Lowenfeld, Viktor (1903-1960) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Lowenfeld, Viktor (1903-1960)


Viktor Lowenfeld has been described as “the most influential art educator” (Chapman, 1982, p. ix) of the twentieth century, and as doing “for the drawing of children what Piaget has done for their thinking” (Harvard Educational Review, quoted in Michael, 1982, p. xv).

Lowenfeld arrived in the United States in 1938, having fled Austria in advance of the German invasion. While still in Europe, Lowenfeld worked with children in the Vienna School for the Blind, and had contact with Franz Cizek, an Austrian artist and educator popularly considered the “Father of Child Art.” Lowenfeld lectured briefly at both Columbia and Harvard Universities before becoming a professor of psychology and founding the Art Department at Hampton Institute in Virginia. At Hampton Institute, Lowenfeld taught John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, and Samela Lewis, all of whom became distinguished African American artists. In 1946, after teaching for two summers at Penn State, Lowenfeld accepted a position at The Pennsylvania State University where he established a doctoral program in art education, which soon became the largest in the United States. Soon after his arrival at Penn State, Lowenfeld published his landmark text, Creative and Mental Growth, a work that has been translated into multiple languages and is now available in an eighth edition, revised most recently in 1987 by W. Lambert Brittain. This, and other texts by Lowenfeld, including Your Child and His Art (1954), have been translated into many languages. In 1957, the National Art Education Association named Lowenfeld Art Educator of the Year. A highly charismatic teacher, Lowenfeld’s students at Penn State went on to establish and teach in art education programs throughout the country, continuing his legacy and expanding his influence throughout the world.

The position that Lowenfeld articulated in Creative and Mental Growth maintained that children’s art experiences both reflected and supported their emotional, intellectual, physical, perceptual, social, aesthetic, and creative development. Along with others of his time, Lowenfeld believed in art as a powerful, humanizing force: “The goal of art education, in Dr. Lowenfeld’s words, is ‘not the art itself or the aesthetic product or the aesthetic experience, but rather the child who grows up more creatively and sensitively and applies his experience in the arts to whatever life situations may be applicable’” (Michael, 1982, p. xix).

Lowenfeld also described a series of six developmental stages through which all normally functioning children were thought to progress, given appropriate encouragement and opportunity. This developmental structure indicated what parents and teachers should expect of children at various ages, and provided a sense of what children were striving to achieve in their drawings as they progressed to subsequent stages. Lowenfeld recommended a method of teaching that encouraged children to develop their own ways of using materials and media, and focused on the enhancement of ideas and impressions through motivational dialogues, in which teachers asked children questions designed to activate their passive knowledge of important experiences in their lives. Frequently criticized in recent times as being too narrowly focused on self-expression, this approach to teaching was designed to heighten sensitivity to the environment and to children’s experiences within it.

Albert Einstein remarked, “In Lowenfeld’s work a fine sense of understanding, systematic spirit and unprejudiced research are combined” (Michael, 1982, p. xv). Lowenfeld died in State College, Pennsylvania, in 1960. His professional papers and collection of drawings are housed in the Archives of the Pennsylvania State University libraries. See also Piaget, Jean.

Further Readings: Lowenfeld, Viktor (1956). Creative and mental growth. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan; Michael, John A. (1982). The Lowenfeld lectures: Viktor Lowenfeld on art education and therapy. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Christine Marme Thompson