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America Face To Face With Itself

November 2nd, 2008 - Chicago, United States

 

I always thought one of the things that made Grant Wood's "American Gothic" the masterpiece it undoubtedly is was the way the couple portrayed look not straight out at us, but slightly to one side, their expression wary, distrustful, suspicious. The object of their distrust is not specific, but general - they are suspicious of everything they do not know.

 

America's greatness has been built on the coexistence of conservative and progressive spirits, and the often creative tensions between the two. Somehow, in the really big moments, the right one of these two tendencies has more often than not prevailed. I hope with all my heart that tomorrow, the progressive ideal will win out.

 

Update (Nov 21st 2008) : This photograph is referenced in an eloquent and witty blog post here, which reveals, amongst other things, that Barack Obama actually refers to this painting in his book Dreams From My Father. I quote from the blogpost :

 

"[Obama] writes that American Gothic effectively evoked the world in which his grandparents grew up: “…a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty.” [...] He’s talking about the people who accepted their daughter’s marriage to a Kenyan man (in 1960); they loved and later helped raise the grandchild born from that marriage. And [he] credits them for instilling many of his most admirable traits."

 

An interesting alternative twist is put on the possible interpretation of this photograph in a post on Obama's conservativism on the blog Asymptotic Life. Is this not a painting, but a mirror ?

 

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Taken on November 2, 2008