American Gothic by Steven Biel
A Life of America's Most Famous Painting

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Synopsis

Is there anyone who has not seen the painting of the sturdy Iowa farmer with his pitchfork and his thin-lipped wife or daughter? Ever since it met the public eye in 1930, the work titled American Gothic has elicited admiration, disgust, reverence and ridicule - and has been reproduced hundreds of thousands of times, in every medium. Painted by a self-proclaimed "bohemian" who studied in Paris, the image was first seen as a critique of Midwestern Puritanism and what H.L. Mencken called "the booboisie". During the Depression it came to represent endurance in hard times through the quintessential American values of thrift, work and faith. Later, in television, advertising, politics and popular culture, American Gothic evolved into parody - all the while remaining a lodestar by which one might measure closeness to or distance from the American heartland.
 

About Steven Biel

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Steven Biel is the director of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University.
 
Published June 1, 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company. 215 pages
Genres: History, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

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Jun 01 2005 | Read Full Review of American Gothic: A Life of Am...

Kirkus Reviews

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American Gothic was almost sent back to Grant Wood after he submitted it in 1930, the paint still wet, to the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibition of American paintings and sculpture.

Mar 15 2005 | Read Full Review of American Gothic: A Life of Am...

The New York Times

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Wood speculated late in his life as to ''whether or not these faces are true to American life and reveal something about it.'' What Biel shows -- and all the parodists, recreators, detractors, fans and analyzers would probably agree -- is that the painting doesn't reveal just ''something'' about ...

Jul 10 2005 | Read Full Review of American Gothic: A Life of Am...

The New York Times

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WHEN Steven Biel followed Route 16 (the ''American Gothic Parkway'') out of Eldon, Iowa, onto American Gothic Street to visit the source of his subject -- Grant Wood's painting -- it ''didn't occur'' to him at first to look at the house ''anywhere but straight on.'' Experiencing the power of the ...

Jul 10 2005 | Read Full Review of American Gothic: A Life of Am...

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