Friday, January 18, 2013

American Gothic as a Depiction of the Great Depression by Grant Wood

American Gothic (1930)
The painting an American Gothic was produced by Grant Wood in 1930. It was completed in Iowa as a backlash against Europeans trying to depict Americans from their own vantage point. The concept of self-representation was called Regionalism. It was part of a movement of paintings by Americans to characterize "true" American life.

The picture is of a farmer and his daughter. Grant Woods used his sister and a dentist to model the image. One can see the age on the father's face and his willingness to work hard and save the farm. Perhaps he was saving it for his daughter. As the Depression took hold you can see the determination with just a touch of a classy sports jacket thrown over his bibs. It is an interesting clash of age and youth, wealth and poverty, ruggedness with soft flowers in the back, and commitment with a get-to-work attitude. 

Grant Woods moved to Cedar Rapids after his father passed away in 1901. He went to an art school in Minnesota and then came back to Cedar Rapids to teach in a one room school house. Around 1913 he attended the School of Art Institute in Chicago. Through his travels in Europe he exposed himself to other forms of art. He focused much of his effort on the Midwest and the lives of its inhabitants.

The Depression was a worldwide event that started in 1930 and ended in the early 40's. It is seen as the world's longest lasting economic downturn. International trade declined by 50% and unemployment rose to around 30%. The causes of the Depression range from explanations of market contraction to governmental inefficiencies. However, the initial decline of the stock market was seen by some economists as a symptom of bank and government policy failures.

In a study of the Great Depression by economist James K. Galbraith's work The Great Crash:1929 he writes:

The main relevance of The Great Crash, 1929 to the great crisis of 2008 is surely here. In both cases, the government knew what it should do. Both times, it declined to do it. In the summer of 1929 a few stern words from on high, a rise in the discount rate, a tough investigation into the pyramid schemes of the day, and the house of cards on Wall Street would have tumbled before its fall destroyed the whole economy. In 2004, the FBI warned publicly of “an epidemic of mortgage fraud.” But the government did nothing, and less than nothing, delivering instead low interest rates, deregulation and clear signals that laws would not be enforced.

Galbraith, J. (1961) , The Great Crash 1929, Pelican Books

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