TNB Night Owl – American Gothic

American Gothic by Grant Wood

Grant Wood won a $300 prize – not an inconsiderable sum in 1930 – when his painting American Gothic was purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago. Although art is meant to be interpreted, in this case nearly every interpretation of the painting was wrong.

The assumption of the judges was that the image of an austere couple standing in front of a farmhouse was meant to be slyly derisive. In fact, as Grant Wood attested repeatedly, there was no mockery intent in the picture (although the same cannot be said for the hundreds, if not thousands, of parodies of the painting… a piece which is rivaled only by paintings like Munch’s The Scream for pop-culture references.)

It was also assumed that the couple were the inspiration for the piece. Far from it; long before he found the couple, Wood was inspired by the building in the background… a piece of gothic architecture from which the painting received its name. Even though it’s right there in the title, though, the farmers are the ones who get the attention.

…Except they’re not farmers. The woman in the picture is Grant’s sister, Nan, who wasn’t a farmer. The man is Dr. Byron H. McKeeby, Grant’s dentist. Wood had needed significant orthodontic work as a youth, and had developed a long-standing relationship with McKeeby.

That’s a serious level of misunderstanding. But there’s one more, which is virtually incomprehensible in the current age of chasing celebrity. Both McKeeby and Nan Wood agreed to pose for the picture on one condition: that they remain unrecognizable. Grant promised them that, and worked to disguise them by painting them in unfamiliar expressions. Nan and McKeeby, who were both known as friendly, smiling people, were painted as being generally nonplussed.

The attempt to hide their identities failed miserably. Not only were they easily recognized by all who knew them, the painting went on to become one of the most famous in American history.

Question of the night : Who’s your favorite painter?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.

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