The Roaring Twenties was the time of flappers, jazz music and anything in between. With the roaring twenties came a style known as American Gothicism. The painting is now one of America’s most famous pieces of art from this era, and continues to be admired today for its depiction of simple values, family love and daily life in rural America.

American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood that was completed in 1930. The painting, which depicts a farmer and his family, has been the subject of controversy for its depiction of American society at the time.



How American is Grant Wood’s 1930 picture of a stern-faced Iowa farmer clutching a pitchfork standing next to his worried-looking daughter, American Gothic?

My query is inspired by a piece by cultural journalist Sarah Rose Sharp in Hyperallergic magazine. She cites a number of recent reinterpretations of the picture as “in search of presenting the “true America.”

What happened to the good old days?

If American Gothic is a sign of our identity, as Sharp believes, then America is in serious trouble. By contrast, Van Gogh’s dismal Potato Eaters seems like a lush picnic in Wood’s pinch-faced photo of farmer and daughter.

American Gothic has a frightening appearance. The girl seemed to be terrified. Who wouldn’t want to be standing next to a glum-looking guy with a pitchfork?

I don’t see why Wood’s artwork is so popular. But then then, I’m not sure why Mona Lisa receives so much attention, so don’t take my word for it.

Nathan Sawaya, who is renowned for utilizing Lego bricks to make pictures, is one of the artworks that Sharp identified as an example of a take-off of American Gothic.

Sawaya claims he used 8,000 Lego pieces to make the figurines in his blocky interpretation of American Gothic. The blocky style, in my opinion, wonderfully captures the true tale of Wood’s painting — rigid and unyielding.

“In my representation, I sought to recreate the stern gaze,” Sawaya told Sharp.

His Lego version captures the foreboding atmosphere of Wood’s artwork. “If you don’t get off my property, I’ll run you through with my pitchfork,” the farmer may threaten to any comers.

With that intimidating glare, the farmer seems to be implying that his Midwest farm is the actual America, while everything else – all those huge cities with their cosmopolitan liberalism – is an alien country.

Consider the second word in Wood’s painting title: “Gothic,” a Middle-Eastern building style typified by the pointed-arched windows of the farmhouse behind the people.

Re-enacting the Middle Ages

But, like Wood’s picture of America, his allusion to Gothic is perplexing. The style evolved from an endeavor to paint a pleasant image in the midst of adversity.

Consider the gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, which conjures up romantic visions of heroes slaying dragons. Consider the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. People seeking a respite from the hard Middle Ages may find it in Gothic architecture.

Was Wood implying that his picture, created during the Great Depression, was a portrayal of perseverance in the face of adversity?

Is it a satire mocking the rigidity of small-town life, or is it a parody? As British art critic Robert Hughes regarded Wood’s work, it was a parody. In his book “American Vision: The Epic History of Art in America,” published in 1997, he poses the following question:

“Was Wood making a joke about Iowans and their fetishized notions of sobriety, moral vigilance, patriarchy, and so on?”

Or was he, in fact, extolling such virtues?”

Hughes concluded that both responses were correct, claiming that Wood was unable to make a decision. I’m not as conflicted as you are. The fact that he called his picture after an architectural style designed specifically to alleviate the agony of the Middle Ages by giving it the appearance of fairytale castles reveals his intention.

Granted, there are no flying buttresses, ornate tracery, or stained windows, all of which are hallmarks of Gothic architecture. The style is also known as pointed architecture, which is what you’ll see at the farmhouse.

It’s also difficult to ignore the daughter’s watchful gaze, her father’s beady eyes, and, well, his menacing pitchfork – hardly the image of a perfect America. I’m presuming Wood’s image is a parody. If you’d want to contribute, please do so.


The “american gothic parody” is a painting by Grant Wood. The painting was created in 1930 and has since sparked 21st century art.

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