Grant Wood is easily one of America’s most famous artists due to his iconic 1930 work American Gothic. Even today, while some people may not always remember Grant Wood’s name or even the title of the image, they most certainly always recognize American Gothic when they see it. This one painting is known worldwide as kind of an iconic show of American character, all represented by a farmer and his daughter in front of their carpenter gothic styled home. The painting itself may at first glance appear to have only the simple meaning of representing the small town folk of Iowa, but looking closer the meaning could be something deeper.
Grant Wood was born on February 13, 1991 in Anamosa, Iowa. After his father’s death in 1901, Grant and his family moved to Cedar Rapids where he took art lessons from local artists while he was in high school. He would then later teach school near Cedar Rapids while working a job at a silversmith shop in Chicago. Grant also served in World War I. He would make clay models of their field guns and also helped camouflage artillery pieces. After the war he would come back to Europe in 1923 where he spent 14 months in Paris studying art. During his stay in Europe his paintings had an impressionistic style to them. When he came home to America, his paintings began to sell and he was able to quit teaching and focus on his art. It’s sometime during this time that Grant began promoting regionalism in his art. Regionalism is a realist modern American art movement wherein artists shunned the city and rapidly developing technological advances to focus on scenes of rural life. His work began to hark back onto his early life on the farm before his father died. Grant’s paintings began featuring farmlands, townscapes, and people around where he lived. Then, while driving to Eldon, Iowa, Grant came upon a white frame home that inspired his famous painting American Gothic. Grant had his sister and their local dentist pose in front of the house, and painted them with a very detailed style during which a time most artists in America were painting in abstraction. The painting itself only took about three months for Grant to paint and it was an immediate success.
American Gothic was the painting that got Grant Wood recognized as a respectable artist, because he was all but ignored before this work. None of Grant’s other works were ever as successful. He soon then entered the painting into the Art Institute of Chicago for a competition, and the painting was awarded the Norman Wait Harris bronze medal and then purchased by the institute for $300. This was Grant’s first major art sell and his first prize for any work he had done, and in 1931 American Gothic was exhibited in London and was met with equal success. The painting was soon being reproduced in newspapers, but received backlash when it was printed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Iowans who were reading the paper were outraged that they were being depicted as “pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers” There was a large amount of negative response from many women in Iowa who were angry about the way Grant depicted the farmer’s daughter. These women considered the depiction mean and unflattering. Grant defended himself, saying that his intention was never to poke fun at anyone, and that the image is really just his own personal depiction of Americans. People who had positive reactions towards American Gothic assumed the painting was more of a satire of the simple life people lived in small rural towns, which was once not thought worthy of high art. American Gothic did make Grant a recognizable artist, but with recognition came harsh criticism. He was accused of creating “mass appeal” art, and that its viewers could easily understand the content of the paintings. “Grant Wood’s workâ€¦contributes nothing scientically, emotionally, or esthetically to art or society. It is the culmination of a trend of escapist and isolationist thought which was popular with some groups of yesterday, but which is definitely obsolete today.” It’s true, his rise of popularity was fast, but after his death in 1942 his fall of popularity was just as equally quick. During the 50’s people felt like Wood’s art was too “populist”, and that it was always popular among the “simple people.”
What exactly is American Gothic really trying to say? Grant painted the image in 1930, the same year as the start of the Great Depression. It’s because the work was created at such dark times in American history that people relate it to the population in the 1930’s. “In a country mired in economic depression, Wood’s stoic couple embodied the bedrock values of the nation and the resolve needed to survive the crisis.” People could relate to the image, the man standing firmly with his pitchfork, defending his home. Something many people were doing during the 1930’s, just trying to defend and keep what is there’s. However after a couple of years American Gothic’s success had dropped and was out of the public eye for about a decade. The image was still a symbol of strength for Americans during crisis during that time. In 1957, for the production Music Man, Meredith Wilson had his actors pose in the same way as Grant’s figures in American Gothic. Soon after that a cartoonist, Charles Addams, featured the figures of American Gothic in one of his New Yorker cartoons. By this time the image became somewhat of a universal image of “just plain folk” of America. When the civil rights began, the image then took another turn for interpretation. Now, it’s no longer “just” or “plain folk”, the people of the image became symbols for something more. To some people they had become symbols of right-wing and even racist America. The meaning behind the painting seems to always change for different generations depending on the situations the generations are facing, because people always tend to relate works of art to their current situations. Even though the meaning does change, American Gothic is still one of America’s most well known, as well as most parodied, work of art. Honestly the image itself could be interpreted in many different directions because Grant himself took on many different contemporary social issues that are still being debated today.
“The very title suggests America’s long-standing ambivalent relationship with Europe. The Iowa subject matter pushes to the surface the tension and the mutual lock of understanding that exists between urban and rural America during the Great Depression and that persists today. The image also raises the specter of political partisanship and variant social values.”
Today American Gothic doesn’t necessarily speak of the Midwest, or even of Iowa, and it’s most likely that people of today don’t even realize where the painting is set. But when people look at American Gothic, some just cannot help but smile. This could be why the image is parodied and referenced in so many various ways.
American Gothic is indeed one of the most popular pieces of art to ever be parodied so many times. The parodies of the image have all kinds of different purposes. Some might address a specific opinion or viewpoint, and others are just made for nothing more than comedy effect and fun. The first American Gothic parody was most likely the production Music Man, when the characters pose exactly like the man and his daughter in front of their home. The painting made its way onto a General Country Corn Flakes cereal box in the early 60’s. The image made its way into an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, where an actual parody of the picture is a part of the episode’s plot. The producers used American Gothic because they needed a painting that would be “instantly recognizable” to an American sitcom audience. It was also used in a promotion add for the Beverly Hillbillies for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, that featured the characters of the show in the same iconic poses as the painting. Many of the decade’s parodies represented a joking type of attitude toward convections, traditions, authorities, and icons. Some even ridiculed the images and written works they parodied. American Gothic seemed to be more used as a weapon than as a target in its parodies.
“Almost all of American Gothic parodies-from presidents and first ladies to Mickey and Minnie Mouseâ€¦operate with the same basic conceit. They manipulate the details of the original, usually the faces, often the clothingâ€¦either to signify the difference between the “then” of the painting and the now of the parody or to collapse those difference.”
When it comes to parodies, it really goes back to how people were and still are interpreting the meaning behind American Gothic. The painting is an icon of the American People, and many people have their own interpretations, but the real meaning may always remain unanswered.
Grant Wood was an artist who connected with the simple folk of Midwest America in his lifetime through his regionalistic styled art. His image American Gothic is most known for being a symbolic work for the 1930’s for being a portrayal of the American pioneer spirit. The image remains a popular iconic image, keeping people interested in its deeper meaning with people creating parodies by relating the work to current events