Gothic Painting Essay

Several pages into the essay, Pickering benignly condenses what academics and Eastern intellectuals came to dislike about Grant Wood by 1950: "His color is clear, his outlines unblurred, and his surfaces polished. His work is nearly always popular among simple people" (273).

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Like other reviewers of the decade, Craven plays up to Wood's supposed simplicity of nature and artistic intent; he would not, in this time period, be credited with an ability to paint allegorically or to tell complexly layered stories on canvas.

Still, Wood's popularity during the 1930's seems to be related deeply to the Depression; whether his paintings were perceived as simplistic and charming or as social commentaries, the landscapes and "gallery of American types" gave a sense of hope and grounding to people around the country during a turbulent time.

It was certainly true that Wood's popularity rapidly fell off with the changed economy following World War II.

Ruth Pickering wrote a far less bloodthirsty essay on Wood in the September 1935 issue of North American Review.

However, the academic response to Wood was not vast during the Depression.

The Literary Digest, covering him briefly in 1932, praised him for painting American subjects, and closed the article with the faint remark that "any future account of the artistic rediscovery of America must include his contribution" (14).Art Digest, in late 1942, gleefully hosted "The Grant Wood Controversy", a showdown between eastern critics and letters to the editor from the voices of Wood's popular support.Editor Peyton Boswell drew the lines of battle: "Grant Wood, and his fellow nationalists, did speak the language of their time and place, producing in the process art that had lasting historical value because it was an authentic, if not always great, art. America has been forced by fascist enemies into an all-out war for the democratic way of living, and in that fight most of us realize we are in a global struggle.James Sweeney of The New Repubic lambasted Wood for his lack of sensibility to color, "slack compositional sense," "flabby, characterless figures," and "feeble sense of modeling." Sweeney was also the first, but certainly not the last, to characterize Wood's paintings as reminiscent of a "gift-shop atmosphere" (76).Perhaps the tenacious reviewer's most prophetic statement in the attack is his last: "That Grant Wood should be accepted and celebrated as a representative American painter is of more interest as an economic symptom than as an art event" (77).Wood died in 1942 and a retrospective show was quickly arranged in Chicago.With the isolationism and inward-looking of the Depression years behind the United States and the new internationalism of World War II looming, Wood's nationalist vision and vocal denunciation of European artistic traditions made him an easy target for critics looking to score political points.Grant Wood's popular and critical rise was phenomenal; his fall, mercifully after his death, was meteoric.His early supporters cast him as the savior of American art, the man who would finally close the door against the strange cubist abstractions that were flooding from Paris into New York.Notices of the picture's popularity were carried in papers as far away as New York and Boston, and critics struggled with the meaning of the serious couple and the ambiguous title: "In the Chicago press, Charles Bulliet delighted in American Gothic as quaint, humorous, and AMERICAN,' while a critic in Boston saw the couple as grim religious fanatics. American Gothic would always remain his most famous and most enduring work, but others became well-known during the thirties; Stone City, Iowa, Parson Weem's Fable, and Midnight Ride of Paul Revere all achieved fame on their own, and then were purchased by such Hollywood names as Katherine Hepburn and Edward G. Grant Wood's rise to fame was a popular movement, propelled more by coverage in Time, Life and the New York Times than in academic journals of the day.He knew nothing of the artist, he admitted, but guessed Wood must have suffered tortures from these people who could not understand the joy of art within him and tried to crush his soul with their sheet iron brand of salvation'" ( qtd. The New York Times and Time primarily were interested in Wood as a mural painter and as a part of the Regionalist triumvirate--the other two being John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton (Jewell).


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