Regarding American Gothic, what makes the painting balanced?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Several elements enter into the balance of Grant Wood's famous painting, American Gothic:  line, shape, color, design, symbolism--even a certain ambiguity.

  1. Line - For the most part, there is the repetition of vertical lines in Wood's iconic painting; the planks of the frame house and its first-floor windows, the lines in the overalls and pitchfork, the man's coat, the faces of the man and wife/daughter. These vertical lines are met with right angles made by the horizontal lines of the roof. The lines create a symmetry as just as with the weathervanes on the house's roof and in the trees, there is a perfect imaginary perpendicular that supports the man and woman who stand so stiffly.
  2. Shape - There is a repetition of shape that unifies and balances the painting.  For instance, the shape of the pitchfork is repeated in the overalls and the white shirt of the man, just as it is the design of the Gothic window.  Even the oval heads of the man and woman repeat this shape.
  3. Color - Essentially monochromatic, the painting also has no intensity of color--even the red barn is faded--except for the black coat and dress of the figures.
  4. Design - The entire painting lacks movement, but is geometrically pieced together, providing a mathematical balance with the spaces equal on the sides and middle of the figures.  Notice how the gothic window resides between the man and the woman. There is a clear lack of artistic perspective in this painting (in photography, one calls this "depth of field"). Interestingly, too, the calico of the womans apron is repeated in the drapes inside the gothic window.
  5. Symbolism - The sharp pitchfork and austere appearance of the figures who seem carved from wood themselves, along with the Gothic window, suggest some satire upon the Quaker-like man and the ornate window, suggestive of an emotionalism and pretentiousness. In addition, there may be the suggestion of the grotesque and uncivilized, crude activities of the gothic genre.
  6. Ambiguity - Because of the photographic design that is mixed with some rather eccentric placements of window and people, in the Midwestern setting, there is a certain unified ambiguity about the theme of this painting. As one critic writes, 

 ...[Wood] combines a personal, iconography drawing upon a visual pun, portrait caricature, comic satire and rural regionalism with an eccentric unification of 'decorative' elements derived from local sources...the modest Carpenter Gothic house abounding with social and cultural implication.








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