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    Wood’s Depiction of American Values

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    During the 1930’s America faced the worst economic downturn in history called the Great Depression. When stock markets crashed it destroyed millions of investors and sent Wall Street into a panic. Millions of Americans were unemployed, which caused many people to live in poverty and slowly people lost their sense of hope. However, the Great Depression also created the most popular art movement in the United States called Regionalism. New federal programs like the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration helped artists by funding them to do public murals to document what was going on in America during the time. A few artists that joined these programs were Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Diego Rivera, Thomas Benton, and Grant Wood. Society was at its lowest point of morale, which these artists wanted to depict the reality of poverty. One artist that attempted to inject positivity into the American art scene was Grant Wood. Wood created paintings that gave a sense of hope and showed the rural values that Americans believed in.

    During this hardship, Grant Wood created a masterpiece that is perhaps the best-known American art of the twentieth-century. Grant’s American Gothic may be very familiar to most people, this painting depicts a husband and wife’s farming life. Wood’s wanted to break tradition from the European art style and make art that expressed the specific character and culture of Americas regions. Wood’s intentionally left his work ambiguous and left puzzles for the viewers to depict, thus creating timeless storytelling for his paintings.

    Wood’s truly did make his paintings mysterious to the eye since in American Gothic he portrays a ambiguous meaning to each element. This painting depicts an older gentleman holding a pitchfork, which is an essential tool for farming and shows dedication to his farm. His wife is dressed in a white collared black dress with an apron over it, her hair is pulled back and she is wearing a gold necklace of some sort. During this time most women were just housewives because that was a typical role for women. This was very common during the 1930’s for the women to take care of the household, while the man was the head of the house since he took care of the maintenance and brought in the income. This portrait shows hard working practical people and provides a sense of the American dream. However, owning land was very stressful for farmers, because they needed to pay for their livestock and debts or else they would lose everything they had. Wood placed the couple in the middle of the portrait, however he decided to make the woman scowl her brows in resignation as she stares off into the distance avoiding eye contact with the viewers. For the husband he chose to make him look straight forward creating direct eye contact, which perhaps shows that the farmer is anxious to simply get back to work and shows more dominance in the viewer’s perspective. The couples grim and humorless expressions show their feelings about the life they live and the environment they are surrounded by. Perhaps the hardship of keeping their land explains why the couple’s faces are so serious. Their faces are very elongated, making the portrait awkward and almost uncomfortable to look at for a long period at a time.

    This painting is both real and symbolic, since it is imbued with various psychoanalytical, political, and historical meanings. Wood intended to make this painting multilayered by placing a gothic style house behind the couple, which symbolically shows that they have security as an extension of themselves, especially in rural America and perhaps shows their strong belief in religion. The plants that are located behind the woman are very vibrant in colors and they are the only objects that show another life form in this portrait. Perhaps these plants show symbolism of when life gets hard loss will happen and although the plant may die at one point, it comes back to life once the harsh seasons are over. Wood tends to use a symmetrical and geometric approach in this painting by placing the couple right in the middle of the portrait and by using the techniques of lines, circles and zigzags in the painting. Most noticeably, Wood uses continuous patterns by matching the woman’s apron to the same pattern of the curtains in the window, which nicely ties the composition together. Since the curtains do have a matching pattern to them it helps bring the viewer’s attention to the upstairs arched window, which seems to be the main compositional element of American Gothic.

    The Great Depression caused many people to live in poverty and society was slowly losing their sense of hope. When Wood painted American Gothic he aimed to create a positive statement about rural American values. This image provides hope and reassurance during the time of hardship in America after the Great Depression. The couple in the portrait represent survivors and how they were able to create stability in an unknown time. The painting became an iconic symbol of America because people were able to identify the typical American imagery and were able to form a relation based on their own personal experience. No matter how much time has passed American Gothic continues to resonate with Americans and shows the historical hardship their country was able to overcome.

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    Wood’s Depiction of American Values. (2022, Jun 06). Retrieved from

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