Retiring Center Grove art teacher reflects on 36-year career

A passion for art culminated in the teaching journey of a lifetime.

Center Grove High School art teacher Rick Jones knew he wanted to be an artist since he was a child, but it was a journey to the classroom that brought life to his creativity. Now, after 42 years of teaching, 36 of those at Center Grove schools, Jones is hanging up his classroom paintbrush and plans to create art full-time.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been drawing. I love drawing race cars and I love creating art,” Jones said. “People gave me positive feedback. In kindergarten, the teacher was telling me my drawing was really, really good and that gave me a lot of motivation. Through grade school and high school, teachers told me my art was pretty good, so I thought, ‘I guess I’m an artist.’ I went to Ball State to be an artist at the art school, but after a few years, I thought about the reality of having a career with health care and I decided to go into education.”

Jones spent short stints teaching at different high schools. Once he taught at the now defunct Indiana Girl’s School, a school for female students in juvenile detention.

“I became an art therapist, and got an article published in an art education magazine about using art to raise self-esteem,” Jones said. “I loved the kids and that’s the thing that’s been constant wherever I’ve gone.”

Jones got the job at Center Grove High School 36 years ago and has grown as an artist alongside his students.

“I came here and found out there’s a lot of talent in this place. The kids were wonderful and now I can let the artist side of me grow and in turn, inspire,” Jones said. “I used an old-school model from art academies. I would do art in the classroom with them and show ways they could do better. I had award-winning students, some national winners in art competitions for scholastics and I thought, ‘this is great.’”

Despite teaching more than 100 students a year, he made sure to address each of them individually, he said.

“I basically go sit down with each student and spend whatever time they need to help them wherever they’re at with class,” Jones said. “Sometimes with a class of 30, I’m getting to the last two kids before the bell. It depends on where each student is and the needs they have.”

Art is not about objective quality, but about finding happiness in what you create, Jones said.

“What I tell the kids is, ‘as long as you choose to create, create and try and find pleasure in the process,’” he said. “It’s not about how good a work of art is if you enjoy the process of controlling and enjoying the medium, such as shading with pencils. Focus on that, don’t be concerned with how good it is. If you can find joy in the creative process, in turn you see the results of your efforts. That’s all that really matters.”

Now, as students from multiple generations come to his art shows, he knows the impact he’s had on their lives.

“The kids, I love them, they’re the reason I keep coming back. They are my fountain of youth,” Jones said. “Art is art but a kid’s life is a work of art, but it’s much more important. It’s just nice to know the influence I have on these kids is respected and appreciated.”