American Gothic


The painting endures, Biel concludes, because it is both itself and a parody of itself. Its meaning has more to do with the viewer’s perception than Wood’s intention. In this, Biel is identifying something common to all visual material. Paintings (like films) never change, but they are subject to differing responses and interpretations as times change. Those that survive cultural, aesthetic and historical shifts share the characteristics that can be seen in ”American Gothic.” It’s simple — two people and a house — and easily remembered. It’s ambiguous and thus can evoke the ambivalent. Wood’s choice of clothing, hairstyle, color and sober posture denies specifics, yet suggests a time, a place and an attitude. It opens the door to popularity (anyone can enjoy it for any reason); argument (does it criticize Middle America or affirm its values?); hatred (it’s an ugly cliché and she’s got rickrack on her dress); parody (the Barbie and Ken or Mickey and Minnie Mouse versions); rebellion (Gordon Parks’s photograph of a black cleaning woman uses the pose to remind us of its basic whiteness); commerce (Paul Newman and his daughter posing on their organic snack packages); politics (representations of a long line of American presidents and their first ladies); and endless pop cultural references (the small-town tableau of ”The Music Man” or the credits for ”Green Acres”)