Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Modern Art (pt. 8)

In the spirit of American realism, Grant Wood's famous painting, American Gothic, reads today as one of the most culturally recognizable and nationalistic works in U.S. history.  Also, I think this one wins for most parodied artwork.
The artist typically painted rural scenes using a style of realism modeled after that of the Flemish and German works.  This painting definitely captures some of the simplistic, rigid style of the European Gothic period, but it also fits in a wealth of symbolism that adds satirical commentary on its subject.  We see a farmer and his daughter, standing tall and rigid, with the male (the taller of the two) in front and the woman behind, communicative of the stereotypical roles of men and women during this time (the 1930s).  The man holds a pitchfork, delineating his role as the worker and breadwinner of the family.  The male farmer also takes up the larger part of the canvas and is the one to make eye contact with the viewer, engaging the outside world, whereas the woman stares submissively off to the side.  Behind them stands their house, painted white and vaguely resembling a church steeple.  They are victors of the American Dream, are they not?  This hardworking capitalist, with his property, produce, and pride, stands inflexibly rigid with a tight fist gripping his tool.  Something so straightforwardly cliché and idealistic, the subject and style of this artwork gives off several hints of social satire in the joyless, quasi-comical faces of the two figures alone.  Yet critics have argued for a certain aspect of genuine reverence in the work, perhaps establishing this American family's plight in the world as something sacred and worthy enough to be reconstructed in a Gothic-style painting reminiscent of a Jan Van Eyck portrait.  With all of its contemporary parodies, it's probably evident to say which interpretation the current public and media have opted for, but it's always interesting to see the individual reactions this work inspires.  Some people take this painting very seriously as an honest appraisal of the American standard for success.  The artwork itself is ambiguous, merely offering an image with numerous ideological implications and ample symbolic significance and opening it up to public interpretation.  We'll see more of art functioning as a cultural medium a bit later on when we get to Andy Warhol.

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