When asked why she would leave the University of Illinois for Penn State after a successful 17-year tenure, Christine Thompson said simply, “Penn State is where art educators come from.” Now, after 12 years at Penn State, Thompson, professor of art education, is being honored with the National Art Education Association’s Lowenfeld Award, named for art education pioneer Viktor Lowenfeld, founding head of the Art Education program at Penn State.
Thompson will receive the award, which recognizes an individual who has made significant and distinguished contributions in the field of art education, on March 8 during the NAEA annual convention in Fort Worth, Texas. The majority of recipients of the Lowenfeld Award have focused their professional work on children’s art making, following Lowenfeld’s contributions to understanding how children’s artistry contributes to holistic development—creatively, aesthetically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically.
“My research and teaching, like Lowenfeld's, are concerned with understanding children's lives and the ways that art—particularly drawing—allows them to explore the meanings of their experiences,” Thompson says. “I hope that through my teaching, writing, lectures, and mentoring of graduate research I can continue his work as an advocate for art education as a powerful human capacity that deserves our respect and attention, and requires cultivation.”
Also on March 8, Thompson will give the Lowenfeld Lecture, during which she will use images from the Lowenfeld Collection housed in the Penn State University Libraries to consider the enduring legacy of his research on children's art and his pedagogical approaches as they shaped her thinking about children’s art production. “I hope to look specifically at the ways in which particular elements of Lowenfeld's theories withstand the test of time: his concept of education as dialogue, for example, and his commitment to understanding the ways in which children experience and represent their worlds are crucial to my own research and teaching.”
According to Mary Ann Stankiewicz, professor of art education at Penn State, Thompson is uniquely qualified for the Lowenfeld Award. “Her research on young children’s art making, the importance of peer influence, and kinderculture—or child culture—continues a robust focus on the child as central to art teaching and learning. In addition to her published research and international lectures, Tina maintains active investigations into children’s art learning through her leadership of the Saturday School art classes offered by Penn State’s School of Visual Arts.”
Lowenfeld was a professor at Penn State from 1946 to 1960, founding the Art Education program in 1956. The program became a model for similar departments at other universities around the country. The Lowenfeld Collection in the University Libraries includes drawings and paintings that were smuggled out of Austria when Lowenfeld emigrated to the United States, as well as handwritten drafts and images from his books, including Creative and Mental Growth, first published in 1947 and widely recognized as the most influential art education text of the twentieth century.