interview, click on the link at the bottom of the page.

The work of Chicago-based artist and academic Tim Lowly (born 1958) revolves around his differently-abled daughter Temma (born 1985), who has cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia. In Tim’s paintings, Temma’s quiet life is realistically and gracefully recorded and celebrated. Seemingly meaningless earthly suffering is unflinchingly faced, engaged with, and finally transcended.

One particularly engaging artwork is ‘Culture of Adoration’ [below], which Tim created for a gallery in Los Angeles. It presents Temma in an important position, as a subject of enquiry before a roomful of creative people.

The artist explains: “Los Angeles is a place that one might think of as the centre of our culture’s adorations (of beauty, celebrity, fame…). Thinking of the art historical precedent of paintings of the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ I was struck by how in those paintings the (often many) people were formed into a kind of community by their common act of adoration of the baby Jesus.  

“Further I was interested in how a drawing class turns its corporate attention – a kind of adoration – to a model and in a sense by that shared act the class becomes a kind of community. 

“Then I was thinking of the radically disorienting experience one has of observing and drawing someone like Temma. In her being she presents a rather jolting revision of what a ‘model’ is. She doesn’t pose or make any attempt to present an idealised self. She simply is.”

Tim lovingly calls his daughter ‘a great and utterly innocent mystery’.

‘Culture of Adoration’ by Tim Lowly. Courtesy of OnArtandAesthetics.com.
Read an extract from the interview with Tim Lowly…

Tulika: In a 2002 write-up in the Chicago Reader, you have mentioned:

Part of my fairly political agenda is to say that disabled children are a part of life. These are not freaks. What I’m saying is that we should advocate for eyes of compassion that see human beings as human beings, rather than separating them into the beautiful, the ugly, the normal, the freak.

Tulika: Why do you think there is such a stark distinction between ‘the normal and the freak’, ‘the beautiful and the ugly’ in our contemporary world? I think that social Darwinism and a free market built strictly on competition have something to do with it. It’s only the able-bodied and mentally agile who can survive and master this environment. 

The emphasis is forever on fitness and functionality. Anyone who cannot belong to the economic sphere is instantly and automatically deemed unnecessary for the human sphere itself. A human is one who must produce and sell a good or service. Anybody who cannot fulfil that function easily becomes the other, the inessential, a drain on resources, a liability. This logic is pervasive. It may sound fine initially but after a while can get pretty disturbing. I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter…

Tim: Economic ‘productiveness’ is a major consideration, but it seems to be natural for humans who are in positions of power to define and to privilege the ‘normal’.  One thing about ‘disability’ is that there is no ‘normal’: that is, ‘the disabled’ are a group of people who are by definition (as defined by those who consider themselves the normal) not normal, but they (‘the disabled’) are otherwise as different from each other as they are from ‘normal’ people. 

We (my wife and I) as ‘white’ middle-class highly educated individuals occupy a place of privilege in a society that is generally affluent. Those factors have contributed to our having the material, emotional and vocational ability to have Temma continue to live with us. We are grateful that it is possible for her to live with us and for the way she anchors our lives. I’m inclined to think that those who have bought into the kind of worldview you describe have  -ironically – made for themselves an impoverished home (spiritually speaking).

Click here to read the full interview.


Enjoy this article? Click here to take a read of this recent article in which Lisa Fraser interviews James Earley, whose portraits of people living on the edge of society are making waves.


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Tulika Bahadur obtained an interdisciplinary MA in art history, philosophy, literature and religious studies from King’s College London. She is the founder of the platform OnArtandAesthetics.com that celebrates artistic talent from all over the world. She is developing a consultancy around the blog which includes content production for the creative sector, the organisation of art- and culture-related events and tours, and art dealing for residential and corporate use. Tulika was born in central India and has lived in the United Kingdom, Thailand, Canada and Australia. Her company is based in Sydney.

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