Thursday, November 8, 2012

The original Photoshop

I never tire of explaining to folks about American Gothic, how it was conceived by Grant Wood on a visit to Eldon in 1930, who the people in the painting are, and the fact Nan Wood Graham and Dr. McKeeby never posed in front of the house, or even together.

This last detail seems to take many by surprise, not because it is alarming news, just not expected. However, a unique response recently to this information gave me pause, as I had never considered it before.

In a conversation with a friend during a lull in the University of Iowa football game last week, the subject of American Gothic was raised. He knew I worked at the Center and asked about the house and the painting. When I told him who the man and the woman were, and they had posed separately, he exclaimed, “It’s the original Photoshop!” 

As many—or most—realize, Photoshop is both a noun and a verb. Photoshop the noun is the computer program that allows photos to be enhanced and processed. To photoshop is the act of enhancing the picture. Many times adding images that were not in the original photo, or compiling numerous images to produce an image which never existed at all. It is also in our vernacular when doubting the authenticity of a photo, such as “it’s been photoshopped.”

Prime examples of photoshopping an image are the countless parodies of American Gothic on magazine covers, in advertisements, or many other numerous venues, as well as the displays here at the Center. Many—most—are satirical in nature, meant to poke fun or drive home a point.

When pressed, Grant Wood insisted American Gothic was not a satire of Iowans. Although many at the time believed it was and he suffered the wrath of many farm wives who were convinced he was poking fun at them, despite his denial. However, given the statement from my friend, I revisited the original intent of the painting applying modern-day terminology and logic.

Since many well-known American Gothic parodies are photoshopped, and since—according to my friend—the original painting was photoshopped, could the original, in fact, be a parody of life in the Midwest, and Iowa in particular? Applying logic, since many parodies are satirical did Grant Wood actually intend to poke fun at Iowans with American Gothic?

This is highly unlikely as Photoshop did not exist in 1930. Or did it? Not by the same name, of course, but perhaps the idea was tossed around, one never knows. (Things like this seem to occupy space in my mind when I could be devoting more attention to really important issues like world peace, which isn’t going to happen anyway so I might as well waste my time pondering this.)

Nevertheless, the remark from my friend was spot-on, given what Photoshop is and how it has become part of our lexicon. It is a safe bet that Grant Wood never had Photoshop in mind when creating American Gothic, but that is exactly what he did. Face it, the guy was ahead of his time.

Remember, One week from today on Nov. 15, Larry Stone will present “Iowa—Portrait of the Land” at the Eldon Library Hall at 7 p.m.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
The American Gothic House Center
The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
        Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic
300 American Gothic St | Eldon, IA 52554 | 641-652-3352 |

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