19 October 2005

An American Artist

This post is for my sister. Happy birthday.

Just about everyone recognizes American Gothic, by Grant Wood. It has been parodied and pastiched endlessly, and it rightly qualifies as an icon of Americana. I don't know how I feel about American Gothic. Every time I see it I want to giggle, even though the piece looks serious enough. This year a book was published about it, and I heard a review on NPR that made me think of several paintings by Grant Wood that I really like. I'll put two in today's post.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns Wood's The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931. I like that the viewer looks down on this scene from about the height of the church steeple. I like that the lights have gone on, even in the distance. I love the way the rectilinear buildings contrast with the landscape's undulations. I also really like how the whole scene looks like it has been hit by a spotlight (look at the church's and horse's dark shadow).

This one is called Parson Weems' Fable, from 1939. I love this one because it is just sooooo silly. Here we have Parson Weems drawing back the curtain to show his fable about young George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. Remember the story? George was so honest that he lived up to his crime, right? I love that the curtain is edged in little cherry-like pom-poms. The tree is so stylized that it too looks like a giant cherry. As for young George, it looks like Wood borrowed his image on the dollar bill--the face of an old man on a little boy. Again, the deep shadows reinforce the theatrical, imaginary aspect of the image.

Happy birthday, Kathleen. I hope you like these paintings, or at least find them amusing.


Josh said...

i have always liked that second painting. and for the same reasons you do. the silliness of it. although, i've never been comfortable with the proportions of the curtain and weens to the subject (which i for some reason assume is the cherry tree incident). i guess the question becomes, what is the subject? how much is ween's character an issue here?

Kate said...

Thank you sister! I enjoyed both of those paintings. I love how The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, looks 3-D, like we're looking down on a model we could touch and feel... and your right the attention to detail is perfect, nothing has been left out.

Parson Weem's Fable - isn't amazing how far reaching that fable has become? It's so far reaching that many think it is fact.

I'll have to listen to the review. I'm interested in hearing if they discuss what aspects of our culture have been influenced by American Gothic. I have my own theories, but I'm interested in hearing what the author has to say about it.

Thanks again! Reading your blog is an educuation... I need to start putting the dictonary on the computer desk as a reference when I read -- :). Truly wonderful!

Mary Ann said...

I think the Parson is the subject of the second painting--but that would be taking the artist at his word, and that can be a dangerous thing. :)