"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, February 28, 2011

American / British / Indiana Gothic


You probably don't need me or Wikipedia to tell you that Grant Wood's American Gothic "is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art, and one of the most parodied artworks within American popular culture. . . . one of the most reproduced – and parodied – images ever. Many artists have replaced the two people with other known couples and replaced the house with well known houses."

As you can see, this is just what my friends and I have done! First of all, in the picture above, my neighbors Katy and Peter got dressed up and posed in front of an historic Indiana frame house in our neighborhood. Then their talented daughter Emily took a photograph and added her own artistic finishing touches.

In the pictures below, I was photographing my British in - laws along with some gardening tools that they had been given on their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Inspired by that stark English sky, I suddenly had the idea to pose them just so and then juxtapose their photograph with the original.

Ron might have been having a little bit too much fun,
but Rosanne really caught the spirit!

British / American Gothic

The painting is also the inspiration behind a number of American poems, including

American Gothic
after the painting by Grant Wood, 1930

Just outside the frame
there has to be a dog
chickens, cows and hay

and a smokehouse
where a ham in hickory
is also being preserved

Here for all time
the borders of the Gothic window
anticipate the ribs

of the house
the tines of the pitchfork
repeat the triumph

of his overalls
and front and center
the long faces, the sober lips

above the upright spines
of this couple
arrested in the name of art

These two
by now
the sun this high

ought to be
in mortal time
about their businesses

Instead they linger here
within the patient fabric
of the lives they wove

he asking the artist silently
how much longer
and worrying about the crops

she no less concerned about the crops
but more to the point just now
whether she remembered

to turn off the stove.

by John Stone (b. 1936 - )
found in Where Water Begins, 1998

and this one by one of my favorite poets, William Stafford (click for a reading):

American Gothic
If we see better through tiny,
grim glasses, we like to wear
tiny, grim glasses.
Our parents willed us this
view. It's tundra? We love it.

We travel our kind of
Renaissance: barnfuls of hay,
whole voyages of corn, and
a book that flickers its
halo in the parlor.

Poverty plus confidence equals
pioneers. We never doubted.

by William Stafford, 1914 - 1993
in The Way It Is, 1999

Is it that we are reminded of ourselves when we see American Gothic? Or, as Stafford says, maybe our parents? Or, more likely, our grandparents or great-grandparents. Stafford hints at faith and endurance. Both poems express the sense we get when looking at the painting that life is just so daily, as indeed it is. Stone mentions patience and points out that even the things not visible -- the farm animals, the smokehouse -- would be mundane, entirely predictable. The worried thoughts within the minds of the farmer and the housewife are routine, quotidian.

Yet life can also be so surprisingly strange, so Gothic, like that window. The house may look ordinary, but the window does not. In the middle of my farmyard, here's art! Inside my house, here's a tapestry! Inside my barn, here's a perpetual Renaissance!

!How cute is this?
My older sister & brother dressed up Grant Wood Style!
1955 or so

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, March 14, 2011

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

You might also enjoy my previous posts on the poetry of William Stafford:

9 January 2010
26 February 2010
11 June 2010
18 November 2010

1 comment:

  1. ha,ha. Perfect of Ron and Roseanne. Hadn't seen that one. Good job.