American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood, in the collection ofthe Art Institute of Chicago. Woods inspiration came from a cottage designed in the GothicRevival style with a distinctive upper window and a decision to paint the house along with "thekind of people I fancied should live in that house." The painting shows a farmer standing besidehis spinster daughter. The figures were modeled by the artists dentist and sister. The woman isdressed in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana and the couple are in thetraditional roles of men and women, the mans pitchfork symbolizing hard labor, and the flowersover the womans right shoulder suggesting domesticity.It is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art, and one of the most parodiedartworks within American popular culture.CreationThe Carpenter Gothic style house in Eldon, Iowa depicted in American GothicIn 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, noticed the Dibble House, asmall white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style in Eldon, Iowa. Wood decidedto paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." Herecruited his sister Nan (1899–1990) to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apronmimicking 19th century Americana. The man is modeled on Woods dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby(1867–1950) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The three-pronged hay fork is echoed in the stitching ofthe mans overalls, the Gothic window of the house and the structure of the mans face. Eachelement was painted separately; the models sat separately and never stood in front of thehouse.
ReceptionWood entered the painting in a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The judges deemedit a "comic valentine," but a museum patron convinced them to award the painting the bronzemedal 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 theChicago 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. Iowanswere furious at their depiction as "pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers". Onefarmwife threatened to bite Woods ear off. Wood protested that he had not painted acaricature of Iowans but a depiction of Americans. Nan, apparently embarrassed at beingdepicted as the wife of someone twice her age, began telling people that the painting was of aman and his daughter, which Grant seems to confirm in a letter written by him to a Mrs. NellieSudduth in 1941.Art critics who had favorable opinions about the painting, such as Gertrude Stein andChristopher 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 Andersons 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewiss 1920 MainStreet, and Carl Van Vechtens The Tattooed Countess in literature.Yet another interpretation sees it as an "old-fashioned mourning portrait... Tellingly, the curtainshanging in the windows of the house, both upstairs and down, are pulled closed in the middle ofthe day, a mourning custom in Victorian America. The woman wears a black dress beneath herapron, and glances away as if holding back tears. One imagines she is grieving for the manbeside her". Grant had been only 10 when his father had died and later had lived for a decade"above a garage reserved for hearses" so death was on his mind.
However, with the onset of the Great Depression, the painting came to be seen as a depiction ofsteadfast American pioneer spirit. Wood assisted this transition by renouncing his Bohemianyouth in Paris and grouping himself with populist Midwestern painters, such as John SteuartCurry 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 Ive ever had came to me while Iwas milking a cow."ParodiesAmerican Gothic (1942) by Gordon Parks was the first prominent parody of the painting.Today, center staff assist in dressing up visitors and taking their photograph outside the house.The Depression-era understanding of the painting as a depiction of an authentically Americanscene prompted the first well-known parody, a 1942 photo by Gordon Parks of cleaning womanElla Watson, shot in Washington, D.C.American Gothic is one of the few paintings to reach the status of cultural icon, along withLeonardo da Vincis Mona Lisa and Edvard Munchs The Scream. It is thus one of the mostreproduced – and parodied – images ever. Many artists have replaced the two people with otherknown couples and replaced the house with well known houses.References and parodies of the image have been numerous for generations, appearing regularlyin such media as postcards, magazines, animated cartoons, advertisements, comic books, albumcovers, television shows and other artists, such as Tony Julianos parody, "American Goths" whichdepicts goth teens instead of the traditional farmers. The cinematic posters of the films ForRicher or Poorer, Son In Law, American Gothic, and Good Fences parody the painting. Charactersin The Rocky Horror Picture Show pose as the couple during musical segments. It is also a keymotif in Anthony Weighs play 2,000 Feet Away, which opens with a scene featuring the paintingat the Art Institute.
A sculpture entitled "God Bless America" that features the American Gothic couple went ondisplay in Chicago, Illinois, just south of the Tribune Tower on the Magnificent Mile of MichiganAvenue, in December 2008 but has been removed as of February 26, 2010. Postcards mimickingthe couple with sitting US Presidents, Presidential nominees, and their spouses are popularcommercial products. Ohio State Buckeyes football games feature the painting on theirscoreboard; within a few seconds of its display, the mans eyes bug out and his tongue wags.David Ackles borrowed the title for his 1973 American Gothic (album), as did The SmashingPumpkins for their 2008 EP American Gothic and a 1995 television horror series created byShaun Cassidy. Elton John and RuPaul portray the couple on the video for "Dont Go BreakingMy Heart". Astrovamps parodied the painting on the cover of their album, American Gothik. TheMa and Pa couple at the beginning of the Doctor Who episode "Gridlock" are fashioned in thestyle of the couple in the painting. The American Gothic couple have even been reinterpreted asLiving Dead Dolls twice, in 2004 and 2009.In the opening scene of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard OBrien and Patricia Quinnappear as a farmer and his wife in parody of American Gothic. They are joined by a daughterdressed in the same fashion.
Instructions for American Gothic Painting1.Print out the line drawing of the American Gothic painting.2.Using it as a guide create a “Parody” of the painting.3.Review the examples following these instructions.4.Create your painting on illustration board or oak tag. 12x18 size