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Grant Wood

American Painter

Grant Wood Photo
Movements and Styles: American Regionalism, Social Realism

Born: February 13, 1891 - Anamosa, Iowa

Died: February 12, 1942 - Iowa City, Iowa

"I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa."

Summary of Grant Wood

Hailed as one of America's foremost Regionalist painters in the 1930s, Grant Wood strove to depict archetypal rural subjects that embodied the values of hard work, community, and austerity. Eschewing the idioms of avant-garde European art, Wood depicted his native Midwest with the clarity and precision he observed in Northern Renaissance art and the organic lines and curves of Art Deco design, melding these disparate styles into a uniquely American vision. In painting small town and rural life, Wood gave the American public an idealized vision of itself at a time during the Great Depression when most common, working Americans faced great hardship.

In subsequent decades, his work has been praised and derided by critics and public alike, but his paintings, and in particular American Gothic, remain some of the most iconic, and appropriated, paintings created by an American artist, thus providing Wood with a permanent place in American popular culture.

Key Ideas

Despite his relatively short mature career and his dismissal by important critics and scholars in the 1940s, Grant Wood endures as one of America's most popular artists, who painted quintessentially American scenes. His adherence to realism coupled with highly complex formal compositions and slightly strange perspectives draws viewers into a world that is not always what one expects. While many are happy to find depictions of a bucolic America, many also revel in the strangeness and subtle criticality that Wood presents.
After the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, American artists turned their efforts to creating a particular strain of American art that embodied patriotic values that hearkened back to an earlier time. Nostalgic and romantic, Regionalism pictured an American society devoted to productive labor and tightknit communities. Along with John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood depicted stalwart Midwestern types that embodied this idealized America.
While most famously known for his paintings, which garnered immediate national attention, Wood also worked in decorative arts, jewelry design, and illustration. He did so in part to make much-needed money for his family, but he was also committed to creating a vibrant artistic culture in small-town Iowa that was not beholden to larger metropolises such as Chicago and New York.
Wood's reputation has never been steady. He endeared himself to Midwesterners, who saw themselves portrayed in a positive light, but Easterners tended to dismiss him because of his purported sentimental, old-fashioned style. More recent interpretations have detected a subtle critical edge to many of his paintings, suggesting that Wood was not necessarily the booster he was made out to be.
While there were rumors about Wood's homosexuality during his lifetime and after his death, Wood never publicly acknowledged this aspect of his identity, and in fact seemed to live in fear of being exposed. More contemporary scholarship has begun to reexamine Wood's painting in light of his sexuality, excavating, in curator David Ward's words, the "tension and difficulties faced by gay men who stayed behind in Middle America."
Grant Wood Photo

Grant Wood, born in 1891, was the second of Francis Mayville Wood and Hattie Weaver Wood's four children. He spent his early years on a farm in rural Anamosa, Iowa. When he was 10 years old, his father died unexpectedly, and Hattie moved with the four children to Cedar Rapids. Grant and his older brother immediately needed to take odd jobs to help support the family. His childhood on the farm remained an inspiration to him through his artistic career. This timing separated his perspective from other realists: Wood focused on the rosy, mythical memories of boyhood, and a life of simple pleasures in tune with the seasons, rather than the more adult drudgery and economic precariousness that often go hand-in-hand with farming.

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