- Also reflect on where the original is currently located. Where did you access it?
I was able to see it online.
- Did you see the original or have you seen a reproduction in print, online or elsewhere?
I have not seen the original. I have seen it in various art books over the years, but in this instance, I have online viewed it online. As it is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, you can view it on their website here where you can click on it and zoom in incredibly close. It’s actually available on hundreds, if not thousands of websites, including Google Arts & Culture, Wikimedia Commons, and Bridgeman Education (requires login to view), and endless blogs, online newspapers and magazines, and art history websites.
- What does this tell you about our modern relationship to the example you’ve chosen?
The fact that this piece is still being written about online, and touring around other galleries, even after 90 years, tells us that people still want to see and learn about this iconic painting. It depicts a very specific time and place in American history, but it is still so recognisable to many today. That comes in part from it’s depiction of a solid American couple, but also due to the popularity of it’s parodies and the view of some that it is a bit of a joke. From The Simpsons to The Clintons, there are countless versions of this painting in magazines, books, cards, videos, in movies, on album covers, and much more, which has kept the image in the public eye for 9 decades. The spread of such parodied images in the media and online, has brought it to new generations of people who otherwise might not have come into contact with it unless they were interested in art history.
The curator of ‘American Art’, which is the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago where this painting lives, talked about the parodies in a an online interview about the painting here and states:
Ultimately, this painting has become a site of social commentary—it can be transformed in so many ways, using celebrities we recognize or just different types of people—as a way of tapping into larger questions about American society, politics, history, and so on.
She also notes that it is becoming self-perpetuating now – the parodies keep coming, and they continue to make it famous.
Away from the internet and all the other media that the painting appears on, the Dibble House, referred to as the American Gothic House, still stands and has a visitor’s centre on site where you can learn more about it. They even provide costumes to allow visitors to capture their own version of the famous painting. 15000 people a year come through the centre each year, so interest in the house and painting is still strong.
- Does it highlight any change in attitudes or approaches to visual communication more broadly?
I think we are all aware of the difference that tv, video, and the internet have made to the way we think about and approach visual communications, and art is no exception. With the arrival of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, plus the smart phones that allow us to access them anywhere, visual communication has become a popular and efficient way of presenting information than through text alone. Visual content is much more likely to be shared on these sites, and studies have shown that we can retain much more information when it’s transmitted visually.
The internet has enabled visual communications to be spread to more people than ever, and that includes art. Viewers who are not interested in art and may never have ordinarily come across a painting such as American Gothic, may well stumble on a parody and become interested in the original, or at least become aware of it’s existence.