American Gothic at the CAM

We did a program this month at the Cincinnati Art Museum with the Cincinnati Bar Association on Painting a More Perfect Union: the Constitution Through the Lens of Visual Arts Masterpieces. Grant Wood’s American Gothic is at the CAM on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. While one of the most parodied works in American art,  Grant Wood’s intent in 1930 wasn’t parody or satire. Wood’s painting was based on a set of beliefs he called Regionalism. Wood felt that what was American about American art was in the Midwest, in the agrarian landscapes, rural settings, small towns, farms and farmers who were being hit hard by the Great Depression. In his essay Revolt Against the City, Wood explained his Regionalist beliefs, symbolized for him by Gothic cathedrals that had defined the small towns and regions of France. He believed that each region of America should define itself through its art and compete with each other to form a true American art. His idea of regional competition in the arts was the artistic equivalent of the First Amendment concept of the “marketplace of ideas”: i.e. truth arises from free expression of competing beliefs. In the eight-plus decades since its making, American Gothic’s celebrity status has eclipsed its original meanings, its popular quirkiness made even more so as its historical context has faded.