Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Viktor Lowenfeld: Portrait of a Young Art Teacher in Vienna in the 1930s

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Viktor Lowenfeld: Portrait of a Young Art Teacher in Vienna in the 1930s

Article excerpt

Born in Linz, Austria, Viktor Lowenf eld (1903-1960) gained early fame in Vienna where, as a young art teacher, he began documenting the sculpture activities of visually impaired and blind students he visited and later instructed on weekends and some evenings (Saunders, 1960, p. 9) at the Hohe Warte Institute for the Blind (The Hebrew Institute for the Blind).1 His work there provided the foundational study for his book The Nature of Creative Activity (1 939) in which he emphasized that sensory experiences beyond the visual can be a basis for creative expression, and from which he applied the theory of the haptic and visual dichotomy as forms of creative expression.

Although his art education theories were not uniquely his own but built upon the foundation of earlier educational writing (Michael, 1982; Michael & Morris, 1984; Saunders, 1960, 1961; Smith, 1982), Viktor Lowenfeld has been best remembered today for his groundbreaking book. Creative and Mental Growth (1947), in which he structured his philosophy of art education, providing "every classroom teacher an understanding of the intimate relationship between growth and creative expression" (Lowenfeld, 1952, p. x) while advocating that freedom of individual creative expression could lead to emotional, social, and psychological well-being.

His stature as an influential art educator in the United States was so strong for several decades that Efland (1990) considered Lowenfeld to be "the dominant intellectual force in art education until his untimely death in 1 960" (p. 235). In 1 982, Chapman stated that Lowenfeld was "widely acknowledged as the most influential art educator of this [20th] century" (p. ix). Lowenfeld's theories, however, were controversial (Beittel 1982; Edwards, 1982; Mattil, 1982; Youngblood, 1982) and his views often challenged (Efland, 1990, p. 236) by those who criticized his insubstantial research and quasi-scientific approach in advancing his theories.

This article intends to describe Lowenfeld's early years teaching at the Chajes Realgymnasium, a secondary school for Jewish youth in Vienna, where he taught art and math for 14 years, beginning in 1924 (Lowenfeld, 2001).2 Lowenfeld barely talked or wrote about his teaching experiences there, a position he held until he fled the Nazis in 1938, eventually emigrating to the United States to teach at Hampton Institute and later at The Pennsylvania State University. Simons (1 968) wrote that little investigation had been conducted to reveal "formative influences" (p. 2) on Lowenfeld's ideas, especially regarding his early life.

In 2005, after learni ng that he was Lowenfeld's former student in Vienna from 1 932-36 and had in hand his portfolio of artworks fromthose years, I interviewed Avram Kampf, past curator at The Jewish Museum in New York City and founder of the Art Department at the University of Haifa, Israel. Through Kampfs contacts, I communicated with several former students living in the United Statesand had an announcement placed in an established newsletter for former students and graduates of the Chajes Realgymnasium requesting those who remembered Viktor Lowenfeld and his art lessons to contact me. The announcement resulted in further written communications with several former students and receipt of an internally distributed monograph. The Chajes Realgymnasium: Vienna 1919-1938 (Shimron, 1 992/1 989) written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the school's dissolution.

Kampfs student portfolio of artworks and personal interview, combined with written correspondence received from others, coincided with the emergence of an additional portfolio of artworks by Leonard Ehrlich, another former Lowenfeld student. In 2003, Janet Olson, Professor of Art and Education at Boston University, interviewed Ehrlich and his wife Edith after learning that they had both been Lowenfeld's students in Vienna. With their permission, Olson shared their transcribed interview and reproductions of Ehrlich's student artwork with me. …

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