American Gothic: a state visit to Britain for the first couple

‘The most famous painting in American art’: Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) .

‘The most famous painting in American art’: Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) . Photograph: The Art Institute of Chicago, friends of American Art Collection

The US’s most famous, and most parodied painting is about to visit London for the first time. We examine the many interpretations of Grant Wood’s masterpiece


American Gothic – the long-faced couple standing sentry before their wooden house in apron and overalls, pitchfork in hand – is the most famous painting in American art. It is instantly recognisable to millions of people from Oregon to Osaka who hardly know its name, still less that of the painter.

In its comparatively short life (it was made in 1930), Grant Wood’s masterpiecehas become one of those rare paintings that are constantly quoted in spoofs, advertisements, movies and cartoons, so familiar they can be readily invoked in a quick sketch or even just by one detail, such as the arched window. Even if we do not know its title, American Gothic is by now as proverbial as the Mona Lisa, The Starry Night and The Scream, a point not lost on parodists who have Photoshopped Van Gogh’s stars into the Iowan skies above that pointed roof, introduced Leonardo’s Lisa into the family romance and even married Grant Wood with Edvard Munch. A Gothic Scream flipbook is available – two for the price of one – that morphs the stern midwestern farmer into the Norwegian screecher.

But is he in fact a farmer, this man from whose powerful hand the pitchfork grows like a tree? It would be an understatement to say that opinions have differed over the years. For this stupendous image – apparently as plain and direct as the small-town Iowans it portrays, apparently as simple as the summer setting – turns out to be uniquely controversial and mysterious. Is it a celebration of these hardworking folk, upright in their moral values, steadfast against the terrible deprivations of the Great Depression, as so many Americans have believed; or is it slyly satirical? Is Wood painting a hymn of praise to his neighbours in Cedar Rapids, or sending up their strict narrow-mindedness? When the painting flies into this country, centrepiece of America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s at the Royal Academy, many British viewers will have their first chance to decide. For American Gothic lives mainly in reproduction, intensely memorable even to those who have never seen it in person. Its staying power is exceptional in every respect, for the painting has never before left the United States.

It is the clarity of the image that strikes first: neat as a pin, well made as the wooden house, pristine as the woman’s ironed pinny. Everything fits and everything is in perfect order. Flat, graphic, meticulously detailed, as rigidly frontal as a Renaissance portrait, each part so crisp and distinct, it is no wonder Wood’s painting lends itself so well to reproduction (and jigsaw).

Here is an American Eden of blue skies and plump trees, peopled by a pinched Eve and a work-hardened Adam, their labours rewarded by sheer survival, their virtue enshrined in the church-like facade behind them. It appears to be almost a primer of rural life. But some see the man as a hellfire preacher rather than a farmer, his pitchfork the prop for some pitiless sermon; others view him as a small-town clerk, home from work and out in his denims to hay the cows in the barn.

The woman is his supportive wife, stiff as her pioneer husband; or perhaps she is his maiden daughter, whose honour he is defending with that pitchfork (Robert Hughes’s goatish opinion). Perhaps, with her antique brooch and outmoded braid, she really believes in old-fashioned values; or maybe she is about to bolt from this prison, the telltale curl of hair escaping like a sign of the future.

From a Time magazine cover to a backdrop for Walter and Skyler White of TV’s Breaking Bad, American Gothic has inspired hundreds of parodies.
From a Time magazine cover to a backdrop for Walter and Skyler White of TV’s Breaking Bad, American Gothic has inspired hundreds of parodies.

They are a sanctimonious pair, probably unforgiving Republicans, straitlaced as their clothes, with no music in their life; or they are the opposite: American heroes, prairie puritans carrying on the spirit of the founding fathers, living the hard life but never giving up – even during the disastrous drought of 1930, when there was practically no hay to pitch.

Every opposing interpretation has spawned a spoof, and even the spoofs have their imitations. American Gothic has become arguably the most parodied painting in history. Lyndon and Lady Bird, Ronald and Nancy, Bill and Hill, Barack and Michelle, Barbie and Ken, Homer and Marge, Kermit and Miss Piggy (the cameo brooch now showing a porker) have all stood in front of that facade, as Donald and Melania surely will if they haven’t already. The building is almost as famous as that other White House; the painting cannot resist partisan politics. And every time these spoofs appear, proposing the dour duo as representative Americans of one stripe or another, they communicate the beautiful lucidity of the painting, with its dovetailed composition, and yet the mystery of it too.

About its origins, and the painter, a great deal is known. Grant Wood was born in Anamosa, Iowa, in 1891. He was only 10 when his father died and his mother moved her small family to Cedar Rapids. Here he went to boarding school, laboured for dimes in a metal shop, and eventually managed to get himself into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1913. His early paintings of the rolling Iowan landscape are appealing, if anonymous, but in the 1920s he made four trips to Europe and was stunned by the northern European painters he saw there, particularly in Munich. He admired Dürer, Van Eyck and Hans Memling; his paintings learn from their stark frontality, intense precision and simplicity of form. He was even dubbed the Iowa Memling by the New York art writer Lincoln Kirstein…



Turning to Nature to Find our True Selves

Turning to Nature to Find our True Selves

Photo by Jerry and Pat Donaho |

Bill Plotkin, a psychologist and wilderness guide, talks about the Buddhist connection to going into the woods to find yourself.

By Leath Tonino

ll Plotkin has led thousands of people into the woods, the mountains, and canyons. Far from casual beer-and-sunscreen camping trips, these adventures are crafted to facilitate “the descent to soul.” They help participants find out what is most unique about themselves and what will benefit their communities when they return to everyday life.

A psychologist and wilderness guide, Plotkin, 66, is the author of three books, most recently Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche. He also founded Colorado’s Animas Valley Institute, an organization that offers multi-day immersions in remote wilderness areas and at retreat centers on the edge of wild places. Programs have names like “Becoming Earth: Discovering Soul as Ecological Niche” and “Winter Desert Quest.”

While Plotkin’s work is broadly spiritual, as opposed to narrowly religious, there are many Buddhist undertones. He believes, for instance, along with many people who meditate daily, that change at the personal level—in an individual’s heart and mind—ripples out to impact the broader world. As we spoke, I kept thinking that time alone in nature, when approached from a certain angle, can be much like time “on the cushion.”

I met Plotkin for this interview at his home near the Animas River on the outskirts of Durango, Colorado. It was an autumn morning, crisp and bright, with snow dusting the nearby San Juan Mountain’s highest peaks. We talked for two hours beside a crackling fireplace, pausing only to add more logs to the blaze.

You lead people on pan-cultural vision fasts. What are these?
It’s a practice found in many cultures around the world, including early Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist traditions, as well as ancient and current native traditions of the Americas. It involves going out into the wild alone for three or four days to fast and seek a revelation of soul-infused life purpose. It’s designed to help people uncover their greatest gift, and I mean “gift” not only in terms of what is most unique about them, but also in terms of what they can offer to their people.

Within any human community there are limited resources for maintaining a community’s vitality. From time to time people need to get away from the village, not just physically, but psychologically and spiritually. They need to move beyond what we call “village consciousness” to find something that doesn’t yet exist within the village. All cultures need this ongoing dialogue between the wild and the civilized.

An individual’s deepest fulfillment comes through service. I emphasize this because the Western world tends to be narcissistic. Our psychotherapy is all about fixing “me,” and we’re obsessed with our own personal development. So part of the vision fast ceremony is the reminder that we’re searching for something that will help us serve our people, and that by serving our people we will be fulfilled.

Do we also end up helping the more-than-human community?
Yes. The vision always comes from soul, and soul is an aspect of nature. If the vision is true and we embody it well, we embody our place in the more-than-human world. Doing so always serves the greater web of life.

I don’t mean soul in any religious or New Age sense. To put it simply, soul is our ecological identity. You might say it’s like a niche. A moose has a specific way of belonging to the earth, as does a cottonwood tree, as does a human.

The goal of the vision fast is something completely different from what we call vocational guidance. We’re not seeking a job or a social role. We’re asking what did earth birth me to be in this life?…




Dietary Changes Now Proven to Effectively Treat Major Depression

by Alex Pietrowski, Staff Writer, Waking Times

More than 15 million Americans suffer from serious depression, and it is estimated that globally some 350 million people are struggling with the challenging mental disorder. While the causes of depression are varied and largely unidentifiable, since the 1950’s the pharmaceutical industry has been developing a broad range of antidepressants, and it now estimated that 8-10% of the American population is taking some type of antidepressants.

The problems with antidepressants are wide-ranging including addiction, costs, and a host of unfavorable side-effects including emotional numbness and even an increased risk of suicide. While antidepressants may very well help some people cope with the overwhelming effects of depression in the short-term, pharmaceutical treatments do not cure depression.

Pondering the reasons for such a major increase in depression in our society over the last couple of decades, many have speculated that a combination of lifestyle, social disconnectedness in a technologically advanced society, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, and increased consumption of nutritionless and heavily processed foods are to blame. Yet, medical science has been slow to fully acknowledge and recommend lifestyle changes to patients, often preferring the recommendation of pharmaceuticals.

A world-first study, however, recently conducted by Deakin University in Australia has shown unequivocally that major depression can be conquered with the right dietary changes.

“We’ve known for some time that there is a clear association between the quality of people’s diets and their risk for depression. This is the case across countries, cultures and age groups, with healthy diets associated with reduced risk, and unhealthy diets associated with increased risk for depression. However, this is the first randomised controlled trial to directly test whether improving diet quality can actually treat clinical depression.” ~Professor Felice Jacka, Director of Deakin’s Food and Mood Centre

The study looked at adults with major depression, evaluating their progress with specific dietary changes over a three-month period, revealing the types of foods which help the most.

“The dietary group received information and assistance to improve the quality of their current diets, with a focus on increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts, while reducing their consumption of unhealthy ‘extras’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks.” [Source]

Final Thoughts

In addition to the quality of one’s diet, depression is now also scientifically linked to inflammation in the body, as well as the health of the body’s microbiota, both of which are heavily influenced by the foods one chooses to consume.

The Deakin University study adds another crucial piece to the puzzle, and is an extremely important contribution to the ever-growing body of anecdotal evidence of people who have beaten their depression by taking control of many aspects of their lifestyle.

About the Author
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for and Offgrid Outpost, a provider ofstorable food and emergency kits. Alex is an avid student of Yoga and life.
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This article (Dietary Changes Now Proven to Effectively Treat Major Depression) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Alex Pietrowski and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.