American Gothic Revisited

Do you know the painting American Gothic painted by Grant Wood?

Wood painted the picture in 1930 and it has that flat hyper-realistic look that means it could have been painted at anytime right up to today. It is mysterious, threatening, ambiguous – so much so that there was even a version of it in an episode of the Simpsons.

In case you can’t bring the painting to mind, it’s a middle-aged couple standing side by side, probably on a farm. He is wearing a collarless shirt and an overall with a jacket over it, and he is looking out at the viewer with a direct stare.

She is wearing a dress with a sailor collar done up to the top button and a little brooch at her neck. She is looking a little off to the side and her chin is down. She is kind of appealing, like he is.

They look like they have seen adversity and been through a lot. They are both self-sufficient and don’t mean harm to anyone. Except there’s that great big pitchfork that he’s holding front and center.

And if you want a link to the painting, here it is: American Gothic (The link will open in a fresh page of tab.)

What Is It About?

What does that signify? Is it a don’t-mess-with-us pitchfork?

It could be just a tool of the trade – like an anvil over a blacksmith’s shop, but it seems more than that.

The ‘gothic’ part comes from the arched window of the farmhouse behind them. If it were a church, the window wouldn’t be out of place.

So what is the painting about? Is it a comment on the midwestern character?

The Photo At The Top Of This Article

So, with all that in mind, I absolutely did not think of American Gothic when I took this photo of Riley and Summer from Black Nettle playing on the street in Edinburgh during the Festival two years ago.

But looking at the photo afterwards with the way she is holding the guitar neck upright, the comparison jumps out.

And it is kind of apt, because they are American. But the way this couple is dressed and the way they are looking at me taking their photo represents for me the very opposite of that buttoned-down couple in American Gothic.


  1. Rebekah M says:

    That’s a funny comparison, and you’re right … there’s nothing in the way these young people are looking into the camera that resembles the painting.

    I remember the first time I saw that painting. I first associated it with Amish people … but then again, not. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s still interesting to look at.


    1. I understand what you mean about the Amish connection. I didn’t make that connection but I thought the painting was of a husband and wife. The The Art Institute of Chicago link says that the artist used his sister and his dentist as models for a farmer and his daughter, dressing them as if they were tintypes from an old family album. I missed that completely.


      1. Rebekah M says:

        I read that now too … always took it for granted they were husband and wife.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tamara says:

    How interesting that Grant Wood painted The American Gothic in 1930: I thought it was painted in the previous century or thereabouts! Nice link in with the festival couple. 🙂


    1. Yes, that fits with how the artist describes his intention – see the link to the The Art Institute of Chicago reference, but I thought the opposite – I thought it was later than the 1930s 🙂


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