Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, oil on beaver board, 30.7" x 25.7", The Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, oil on beaver board, 30.7" x 25.7", The Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Grant Wood: Iconic and Ironic

Everyone knows this painting.

Grant Wood, one of the leading painters from the Regionalist movement that presented the American way of life in their art, created this somewhat cynical portrait using a realistic style of painting.

The image represents a farmer and his spinster daughter in the heartland of America.  (The models actually were the artist’s sister and dentist.)

Here we see the ethic of hard work and tidiness.  Religious values are symbolized in the background in their Carpenter Gothic farmhouse, which has a window like those in churches that in the painting is set right between the two figures.  There also is a suggestion of a steeple in the background on the left.

The father looks directly at a viewer as he holds a pitchfork, a form that is echoed in his overalls and symbolizes male authority.  The woman, who glances at him with a worried look, is associated with female nurturing and domesticity.  The plants in the background are on her side of the composition.

Is this a homage to plain folk and the backbone of America, or is it a type of satire?  The image means different things to different people and perhaps that is why is resonates with so many art lovers.  Given the intolerance that the artist had for self-righteousness, however, one definitely can find tongue-in-cheek humor here.

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