Friday, February 20, 2009

American Gothic

A friend sent me a quote this morning via email that I've been thinking about all morning.

"Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice. This experience of the mass is what gives art its healing power, its prophetic strength and durability." Virginia Woolf

I had the opportunity to view Grant Woods' painting, American Gothic last week in person. Our art museum has it on loan as part of an exhibit called "After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism & the Midwest". It's a wonderful exhibit with some great photographs, and paintings by Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, Dorthea Lange and others. But I went to see the masterpiece: American Gothic.

What is it about this painting that separates it from the rest? Why is this one a masterpiece? American Gothic was painted in 1930 in Iowa. The images of the man and woman, are iconic and somewhat mysterious. He looks straight ahead, while the woman looks off to the side. It makes one wonder what she's seeing, what she's thinking. Wood didn't say much about his painting, other than the woman is the man's daughter, when asked about their relationship. Their facial expressions are such that the viewer must decide what they are feeling.

I could stand close enough to the painting to see the brush strokes and how the paint was applied. But to stand a short distance away and take in the image in it's entirety is a wonder. As I thought about the quote above and American Gothic, I began to think about the story the painting tells. I thought about what I know about 1930 and the rural landscape of Iowa. About the Great Depression and what life on the land was like. I took in the facial expressions of the figures, this man and his daughter, and wondered. I was drawn in, caught up in the story, transported to another place, another time. Masterpiece.

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