John McGiff Brings the Teachings of Neil Kosh to Life in the Year's Final Visiting Artist Series
Posted April 18, 2012
The Warner Gallery was the stage for a unique exhibition brought to campus by Arts Department Co-Chair John McGiff. Neil Kosh founded the Department of Art and Art Education at Temple University over 60 years ago where he taught until succumbing to cancer in 2010. John was a novice teacher in Kosh’s department at Temple for seven years in the late 1980's and early 1990's where he learned the conceptual rudiments of what he teaches students on a daily basis here at St. Andrew’s.
Upon his death, John visited Kosh’s studio where he discovered hundreds of sketches and paintings Kosh created while instructing students. From the piles of work he chose forty or so that he felt best demonstrated Kosh’s approach to art and teaching. From there, the show was born.
As a teacher, Kosh was widely considered one of the University’s finest as evidenced by winning nearly every single award Temple bestows upon faculty and the legions of former students who have gone on to be accomplished teachers and artists in their own right. Many of those former students and several colleagues were on hand for the gallery opening to honor Kosh’s legacy.
“What’s so cool about this show for me, “ said John, “is sharing my own teacher’s work with current St. Andrew’s students. “These drawings, some of which I saw him create during classroom demonstrations, embody a way of seeing the world that is central to my practice of art education.”
John continued: “Many of the drawings are only half finished because they served to illuminate the process of organizing one's visual sensations for students. Kosh understood that optically, we see patterns and not ‘things’, the eye’s movement constantly shifting from wide-angle to focal vision, some have speculated 20-25 times per second. Language helps us differentiate 'things' in this complex, moving pattern so that we can isolate an object from its context and 'know' it. But the visual truth, which he often supported by readings in Gestalt Psychology, is that the closest we might come to a genuine experience of the way we see the world is if we were suddenly cured from blindness and, seeing the world for the first time, saw the flat constellation of shapes that dance before us as a completely new experience. This was Neil's central axis — to restore an innocence of vision so that one might move through — back from — cultural expectations about how 'things' should appear, and for the student to develop a confidence in reporting about what they actually saw for themselves. He posited the contrast as sensation versus perception, the raw data of sense versus what we've learned to expect. His drawings are all about being aware of the liveliness of a general shape pattern in any given subject and allowing the hand to be loose in its work at suggesting these relationships. Ultimately, he wanted students to be critical and to see for themselves.”
Kosh’s son was also on hand and expressed his appreciation for John and the School for bringing the show to life. “This show was the fulfillment of a dream for myself and quite a few of my father’s former colleagues and friends from the world of art at Temple University and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. John McGiff did an exceptional job of organizing the show, from his early conceptualization of a theme, through the final preparations for viewing. The discussion John led us through was thoroughly engaging, and elicited remarkable stories and insights from my father’s former colleagues, not to mention the students at St. Andrews. I can only judge from their questions, but it struck me how interested these young students were in the work of an artist they did not know, and how receptive they were to the whole experience. The exhibition left me feeling very impressed with St. Andrew’s students, and the culture at St. Andrews, which fosters such an exceptional program for the arts.”