December Goal: See American Gothic at Art Institute of Chicago
American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood from 1930. Its inspiration came from a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with a distinctive upper window and a decision to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." The painting shows a farmer standing beside a woman whose identity remains ambiguous; she may either be his spinster daughter, as explained by the artist's sister, or the farmer's wife. The figures were modeled by the artist's dentist and sister. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana and the couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man's pitchfork symbolizing hard labor, and the flowers over the woman's right shoulder suggesting domesticity.
It is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art and one of the most parodied artworks within American popular culture.
In 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, noticed a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style in Eldon, Iowa. Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." He recruited his sister Nan (1900-1990) to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana. The man is modeled on Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867-1950) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The three-pronged hay fork is echoed in the stitching of the man's overalls, the Gothic window of the house and the structure of the man's face. Each element was painted separately; the models sat separately and never stood in front of the house.
The Carpenter Gothic style house in Eldon, Iowa depicted in American Gothic.Wood entered the painting in a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The judges deemed it a "comic valentine," but a museum patron convinced them to award the painting the bronze medal and $300 cash prize. The patron also convinced the Art Institute to buy the painting, which remains there today. The image soon began to be reproduced in newspapers, first by the Chicago Evening Post and then in New York, Boston, Kansas City, and Indianapolis. However, Wood received a backlash when the image finally appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Iowans were furious at their depiction as "pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers". One farmwife threatened to bite Wood's ear off. Wood protested that he had not painted a caricature of Iowans but a depiction of Americans. Nan, apparently embarrassed at being depicted as the wife of someone twice her age, began telling people that the painting was of a man and his daughter, a point on which Wood remained silent.
American Gothic (1942) by Gordon Parks was the first prominent parody of the painting.Art critics who had favorable opinions about the painting, such as Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley, also assumed the painting was meant to be a satire of rural small-town life. It was thus seen as part of the trend toward increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of Sherwood Anderson's 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis's 1920 Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess in literature.
However, with the onset of the Great Depression, the painting came to be seen as a depiction of steadfast American pioneer spirit. Wood assisted this transition by renouncing his Bohemian youth in Paris and grouping himself with populist Midwestern painters, such as John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, who revolted against the dominance of East Coast art circles. Wood was quoted in this period as stating, "All the good ideas I've ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." This Depression-era understanding of the painting as a depiction of an authentically American scene prompted the first well-known parody, a 1942 photo by Gordon Parks of cleaning woman Ella Watson, shot in Washington, D.C.
Screenshot from opening of Green AcresAmerican Gothic is one of the few paintings to reach the status of cultural icon, along with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch's The Scream. It is thus one of the most reproduced — and parodied — images ever. Many artists have replaced the two people with other known couples and replaced the house with well known houses.
References and parodies of the image have been numerous for generations, appearing regularly in such media as postcards, magazines, animated cartoons, advertisements, comic books, and television shows. The cinematic posters of the films For Richer or Poorer, American Gothic, and Good Fences parody the painting. Characters in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Beauty and the Beast pose as the couple during musical segments. The lead stars of Green Acres, Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert, pose similarly to the couple in the painting in the opening of the show. The cartoon series Histeria frequently features the couple as characters. The painting is featured in the Simpsons episode "Bart Gets an Elephant", and a couple in Doctor Who episode Gridlock are based on the painting. It is a key motif in Anthony Weigh's play 2,000 Feet Away, which opens with a scene featuring the painting at the Art Institute.
A sculpture entitled "God Bless America" that features the American Gothic couple went on display in December 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. It is located just south of the Tribune Tower on the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue . Postcards mimicking the couple with sitting US Presidents, Presidential nominees, and their spouses are popular commercial products. Ohio State Buckeyes football games feature the painting on their scoreboard; within a few seconds of its display, the man's eyes bug out and his tongue wags. The Smashing Pumpkins borrowed the title for their 2008 EP American Gothic, as did a 1995 television horror series created by Shaun Cassidy. Elton John and RuPaul portray the couple on the video for "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".