Of Special Interest...
Forms of Expression, Interview with an Artist
Reprinted with permission from About Learning.com
This week we focus on the art of painting, featuring an interview with Charles Rockey, a well-known artist from Colorado. For a recent article detailing his work and life and including samples, go to http://www.csindy.com/csindy/2001-01-11/cover.html. Among the items from his bio, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, received an M.A. in Art Education from Ohio State and taught for 25 years in a K-12 District, mostly in middle school. This interview took place in person, in a studio featuring hundreds of pieces of artwork, from impressionistic oil landscapes to sculpture to fantasies.
From the moment you enter the studio, you know you are with a person who has dedicated himself completely to art. In this interview and others he reveals his distaste for two ideas that many people value very much, time and money. At the outset of the interview the way the Rockey sees his world was apparent. He began by examining a bowl full of objects from nature and reverently manipulated each in space, quietly exclaiming, "look at all that's in these shapes. Nature, nature gets an A plus as an artist." The next two paragraphs were excerpted from the article cited above.
Rockey, stays away from the galleries, and the only time he sells his work is when he shows it. Money just isn't that important to him... He attributes this no-gallery/no-sell policy to a horror of "going commercial." "When I sit down to paint," he explained, "I want to go in whatever direction the moment takes me. Every endeavor should be a new challenge, each stroke of the brush leading to who knows where. That doesn't happen when I paint out of an awareness that what I'm doing will go up for sale. I start thinking about which scenes, subject matter and color schemes sell well." ... He says he "fell into" art out of desire to capture and express his communion with nature. "Art was my saving grace," he recalls. "It was my way of claiming legitimacy. It was how I overcame the feeling of being on the outside. To this day, I kind of connect to the world through my art.".
The interview had a kind of pleasant meandering quality to it. So, rather than try to wrap prose around it, we will present Rockey's thoughts on the creative process thematically.
On the artist's special ability to become immersed in the moment... Just go out and sit and do a landscape. I just sit and take it all in - the sounds the feeling of the breeze on your face whatever, any senses. All the sensory things are opened up before I consider anything. I want to be a part of it. I want to become a part of it. I just sit there and let it talk to me, just taking it all in and not even judging anything yet. The first step is to be completely open minded. There are no preconceptions or prejudgments. Preconceptions sometimes they interfere with the experience itself.
On his four-part process of experiencing and teaching art... The first level is the sensuous surface level of a painting - color, textures, values, rhythm, movement - all those things that are simply non-objective. The way you look at totally abstract art, you only have sensuous surface. The second is the representational. You start seeing objects, and you just identify the objects in this level. This part of the experience is identification, naming. The third is the symbolic level. With the great art, symbolism is almost imperative. The symbolic level is the feeling and the stuff behind it. Colors symbolize things, shapes symbolize things. It's a deeper level. Representative level is the highly accepted artwork. Artists spend their lives painting partridges in their grass and those are beautiful pieces but they can only take you to a certain level and you have to accept it for that. With the symbolic level it starts really getting into important, great art. The elements of sensuous surface, representation and symbolic all add up to the Total Expression. They build upon each other.
On the importance of artistry in life... I wanted to make my students realize that art is the most important class they'd ever take. I was less concerned with teaching them to be artists than with teaching them to be artistic, to pay attention to the beauty that surrounds them. Art is a basic life skill, a way of living life. It doesn't matter if you're a bank robber. if you do it with finesse and care, that's your art.
On capturing the moment... I like to paint a scene so that you could look at it a hundred years from now and say I'm right there, I'm doing it. I never rely on a photograph to do my work. Trying to mix those two is I think missing the whole point of a good landscape. What I'm trying to do when I'm painting a landscape is to capture the eternal value of it, the timelessness.
On sharing... I see two halves to art. The first is that fantastic feeling you get when you're doing it and creating that moment or when you sign, and say that's it. It's so beautiful. The other half is in someone else seeing your work and saying yes, I know what you meant. I had a show recently and people were coming up to me and saying thank you. That's the biggest compliment I could ever get, someone saying thank you for doing that artwork and sharing it with me. It's a very giving thing. And the more you give the more you have. That's a way of life, not just art. It's like when you do something and you've had such a good time with it. Don't you just want to share it, to give someone else that feeling too? With art you can do that. If it's really good artwork you can share most of it. And sometimes all of it. That's why I feel I can die anytime now and I'll still be here whether or not.
On art as invitation... Great art allows the viewer to be there. I think the artist and the viewer, it's almost the same thing. The more the receiver experiences what you experienced while creating it, the better the art work is. If they don't then you've blown it.
On Van Gogh and living fully... Van Gogh is still very alive to me. Very alive. He's one of my teachers. It took me 12 years to get through college because I loved learning so much and I loved the environment of the art school. But I don't think I learned as much there as I just learned looking at the stuff in Van Gogh's paintings. To try to say what I learned from him would take me 12 years. I believe he was inspired beyond his own motivations. I believe he had an "in" with nature and god and love. Even though he didn't connect in the outside world all that much - he got in trouble, he'd get mad easy, people didn't like him and kids would taunt him. People would say, don't quit your day job. He was a perfect combination of what he had to offer and what the outside had to offer, like landscapes. He would experience a scene. He combined what he had to offer to the scene and what the scene would have to offer to him. He would paint that space in between. There was him and the art. Or he and the landscape. His paintings, when you're standing in front of the real thing, are an incredible experience. It's very intimate. It's the soul. You're looking into the soul of not just a person but of an event. He suffered a lot but in a way he knew. He had the love, the passion. He had the stuff that people should be so lucky to have. Basically, in ten years he did all his work and all his letters. And what a ten years! He probably lived more of a life in ten years than other people who live a hundred years.... There are some people I just want to shake them.
On being willing to take the time to capture a moment... An artist must be open minded and not have a pre-set goal or destination. When I travel, if I see something I just go ahead and paint it, even if it wasn't in the plan. Artists need be open to that, instead of having blinders on and saying "this is what I'm supposed to be doing today". On time... Artists are not good managers of time. That cheech and chong thing, "I'm not into time, man." It's kind of like that. Time is irrelevant. It's one of those things that has nothing to do with the experience. In painting it can't be a factor. Like once I had a deadline, a person wanted a piece done for a Christmas present for their kid and I tried to do it for them and it just doesn't work. I don't do commissions anymore. I won't put pressure, pressure doesn't work. And time is definitely pressure.
On Nature... It's like a painting but it's about 50 billion zillion times greater. Every scene. Do you ever wonder about the beauty of a flower? I mean why is it so beautiful? Is it just for attracting a bug to it? It's there for a reason. It's there to be awed over. It's there to turn us on to what it's all about.
On divinity... I do believe there's so much outside you, especially when you're sitting in a very holy place like the mountains looking at a scene. There's this energy, for the lack of a better word, all around. I believe you can tap into it. There are points when you're not trying to think what your hand is doing. It's just flowing. It just flows through you. And you're sucking it in. If you're appreciating it, it can go through to your painting. And the more you give, the more you have. It's one of those things that doesn't work mathematically. But it's true if you're open to it. That's one of the things you have to be open to, the energy that is past you or beyond you or around you.
On classrooms... Children are natural artists. Before we get to them, they have the highest potential to be an artist. When I taught, I would tell the kids, "You are probably in the most important class you'll ever have in your life." The board of education would hear that kind of stuff and say, "come on Rockey, get real here". And I would sit and argue with them about the importance of being artistic to a point where whatever you do in life you're doing your art. I would take students for a walk and come back to the classroom and say, "What did you notice? What was really red?" Or they would come into class and all the chairs and tables would be all over the room. So they weren't walking into a set, so they wouldn't be able to sit where they usually sat and they would say what the heck is this? And they had to use everything the way it was with the chair upside down, etc. Or not allowing them to use paint. They had to go outside and try to find colors out in nature to use.
On schools and the whole child... Schools put everything in little capsules. Science is one thing and math is another and art is another music is another. But there's a beautiful connection where you could use art in math like Leonardo. Leonardo da Vinci was a scientist, an artist, and so much more. He didn't put things in compartments. On the loss of artistry... I don't know what it is but I see it in so many adults. Society as a whole is trying to make a world where money is everything. You have to work and you have to go to college to make more money. I think computers are harming the process of artistry. It's being chopped into a button-pushing thing where the sweat isn't there. The passion isn't there. The feeling isn't there. You're connecting with a screen that isn't real either. It's all kind of artificial.
On reclaiming artistry... It's not just in the presentation but in that thing which you grab hold of, identify with and get in to. Everybody has an artist in them. You get it from your heart. It's what you let your heart feed on. Pick out the good stuff. Everything has something good about it. Don't let other people make choices for you. And I'm not talking about eating ice cream instead of cake. I'm talking about what's important to you. What's really important in life.
As the interview concluded, Rockey suddenly remembered his most important point of all, "when it all comes down to it, it's about love".