American Gothic, Grant Wood’s 1930 painting of a pitchfork-holding farmer and his wife or daughter standing in front of an Iowa farm house has become an iconic image of American life, but it also just about cost the artist his ear. Here’s what happened:
The artist, Grant Wood, discovered the house featured in the background of American Gothic in rural Iowa. He decided to base a painting on it, with “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house” standing in front of it. See, Wikipedia, “American Gothic.” For whatever reason, Wood fancied that an austere-looking farmer, pitchfork in hand, and a plain, rather devout-seeming woman should live in the now-famous house. The two figures were stereotypes of rural Iowans, based on Wood’s imagination rather than observation of the real residents of that or any other Iowa house.
As the painting became well known nationally, East Coast elites saw the painting as a satire, depicting the regressive, narrow-minded nature of Midwesterners. Iowans were, understandably, upset by this interpretation. Grant Wood received many angry reactions from them, including one woman’s threat to bite off his ear! See, New York Times, American Gothic: A Man, A Woman, and a Pitchfork.
Of course, the angry Iowa woman did not bite off Grant Wood’s ear. A more accurate stereotypical image of 1930’s Midwesterners would have portrayed them being kind to strangers; they were, generally, not the type of people to follow through on a threat to bite off someone’s ear. But the woman’s threat did dramatically represent the feelings of Iowans who viewed American Gothic.
Ironically, American Gothic now seems less like satire and more like a portrait of the heart of America. While Easterners might have interpreted the painting as satire, it appears that Grant Wood did not intend it so. Much of his career was spent painting Midwestern scenes. See, Wikipedia: Grant Wood. To modern eyes, the painting seems to represent the hard working, religious values that have so strongly influenced America’s history. Indeed, the progressive art critics of 1930 seem far less relevant than the man and woman featured in the painting.
“American Gothic – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2010. .
BASINGER, JEANINE. “‘American Gothic’: A Man, a Woman and a Pitchfork – New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2010. .
“Grant Wood – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2010. .