One of the most recognizable paintings on the planet, Grant Wood's American Gothic has elicited considerable shares of angst, intrigue and amusement over the years. Cultural historian Steven Biel minutely examines Wood's iconic double portrait in a lively new book, American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting. Biel's insightful, humorous and well-researched discussion touches on the lives of the artist and his sister, the genesis of Gothic and society's responses to this enigmatic work of art.
Wood, a self-styled bohemian who lived briefly in Paris before returning to his Iowan roots, painted American Gothic in 1930, creating an indelible image born in controversy. The artist posed his couple, a Cedar Rapids dentist and Wood's own sister, Nan, separately for the portrait, which he intended would portray a farmer and his wife standing solemnly in front of their rural home.
Biel's narrative reveals a quixotic portrait of 20th-century America, as reflected in the social and critical interpretations of American Gothic, from iconoclasm and satire in the 1930s, to reverential iconic status in the war-torn 1940s; then, to the slings of the 1950s postmodernists and the camp hilarity of parody in the 1960s. It is remarkable, as Biel's painting shows, how the truest meaning in a work of art is found, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.