Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"American democracy was built upon the labors of men and women of stout hearts and firm ." (1935)


American Gothic by Grant Wood (1930), painted at the beginning of what would be the Great Depression, shows a farmer and his spinster daughter standing in front of their house, which is built in a Gothic style. It is described on the Art Institute of Chicago's website as, 'an image that epitomizes the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character.' This painting became an important image during the Great Depression as life on the land represented the strength of the American past and provided an image of renewal. James Michael Newell explained this notion as an attempt to “interpret in pictorial symbols the important historical forces that determined the evolution of western civilisation.” The woman's clothing is clearly imitating colonial Puritan America. The man is unmistakably a farmer and symbolises the Puritan work ethic in which they believed that their dedication to hard work would increase their own wealth and power. This notion immediately became embedded in American virtues and ultimately the American dream and so encouraged many to return to the foundations of American civilisation in order to pull themselves from poverty once again. This kind of art therefore allowed people to become more aware of the places in which they lived and the attitudes and lifestyles they shared, creating a sense of pride concerning their place of birth and heritage (in this case Eldon Iowa and the Mid-Western United States). As a result, regional identity and American identity as a whole is created.

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