Grant Wood s American Gothic has always fascinated me in that it depicts the foundation of the United States and exemplifies rural America. American Gothic s popularity led Grant Wood into a whole new painting style and different content in his works compared to his early paintings. Grant Wood was basically a self taught artist. He began his career with a tendency towards landscapes with trees as the central focus. Although Wood traveled extensively, his paintings never showed any tendencies toward any certain style from the places in which he observed. His work remained very conservative. Wood was asked to create a stained glass window for the Veterans Memorial Building in his home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. From that creation sprung a series of portrait paintings from which American Gothic was born. These works showed a tendency of style towards Late Gothic and Northern Renaissance paintings which Wood greatly admired. Wood s new style of painting centered on rationalism. This was made up of cohesive compositions overlaid by many details. Wood called this: story telling pictures. For example in American Gothic other details in the painting are brought out to resemble the larger shape of the pitchfork. The man s stripe in his shirt, the stitching in his overalls, the woman s rick rack on her dress, the porch of the house, and the window on the top floor are all done with the same line scheme.
Many of Woods portraits also shared the emotionless and severe expression subjects with paralleled plane backgrounds which were also signs of Northern Renaissance and Late Gothic styles. This is shown clearly in American Gothic, Arnold Comes of Age, and Self-Portrait. Wood made some exceptions to this when he painted children s portraits. Speculation as to this could be that he was competing with the camera. . Other exceptions away from the Late Gothic and Northern Renaissance style was Wood s concern that artists should incorporate elements of contemporary life from the certain locations in which they lived into their individual paintings. This idea was so that the artists could convey traditional symbolism and develop his own interpretive area of regionalism. Wood merged the Gothic periods use of apparel and accessories into his paintings but used the details of rickrack, calico print and lace of the contemporary clothes and articles. Wood believed that if each artist in the United States would devote their art to regionalism there would no longer be a dependency on the traditions of Europe. Although Grant Wood began with literally no style, and became fascinated with the Late Gothic and Northern Renaissance style, he ended with Wood s style, which was that of regionalism. Sources: Dennis, James; Grant Wood; A study in American Art and Culture.Hagen, Oskar; The Birth of the American Tradition in Art.