It does require a bit of inspiration to gain a full perspective on how Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” evolved from iconoclasm to icon and then off the edge into parody. Some have even asserted that ”American Gothic” ranks in importance as a recognizable national emblem alongside the flag, the eagle and the Statue of Liberty. The painting endures.Why?  The painting doesn’t reveal just ”something” about American life. It apparently can reveal almost anything.because it is both itself and a parody of itself. Its meaning has more to do with the viewer’s perception than Wood’s intention. It’s ambiguous and thus can evoke the ambivalent; we are never quite sure what the painting is about and this unknown and vaguely implied is the source of its tension; and in this sense the work conveys an intention of keeping the viewer out and excluded rather than showing something off…. Wood’s choice of clothing, hairstyle, color and sober posture denies specifics, yet suggests a time, a place and an attitude.

"Wood intended his title as a visual pun: that upstairs window, with its pointed arch, is of the Gothic architectural style, a reference that finds multiple counterpoints in figures standing in the foreground. The three-pronged pitchfork is one obvious example, but look more closely and you'll see echoes of the design on the face of the man, the bib of his overalls, and the lines on his shirt. In fact, the straightforward Gothic style extends to the directness of the painting itself. It's like the aphorism about married couples gradually looking more and more like each other, or how people inevitably resemble their pets; the man and the woman seem to have grown into reflections of the simple, sharp lines of their residence."

”American Gothic” was born in August 1930, , when Grant Wood, a native Iowan, spotted the house he would make famous and decided to use it in a pencil sketch for a painting he planned to enter in the Art Institute of Chicago’s 43rd annual exhibition. The small structure was a perfect example of Midwestern steamboat Gothic architecture, and Wood thought it would be a suitable background for a portrait of two people, a woman and a man holding a rake. He recruited his sister to be the woman and the local dentist to play the man- He painted them separately. They never posed side by side-. He sent to Chicago for the man’s overalls and woman’s apron, decided a pitchfork would look better than a rake, added his mother’s cameo to the woman’s outfit and finished his painting.

Wood. Woman With Plants. 1929."He had been to Europe before in search of inspiration and it was on his trip to Germany that provided a spark of illumination. He was in Munich, where the window was under construction, when he inspected Flemish paintings in a local museum. He appreciated the simplicity of those works and decided to apply the technique to subjects back home. One experiment in this style is called Woman with Plant(s). It shows the direct influence of Wood's trip to Munich, says Terry Pitts, the director of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. "It's a portrait of his mother and it looks like a 16th- century High Renaissance or Northern Renaissance portrait of a famous person in their own landscape holding their attribute -- in her case, a plant." Encouraged by his effort, Wood began looking for more subjects.---

After he sent it to Chicago, history was almost not made. Narrowly escaping preliminary elimination, Wood’s painting was eventually awarded third prize and $300. At that point, ”American Gothic,” with its bronze medal, could logically have been expected to disappear. Instead it began the journey , from potential cliché to national symbol.

The critics who admired the painting in the early ’30s—including Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley—also assumed it was a satire about the rigidity of American rural or small-town life, lampooning the people H. L. Mencken called the “booboisie” of the “Bible Belt.” As( Steven ) Biel explains, “American Gothic appeared to its first viewers as the visual equivalent of the revolt-against-the-provinces genre in 1910s and 1920s American literature”—a critique of provincialism akin to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten’s The Tattooed Countess.

"The Depression-era understanding of American Gothic as an image of authentic American identity gave rise to its first known parody: In 1942, the photographer Gordon Parks posed a black cleaning woman with an upright broom in front of a large American flag and called it American Gothic. Since then, variants of Wood's image have appeared in Broadway shows (The Music Man), movies (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), marketing campaigns (Saks Fifth Avenue, Country Corn Flakes, and Newman's Own Organics, to name a few), television shows (Green Acres, The Simple Life), pornography (Playboy and Hustler),..."

The parallel narrative is how it became many things to many people, almost  right from the beginning. Viewers either loved it or hated it, but they all agreed on one issue: its attitude was satiric. Iowans were offended. A local woman told Wood he should have his head bashed in; another threatened to bite off his ear. Non-Iowans, especially the Eastern elite, felt the painting was a perfect comment on what they took to be sour Midwestern narrowness.

As the 1930′s unfolded and the Depression deepened, views of ”American Gothic” changed.There is no way to date precisely when the Midwest came to represent ‘America, the heartland,but the rhetoric and iconography of the Depression — and”American Gothic” as the epitomy of salt of the earth honest, slow talking and deliberate manners; became established.Irony gave way to a form of identification. By August 1941, with the threat of American involvement in World War II looming, Fortune magazine editors proposed a series of patriotic posters. Their first candidate was ”American Gothic,” to be framed against a black background, a quotation from Lincoln printed in white underneath. Accepted as definitely pro-America, the painting was on its way to its ultimate position on the back of a cereal box and as the central plot device in an episode of ”The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

"Silliest use of American Gothic? It would be hard to beat the poster for the now-cancelled T.V. show The Simple Life, with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie..."

When his painting first became famous, Wood tried to clarify his intentions: ”I do not claim the two people painted are farmers. I hate to be misunderstood as I am a loyal Iowan and love my native state.” Shortly before he died in February 1942, however, Wood wrote a letter in which he also embraced the viewer’s need to construct stories: ”Papa runs the local bank or perhaps the lumber yard. He is prominent in the church and possibly preaches occasionally.” There is, of course, nothing to indicate any of this in his painting. Wood himself demonstrated what

made his painting endure — he stood apart from his own creation and told a story.

Return From Bohemia. 1935. "The irony here is that the man the public thought they knew, and who was profiled as being rather plain and ordinary, was neither. In truth, he was a rather complex man who skillfully hid his real self, not only from the world, but more often than not, from those close to him. Wood, the son of a stern, larger than life Quaker father, was a also a closeted homosexual, and this "secret", and his reflections of life as he felt it, found a means of release in his paintings. Since Grant Wood: A Life (Knopf,2010) is truly the first biography of Woods to be accomplished without objections from his sister Nan, R.Tripp Evans is able to reveal things that heretofore had only been gossiped about. "

But a few years later, as the nation sank into the Great Depression, people started to see Wood’s painting in a different light. American Gothic was no longer understood as satirical, but as a celebratory expression of populist nationalism. Critics extolled the farmer and his wife as steadfast embodiments of American virtue and the pioneer spirit. “American democracy was built upon the labors of men and women of stout hearts and firm jaws, such people as those above,” read one caption in 1935.

Jonathan Jones:His style was formed by the art he saw there, most of all northern renaissance artists such as Van Eyck, but also the 1920s German neue sachlichkeit (new objectivity) movement. Wood's often dreamlike paintings recall the stories of Washington Irving, imagining a small-town world that is comforting and enclosed yet could easily be the stage for spooky nocturnal mayhem. His painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, despite its nationalist theme, is an eerie vision of a lonely rider hurtling through an ivory-coloured slumbering town by moonlight."

Wood helped along this revisionist reading by repudiating the Paris-influenced bohemianism of his youth, refashioning himself as America’s “artist-in-overalls.” He allied himself with other regionalist painters like John Steuart Curry and the virulently jingoistic Thomas Hart Benton, who railed against the “control” of the East Coast art world by “precious fairies.” Wood echoed Benton’s anti-intellectual sentiments, announcing: “All the good ideas I’ve ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” ( Mia Fineman)

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Jonathan Jones:
The farmer is at once genteelly studious, like a clerk, and aggressive, as if he has a serious temper. He looks at us in a no-nonsense way, and that pitchfork he holds is extremely phallic and sharp: it could do you a nasty injury. Her gaze is anxiously sidelong. She might be watching some boys, wondering if they are about to steal apples, or seeing a man she had feelings for ride past with his new city wife. She wears an ornate brooch that suggests another, distant world of passion and desire, at odds with her neat white collar and tightly tied hair. Behind her ear hangs a wisp of loose, curling golden hair that suggests suppressed sensuality.

"Accounts by his friends say that Grant was a bit of a freeloader, a typical "starving artist" type who was not always good about paying his bills. He had several benefactors, none more supportive than David Turner, who ran a local mortuary, and allowed Wood and the artist's mother to live rent-free for 11 years in a loft above Turner's brick, gabled garage."

People have argued about where this painting stands on midwestern, American heartland values ever since it was first exhibited. Wood denied that it was satirical. He proclaimed his sincere belief in the values of hearth and home. And yet it is impossible to deny the strangeness of this American masterpiece, in which nothing is quite as stable as a first glance might suggest.

It is fictive in multiple ways. It is a 19th-century picture painted in the 20th century. It is an apparently naive painting by a sophisticated artist. Even the title is ambiguous. American Gothic refers to the architecture of the house, but also unavoidably has associations with Edgar Allan Poe and big-city prejudices about in-marrying, psychopathic country folk.

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