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Molly Flanagan

Ceramic Artists’ Books About Desire: Teens’ Art Communicates Their Culture of Desire

        This action research thesis aims for students to articulate how their desires relate to their culture as well as to critique how material desires construct the culture of their everyday lives. The lesson plans developed for this project asked teen students to share their personal desires in order to inform a more meaningful and contemporary approach to their art making. Over a seven week time period, meeting once a week for an hour, a class of seventh grade students at Bell Elementary school in Chicago created “Ceramic Artists’ Books” symbolizing a personal topic of desire.

            The unit began with a discussion in which the students defined and redefined their definitions of “books” and “artists’ books.” They were informed by the video “Book Arts in the USA,” from the Center for Book Arts in New York, which showed students a wide variety of artists’ books of many different media and contexts. With a final questionnaire students were asked if they considered their finished piece an “artists’ book.”

            Students’ written responses to Spiral Workshop’s “Objects of Desire” worksheet were used to initiate class discussion about what and why they desire certain things. The main question asked students to list ten things that they “want.” Answers varied from materialistic desires of the latest technological consumer products, such as the i-Pod or a PSP (Play Station Portable), to desires that show a more humanistic interpretation of what they want, such as the need for world peace and less greed in the world. Students rationalized their desires, giving reasons why the things that they thought would make their lives more fulfilling. During a discussion, students defined the term culture, in their own words, and connected how their desires are parallel to it. 

          The culmination of this project was the creation of artwork that is symbolic of students’ personal desires. My interest in creating art lessons that address the desires of teens stems from my research in the realms of material culture studies and multi-literacies. Both avenues allow for students to be engaged in revealing what they already think and know about themselves, and their world, while creating art. The process of creating art that symbolizes something so central to their lives as desire allows the time for students to access what it means for them to want things for themselves, and how their desires relate to and reflect their culture and their world.


         Molly Flanagan received her BA in Fine Arts from Loyola Marymount University in 2000. She taught for three years in Los Angeles while pursuing her California Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. She came to SAIC to follow her interest in art education, writing about the topics of material culture and multiliteracies.


Thesis Advisor: Therese Quinn, Assistant Professor, Art Education; Associate Director, Center for Youth and Society, University of Illinois-Chicago

Thesis Reader: Kevin Tavin, Assistant Professor, Art Education; Director, MAT Program

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