Originally from northeast Texas, Joe A. Thomas grew up with an older sister who was an artist and a father who was an architect. He chose to attend North Texas State University in Denton, Texas because he could earn a B.F.A. in art with a concentration in art history, enabling him to continue his extensive studio work while earning an art history degree.
He exhibited widely as an undergraduate, primarily in ceramics, weaving, and painting. Upon graduation in 1982, he began work for Hyatt Hotels, where he continued working part-time through graduate school.
Thomas earned an M.A. in art history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas , Texas in 1988, writing a thesis on “Eroticism in the Art of Parmigianino and Its Implications for the Mannerist Style.”
He began course work for his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin in 1986, and in 1992 completed a dissertation on “Eroticism in American Pop Art, 1958-1968” under the direction of John R. Clarke. He spent one semester as a full-time visiting instructor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington and a year as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Houston in 1992-93.
In 1993 Thomas was appointed assistant professor of art history at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. At Clarion he was the entire art history division as well as the slide librarian. His colleagues elected him department chair in 1996 despite his untenured status. He went on to earn tenure and promotion and serve six years as chair. He came to Kennesaw State in 2008 as professor of art history and chair of the Department of Visual Arts.
Thomas’s scholarly interests cover a wide variety of areas in modern and contemporary art, Italian Renaissance art, and issues of sexuality and representation. He has published in journals from the Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte to The Journal of Sex Research. He has presented many papers at national and international conferences, most recently at the 39th International Congress of the Comité Internationale d’histoire de l’art in Melbourne, Australia, where he spoke on the Russian artistic team Komar and Melamid. Thomas has received funding or awards from the NEH, the ACLS, and the Getty Foundation. He has taught an unusual range of classes from the art history surveys to Italian Cinema, as well as seminars ranging from Mannerism to Andy Warhol. Most recently he has explored a new interest by teaching a course on ancient Greek art. His extensive travels have allowed him to see many famous monuments firsthand.