Frances E. Anderson is considered one of the pioneers of art therapy for her exceptional work in the field. She is one of the founders and an honorary lifetime member of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). Anderson is a researcher, a distinguished professor, an author, and the first art therapist to receive a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award. She has also served as the editor of Art Therapy, Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, and as a member of the AATA Education and Program Approval Board. Anderson has worked with several populations including children with disabilities and adult survivors of incest. She has also worked extensively overseas through an organization entitled Communities Healing through Art, or CHART, which serves areas affected by natural and other disasters.
Life and work
Anderson began taking a serious interest in art during her sophomore year at Agnes Scott College. She changed her major from English to art, with watercolor, clay, and photography as her preferred media. Abstract expressionists such as Van Gogh, Franz Kline, and Munch inspired her. Additionally, Anderson loved her professor’s psychology course, and took every psychology class she taught. While researching in the library, Anderson stumbled upon the Bulletin of Art Therapy. She loved the idea of art therapy, but there were no training programs anywhere at that time. Unable to become a trained art therapist, Anderson began work as a 1st through 12th grade art teacher in Indiana. There, she encountered two children with autism for the first time. Soon after her teaching career began, Anderson returned to school to earn her doctorate in art education. For her research, she studied art in mental hospitals. Her interest in art therapy surfaced again when she observed patients working on art projects with the activity therapist at the mental hospital. Anderson started applying to several occupational therapy graduate programs. However, she decided to remain at Indiana University at Bloomington to complete her doctorate in art education and curriculum and instruction.
On June 29, 1969, Anderson attended the founding meeting of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), in Louisville, Kentucky. Although she declined the title of research chair at the founding meeting, Anderson became the first Midwest standards chair in 1972 when the AATA started the registration process by dividing its own membership into regions.
In 1972, Anderson conducted research with Helen Landgarten documenting the interest and need for art therapy in mental health facilities in the Midwest and Southern California. This research helped to stimulate the creation of a graduate training program at Illinois State University (ISU), in 1989. Anderson became the director of the program and worked to attain grants for assistantships and tuition waivers. She expanded the program by finding the funding to support more art therapy educators. Anderson recruited recognized doctorate-level art therapists such as Marcia Rosal, Doris Arrington, and Valeria Appleton among others, to teach weekend courses at ISU. Anderson highly supported the idea of exposing students to educators from various theoretical perspectives with assorted experiences. As an assistant at ISU, Anderson began volunteering in the lab school. There she was able to work as part of a treatment team for children with hearing, visual, physical, mental and emotional disabilities. Anderson loved being able to help the children learn about themselves and the world around them. She absorbed a lot from her mentor, art teacher Larry Barnfield, about methods of working with children.
Inspired by her mentor, Barnfield, and the lack of publications on art with children with disabilities, Anderson wrote her first book: Art for All the Children: A Creative Sourcebook for the Impaired Child. In 1988, Anderson revised her first book and published Art for All the Children: Approaches to Art Therapy for Children with Disabilities. Anderson asserts in both books that children with impairments or different ways of learning are first and foremost children. This assertion is strong throughout her texts as she details impairments and abuse that children experience, normal artistic development of children, specific adaptations for children in the art room, how art can fit into individualized education programs, or IEPs, and creative directives and activities to do with children. Anderson, herself, struggled with writing, language, and verbal directions and eventually was diagnosed with learning disabilities. Anderson's personal experiences with these challenges help her to understand the needs of populations with developmental disabilities. Anderson supplies dozens of adaptations and suggestions for teachers of children with any kind of disability in her text entitled, Art-centered Education and Therapy for Children with Disabilities.
Anderson has worked to facilitate art education and art therapy working together. Alongside Sandra Packard, she published an article titled "A Shared Identity Crisis: Art Education and Art Therapy?" that detailed the similarities and overlapping qualities of art therapy and art education.
As a doctoral student, Anderson’s studies emphasized research. After she graduated, Anderson continued publishing two articles a year. It was then that her research began shifting focus to special populations and traumatized adults and children. She completed a major research study that incorporated a review of all the published research articles involving quantifiable data in art, music, dance, and drama for people with disabilities. Funded by the National Committee on Arts for the Handicapped, the goal was to demonstrate the knowledge and quality of life that the arts bring to a person.
Anderson also worked with a group of female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This grant project ended up taking eight years of clinical work. Working with this population proved to be the most difficult work Anderson has ever done, and it had an intense effect on her artwork and spirituality. While working with these groups of women, Anderson developed what she called "People Pots". With her first clay group, one of the directives, or art exercises, was to create a clay sculpture of a pet or animal. This brought up emotional stories of parents torturing and killing pets. In response, Anderson began creating small pots with people and animals on them. As the group sessions continued, the pots and figures became larger and started to touch each other. Anderson realized that these "People Pots" were serving as a metaphor for the clay groups; the women were connecting and beginning to touch each other socially and emotionally. The women in the clay groups showed significant signs of progress in therapy. They had survived sexual abuse by blocking emotions, and working with clay brought out their emotions. One woman reported that she had been in therapy for 20 years, but did not experience any emotional breakthroughs until the clay group. As these groups were part of a grant project, Anderson documented the outcome with a journal article, four conference presentations, a monograph, and a video entitled Courage! Together We Heal.
When AATA established its first journal in 1982, Anderson became a member of the journal's committee due to her experience with publications. In 2000, Anderson became the editor for the journal. She had always struggled with writing, but while serving as editor, she faced the additional challenges of battling breast cancer. She won the battle with cancer. In 2002, Anderson resigned as editor of the journal. Anderson retired from her post at ISU in 2002 as well. This, in part, was to take advantage of her Fulbright Award in Argentina.
Anderson continues to remain active in CHART and AATA. Her meticulous and focused efforts have helped drive the field of art therapy into what it is today.
- Art for All the Children: A Creative Sourcebook for the Impaired Child
- Art for All the Children: Approaches to Art Therapy for Children with Disabilities
- Art-centered Education and Therapy for Children with Disabilities
- Robertson, M., & Whetzel, M. (2010, April 23). Faculty Member Earns Third Fulbright Fellowship. In News & Events. Retrieved March 11, 2011.
- Anderson, F. E., (2006). Frances E. Anderson: A Remembrance. In Borowsky, M & Wadeson, H. (Eds.), Architects of art therapy: memoirs and life stories. (pp. 178-201). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd.
- Feen-Calligan, H., Sands-Goldstein, M. (1996). A picture of our beginnings: The artwork of art therapy pioneers. American Journal of Art Therapy, 35, 43-60.
- Anderson, F. E., (1978). Art for all the children: A creative sourcebook for the impaired child. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd.
- Anderson, F. E., (1992). Art for all the children: Approaches to art therapy for children with disabilities. 2nd ed. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd.
- Anderson, F. E., (1994). Art-centered education and therapy for children with disabilities. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Pub Ltd.