Only a few people who recognize American Gothic have ever experienced seeing it first-hand. The majority have seen it through reproductions and are familiar with the painting, which portrays an old-fashioned, stiff and sour couple, standing in front of a small white house.
Repeated reproductions of American Gothic made the painting well-known throughout the world. Only a few other images, such as the Mona Lisa or Scream, by Edward Munch, are as widely known as American Gothic, and because of its high visibility, the painting is an easy choice as a parody.
With a few simple changes, such as clothes, hairstyles or background, American Gothic can be easily manipulated and has been for decades. Pop-culture embraces this painting by replacing the couple or background elements with hundreds of alternatives, creating statements and advertising campaigns. This altering is successful because the public knows what is being manipulated and can appreciate the resulting humor or change in mood of the painting.
Modifications to the painting communicate cultural and societal issues as well. Effects of the farm crisis can be illustrated by putting the couple in barrels instead of clothing, and having the couple don gas masks illustrates the risks of pollution to humans and the earth. In short, the familiarity and ready made set of associations of American Gothic make it a slate on which anyone can freely draw on and evoke a response, and many, many do.
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