American Gothic by Grant Wood

American Gothic

Painting NameAmerican Gothic
Painter NameGrant Wood
Completion Date1930
Place of CreationIowa, United States
Size74.3 cm × 62.4 cm (29¼ in × 24½ in)
TechniqueOil
MaterialBeaverboard
Current LocationArt Institute of Chicago

Two simple American faces, one staring at us and another staring away blankly. A pitchfork in the man’s hand and an American Gothic house in the background. These simple things have made the picture so popular that it has appeared in almost all kind of media in modern times.

From the Simpsons to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and from the every magazine (such as Time) to big movies, the painting has appeared, parodied, copied numerous times. Today it enjoys the similar popularity gained by other iconic paintings like The Scream by Edvard Munch and Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

The gloomy faces of the couple may have indicated them as being a couple in their old times and having not-so-well life. But, an interesting fact is that, the couple is supposed to be a father and a spinster (woman didn’t marry) daughter. It is even confirmed by the artist in a letter.

Well, epic things can’t be deliberately made. They just happen as a result of some fine arrangements of simple things. Here is the history, how American Gothic became an iconic picture in 20th century.

Inspiration – The Original American Gothic House (AKA Dibble House)

Artist, Grant Wood, was in search of some inspiration for his next painting during the 1930. He was in Iowa’s little town Eldon where he and his painter friend while roaming in the suburb spotted the Dibble house (Charles A. Dibble was the builder of the house). Wood found the house ‘very paintable’. The most distinctive feature of the house was its old architecture style called Carpenter Gothic and the unique window at the upper floor. That time he decided to include the house in his next painting.

After getting the background clear, he needed the models for his painting. As the girl he used his sister Nan and the man was his old aged dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby (both models and the house in real life).

Gloomy or scary?

Both of the faces are dark, gloomy with heavy emotions on their faces. This is an aspect which captures our mind at the first side. They seem to have some kind of hidden feelings towards us which they are trying to convey with such expressions. They almost seem alive, but as if they exist in the painting, the only way they could communicate with us is their expressions.

Maybe the expressions could be compared to the Mona Lisa smile. The smile is mysterious and no one has understood if she really smiling or not.

Similarly, successful interpretation of the painting also seems to be impossible. Only thing we understand is that they just don’t have plain, simple faces. Otherwise, why the painting is mostly being used in dark stuff like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If we spread our imagination a little bit, the painting has all the elements to be safely placed in a scary house.

The Americana Effect

The main reason the painting got popular among the American crowd was its true authenticity in American context. The origin of American people is Europe and thus, many times it’s said that America doesn’t have any real culture or history to depend on.

Contrary to that belief, the current painting represents everything which is American. The teasing arguments that “American doesn’t have any history” are answered in the painting. From the girl’s colonial clothing to the design of the house in the background and the pitchfork – which symbolizes the hard work in the farms – everything reflects the things common in America. All these American things and artifacts are collectively called as Americana. Thus, the Americana effect inherited in the painting is the essence of its wide-spread popularity.

In a way, painting says “America has developed its own history, its own culture out of nothing, instead of relying on the thousands of years old and obsolete customs which people likes to follow blindly.

Though, interpretation for the painting hugely varies from critic to critic.

They are now representatives of the early 20th century American households. Though, for their gloomy portrayal, there were some controversies from the area where the painting is based upon, but everything is fine now. This exceptional art-piece has become the part of the American culture with pride.

So, what do you see? Gloomy or scary?


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