Keeping the Memory Alive by Connor Pagkalinawan

The painting American Gothic by Grant Wood is one of the most recognizable images in American history, despite not many people even knowing its name. Though, what exactly granted the image its iconic status? This question is still being asked today, as not many people understand why it is so memorable. It is not the most intricate piece of art in the world, nor does it feature the most beautiful subjects. I believe it is able to continue to remain a notable piece of art because of its ability to have its meaning interpreted in numerous ways, thus be continually discussed throughout time. Wood originally painted the portrait “to be a positive statement about rural American values, an image of reassurance at a time of great dislocation and disillusionment,” yet it is still “often understood as a satirical comment on the Midwestern character”.[1] Regardless, its satirical background is what stuck, along with a variety of other explanations, and it became a staple of American art. Another notable American piece of artwork with an ambiguous message is Edward Hooper’s Nighthawk (pictured below). Like American Gothic, it can currently be found in the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as being absent of any spectacular components, for it is a simple diner with four inhabitants on a street corner, yet millions of people still gravitate towards it. Some do note “Hopper’s understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing on simplified shapes gives the painting its beauty.”[2] I believe that what makes it stand out from any other painting, similarly to Wood’s piece, is the lack of any explicit message being conveyed. Even if there was something on the mind of the artist while creating it, people can still translate the image in their own way. I am not even too sure about why I like Nighthawks so much, but it still manages to resonate with me and be one of my favorite scenes. Another huge contributor to the two artworks’ fame are the parodies created inspired by these two paintings. Their iconic statuses are so prevalent that they are often recreating using cartoon characters, celebrities, or even political figures to signify topics ranging from pop culture to the political climate. Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Gottfried Helnwein, which reimagines Nighthawks with Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, and James Dean, is iconic in its own right. People today seeing their favorite figures inserted into these classics keeps their memory alive. While it can be argued that parodies degrade the value or significance of the paintings, it should be seen as an act of flattery. The originals are still acknowledged for their importance to this day, so people see them as worthy of being spoofed.

[1] “American Gothic.” Art Institute of Chicago.

[2] “Nighthawks.” Art Institute of Chicago.

Leave a Reply