A Moment in Art History: “American Gothic” – The U.S.A.’s Most Iconic Painting?

Like many of you, I’ve found myself with a bit more time on my hands lately. Being a lover of art history, I decided to start a new video project, a Moment in Art History. Each of these videos will focus on a great work from art history; I’ll share the story of the artwork, a bit about the artist and my impressions of the art.

The first artwork in this series is Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” I love this painting, and I’m excited to launch this series with it.

I would love to hear what you think of the video! Leave a comment below.

Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of 20th century American Art. In this Moment in Art History we examine the painting, and learn about the artist’s background.

Art seen in the background of this video

Barn: https://pinetop.xanadugallery.com/col…

Landscapes: https://pinetop.xanadugallery.com/col…

Glass flower sculpture: https://pinetop.xanadugallery.com/col…

Portions of the script for this video were sourced from Wikepedia under the Creative Commons licensing agreement. Source material: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America…, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Wood

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Loved your video on Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”. I feel the painting captures a brief moment in history. It was interesting to learn of the criticisms Grant Wood faced with this painting. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  2. Thank you Jason. I always enjoy your videos on Art History. It’s interesting to learn the some of the back story surrounding a particular artist or piece of work. I do like the painting and agree with Ilene Reed’s comment, that it captures a brief moment in Iowan history.

  3. I used to show this painting to my High School Art Students and explained to them that it became an American icon depicting the strength and endurance of America coming out of the Depression. They were amazed to find out who the models were for the characters in this painting. I also told them that the farm house that he used in the painting still stands in Iowa.
    I also enjoy Edward Hopper’s work. I have printed pictures of his Night Hawks (1942) and his Early Sunday Morning (1930) hanging in my Art Studio.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this video.

  4. Jason: great art history reflection. American Gothic has been one of my favorites as well since my childhood. And I have seen the original, it’s terrific. Although I must admit I see it as a commentary on the severity of the American spirit. Artists are not always the best interpreters of their own work. But I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative view of Americans. However , given your definition of iconic I would probably be more inclined to say Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn” or one of Jackson Pollack’s action paintings as the iconic American image. Thanks for the stimulating conversation.

  5. Thank you Jason, for taking the time to share. Well researched and well presented. I have seen the painting in person and I agree it is iconic. It’s size, I think, is totally appropriate. Monumental scale is not part of the painting’s impact, and in fact, adds to its influence on the viewer. The painting evokes something in most Americans of our heritage, roots and values. Something that even nearly 100 years ago, was fading. Great video!

  6. Jason thanks, I too like your art history videos. As a sculptor of faces, I always look at the way other artists depict expression. Woods obviously removed the de rigueur smile created by popular photography. In the 19th century, that smile had not yet become established. The camera was invented in 1824, I believe, and early photographic exposure on the negative took longer. People tended to look at the camera deadpan and mostly expressionless. In the 20th century that changed as advertising began to use photographes to sell products and preferred the positive emotional message of a smile. And, of course, cameras shutter speeds improved so it was easy to capture facial expression.
    I’ve contemplated Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic, quite a bit over the years and convinced myself that he chose the dour expressions as a reaction against the newly established advertising industry’s use of smiles. I’m not sure how ubiquitous that smile was in the 1930s, so maybe I’m incorrect, but I still see the immense expressive impact of those dour steadfast faces as a psychological contrast to the “cheese”y smiles that evolved in popular photography.

  7. Hello Jason,
    Thank you for starting with “American Gothic”. I have been to the Art Institute of Chicago twice and actually spent most of my time mesmerized by this painting. I am an painter in my hometown of Slidell, LA and I wondered both times why am I mesmerized and drawn to this piece. His shadows and light are quite subtle but still strong, he has much realism going on but his trees in the background are a more fantasy type of execution. Some elements are quite detailed while others are more painterly. I find myself doing some of the same techniques without realizing in order to create an illusion that is very realistic but at the same time a little whimsical. I just love this painting and totally appreciate what Grant Wood was going for. By the way, I loved the Winslow Homer’s at the Art Institute of Chicago too!! Very powerful stuff there.

  8. Great video…loved it and look forward to others. I too, consider this an iconic American piece. Interesting information about the backlash. Also, I never knew that the depiction was that of a farmer and his spinster daughter…I always thought the woman was his wife.

  9. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE This! So many things i did not know . . . AND, YOU are a great storyteller/teacher.
    PLEASE do More & More of these.

    Thank You for All You Do!

  10. I really enjoyed the video and look forward to the next one. I have a lot of art history to catch up on having come to the arts late in life!

  11. I appreciate that you took time to explain the historical sense of “icon” and to tie it to this painting.
    Icons, as you noted, were devices to aid contemplation. In many cases they were and are considered portals to another dimension.
    I’ve never seen the work in situ but remember the fleeting projected image in “Art History” in the mid 1960s when the parodies were rampant. The lecturer spent no time with the the story or place in American Art.

    Thank you for filling that in and giving us a chance to contemplate the icons in our midst.

  12. I have never seen this painting in person, but have studied it online. The simplicity of it & the expressions take me to the world of hard working Americans. Struggling financially & hard working in the fields but in awe of what is reaped from it & proud to own a piece of land in America to feed the family.They forget to smile because the work is so hard but they are proud on the inside in their hearts for the work they have done.

  13. American Gothic has always been one of my top ten favorites and you picked the ideal example to start with. I am a late blooming painter and could never imagine having a skill as developed by Wood. As an old guy (88) this painting means something different to me today than from when I first saw it as a young man. Sadly, today it is an example of honorable self sufficient life, responsible for one’s own actions, and pure grit that has left us for the most part. It is hard to imagine the youth of today, however they may be labeled, seeing and appreciating the inner beings of the subjects.

  14. I find it strange how the interpretation of the painting changed with the on-coming of the depression and dust-bowl. Perhaps that shows the flexibility of the painting to reflect the times around it. I thought of Hooper as I looked at the painting also. Hooper seem to be able show a person’s pschyic isolation in normal life events. To me Hooper was much more interesting as an artist than Wood. Maybe more iconic, and definitely more historic would be Washington Crossing the Delaware in my opinion.

  15. Great synopsis of the painting American Gothic. I too consider it an iconic painting depicting simplistic life in Grant Woods’ terms. It’s a talented construction of his learned qualities.
    Thank you for this session.

  16. Thanks for reposting this video! I’m an artist that moved to Iowa a year ago to help with caring for my parents. I was able to visit a show of his work at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, a wonderful museum, and tour his studio that still stands about a block away. Also saw the original house included in this painting and it is worth a stop in Eldon, Iowa.

    I also find it hilarious about the initial reaction to this work. Since becoming an Iowan, I keep hearing the expression, “Iowa nice!” HAHA Mostly true, in my experience, however.

  17. Hi Jason,

    This is Cecilia Gallagher. Thank you very much for this extremely informative Video on the American Gothic background of this iconic painting. This is one of my favorite paints as well. In fact when I first saw this painting years ago I painted my version of American Gothic not knowing anything about the history of the painting or Grant Woods. But now I do thanks to you! Over the years I was offered several thousand dollars for my painting by many people who saw it, but would never sell it because I loved it so much. I will email you my oil and acrylic painting of this it is a 30×40. Thank you and would love to get your feedback on it. Thank you Jason for all your work and how you continuously inform other and the great way you empower artists. (I don’t have a website at the moment just what is on your site)

  18. Thank you Jason. I find the video very instructive. I remember seeing the painting for the first time and wondering about the title which motivated me to learn more about. Since then, every time I see it or someone refers to it, I think of Iowa/farming and then Chicago -because it is where I live and also because I graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
    And yes, I will agree with referring to the painting as “iconic”- represents a geographical and economic place in the history of this country.

  19. By coincidence, the New Yorker magazine (The Pitchfork of History, October 23, 2023) featured an an article on the place in history of American Gothic. But the thrust of the article was how rural communities reacted to the painting and, more importantly, the economic conditions which govern their lives — which were/are bleak in many respects. Quite a different take on the painting and on Wood’s reaction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *