Rockey is a retired art teacher. Thirty-five years. There is a lightness to the 85-year-old’s face and voice when he talks about teaching art to junior-high students. He taught in Colorado Springs.
The second in this “Words with Rockey” series starts with asking Rockey about his teaching years. It moves into his thoughts on passion and creativity.
Rockey’s Way of Teaching Art
A class art project from several decades ago leans against a bookcase in Rockey’s shop on Cañon Avenue in Manitou Springs. It is within reach of the round, aged, wooden table where Rockey spends much of his time.
The poster board is titled at the bottom-center, “Experiments in Illusion.” Glued to it is a grid of several black-and-white photographs of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students working together to create a-ha concepts.
In one, titled “Growth of Knowledge,” a student sits behind the teacher’s desk, reading. The legs of another student stretch straight out from the front of the desk, reaching impossibly far. Together, the students are creating the illusion that the reading student’s legs are growing to unnatural lengths as he gains know-how from his book.
Rockey hands the poster board to me and asks me to point out which one stands out to me, provokes thought. That Rockey still has this project so many years after it was created stands out most to me. I also appreciate the kids’ efforts, and their smiles in making them.
“I must have taught thousands of people,” Rockey says. “We used to do stuff like that all the time. I always made the stuff I asked the students to do. I would never ask them to do something I wasn’t willing to do.”
What did you love about teaching art?
It was the subject matter. You know, I love the idea of art and thinking creatively and trying new things, and so I was adamant about wanting kids to learn that, too. You can make something great out of almost nothing.
I had a couple of slogans when I was teaching art. Everyone is an artist was one of them, saying no matter what you do in life, if you do it well and you do your best at it, put your whole being into doing it, you’re an artist at it, because whatever you’re doing will be an art work, it will be worthy of your energies and your passion.
You can be a plumber and be an artist at it, if you do it well and you do it right and it works, you’re an artist.
Because I used to get kids that would come in there, “I’m not an artist, I don’t want to do that.” But whatever you do, if you’ll just do it, give it your best shot, you know, you can.
There’s ways to accommodate that particular emotion. If you have a passion for it, that passion can be dynamite for what you accomplish. I totally believe in that.
Another one was, uh … well, I even forgot my own slogan. (laughs) I don’t know. It’s about being an artist in life. I know you can appreciate more things more passionately, if you’re an artist.
You mentioned passion. What does that word mean to you?
That’s an incredible word, actually. All of the emotion, all of the desire even (lengthy pause) … Mad, passionate love. Have you heard that expression?
It is in loving, if you’re a passionate person you do it with enthusiasm and zest, and your desire is way past you’re hungry so you eat. It’s much more than that.
It’s a way of life, I think. Like Van Gogh. He was a passionate person.
How about the word creativity?
Oh, that’s my precious … that’s my key word, especially when teaching. The word creative. And you can use creativity in whatever you’re doing. If you do it creatively, you’re going to be a better plumber, if you can figure out, “Hey this pipe doesn’t need to go that way, it can go around this way.”
It’s a new way of thinking about things and getting ideas to improve that thing. I love the word creative, being creative. And, again, anyone can be creative. You don’t have to be an artist.
You welcome visitors in here often, especially during summer. Do former students ever pop in?
Oh, yes. And they always expect that I’ll remember them. (laughs) They remember exactly where they were sitting my classroom, “I sat in the third row …” But I don’t remember that anymore.