Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930  

Grant Wood’s American Gothic

Yikes! What is going on here? Was there or will there be some skewering of a most unnatural kind? The woman is clearly disturbed about the whole situation. I can’t quite tell what Mr.’s reaction to the situation is. But, things are a little too perfect on Main Street.

Symmetry and repetition everywhere! ... Lollypop trees, Lollypop heads ... the Sky is too blue. The Misses dresses to match the upstairs curtains. Mister’s tool of choice, not a hoe, shovel or a rake, is a pitchfork. This man doesn’t nurture seeds, he skewers and pitches! The three-pronged blades are branded into the front of his overalls, scaring stripes into his shirt. The stripes are repeated again in the building siding. Strange step mates, a begonia, and a snake plant, are parked at the house’s entryway, more circles, more three pronged skewers! But, what are they doing in the blazing sunlight? These are shade plants!

What is going on is precisely the point. Surely the artist, Grant Wood, knows how to tie an image together. His visual choices are so conscious that they become “fluid.” It is the literal ambiguity that hooks us. We have transcended Wood’s intentions, whatever they might be, and his technical know-how. The image is ours now. It is the movie that we complete on the way home from the theater. The symmetry is disturbing. Life is not that ordered. Although the people are specific, they are everyone and no one. But they are American, of northern European decent. We are engaged, we project into the image. We skewer our politicians with it. It’s as American as apple pie, with a fly in the batter!

—Marjorie Masel
Copyright ©1998