Listening Topic: Visual Art – Lecture in an art museum

A. Listen to a guide in an art museum talk about the painting American Gothic. As you listen, check the three main points that are discussed.

___ a   U.S. history during Grant Wood’s life

___ The artist

___ c   A description of the painting

___ The process: how the painting was made

___ e   People’s reaction to the painting

B. These sentences form a summary of the talk. Read the sentences and fill in all the information that you can remember. Then listen to the talk again, and complete the summary as you listen.

B. Listen to the report again. As you listen, choose the correct answer to complete each statement. Listen again if necessary.

 American Gothic is very well known because __________________________.

 It was painted by Grant Wood in (year) __________________________.

 The style of the painting is like folk art, but Wood was influenced by __________________________.

 The painting is called American Gothic because __________________________.

 The models for the painting were __________________________.

 The people are wearing clothes from (period) __________________________.

 Most people feel that the people in the picture look __________________________.

 Some people think that Grant Wood was making fun of __________________________.

C. Listen again to the part of the talk where the guide describes the paintings in detail. As you listen, number the topics in the order they are mentioned.

___ a   The background

___ b   Expression on the faces

___ Gothic lines in the picture

___ d   The man’s clothes

___ The pitchfork

___ The woman’s dress



a ✓   c ✓   e


Answers will vary.

1   it’s imitated / copied a lot in popular culture

2   1930

3   Dutch and German art / 16th century Dutch portraits

4   the style of the window in the house

5   Wood’s sister and his dentist

6   the 1890’s

7   unfriendly / not welcoming / suspicious

8   farmers / country people / people in small towns


a 3   b 6   c 4   d 2   e 5   f 1


Now here you’re looking at one of the most well-known paintings in the United States – maybe the most well-known. Now if you haven’t seen the painting itself, you’ve probably seen imitations of it in advertising and popular culture in general. It’s been reproduced on posters, and T-shirts, and cartoons. And a lot of famous people have had their photograph taken in this pose. So it’s really an American icon.

American Gothic: It was painted in 1930 by Grant Wood. Wood was a self-taught painter from the Midwest. He was from Cedar Rapids – that’s a small town in Iowa. He was well known locally and a lot of his work is landscapes of the local country, farming country. Wood’s style is kind of folksy, a bit like folk art, but he was really more sophisticated than that. He traveled to Europe several times, and he was influenced by Dutch and German art that he saw there, particularly 16th-century Dutch portraits, the ones that showed people standing in their homes, in their natural surroundings, holding some kind of significant object. And you can see that influence here, in this painting, where the man is holding a pitchfork.

As you can see, the painting shows a couple standing in front of a house with a gothic window in the background. Gothic in the title first and foremost refers to the style of the window in the house … like a church. When we think of gothic windows, we usually think of the grand cathedrals of Europe, but here the windows are in a very ordinary looking house.

It’s actually not clear whether the couple is supposed to be husband and wife. Some people say that, and others say they’re father and daughter. This is one of the mysteries about this painting. Wood never said who they were supposed to be. What we do know is that the models for the painting were Wood’s sister, who was thirty at the time, and his dentist, who was 62. At one point Wood suggested that they were father and daughter, but that might have been to spare his sister’s feelings, because maybe he didn’t want to suggest that she was as old as the dentist. We don’t actually know.

The man and woman are wearing old-fashioned clothes. Remember this painting was done in 1930, but the clothes are more like what people might have worn in the 1890s. The woman has a dress with a pattern and with ruffles on it. You can imagine she probably made it herself. And the man is wearing a black jacket, farmer’s overalls, and an old-fashioned type of shirt without a collar. He’s holding a pitchfork, which is a symbol of an old-fashioned kind of farming. In the background, you can see the house with the gothic window, and there’s some plants on the porch downstairs.

Now, if you look at the detail of the painting, you’ll see that the gothic lines in the window are also in the faces of the people themselves. They’re find of elongated. And the lines are sort of repeated in the pitchfork and in the lines of the man’s shirt. So it’s not just the house. The Gothic theme is repeated in other parts of the picture.

For most people, the interesting thing about the picture is the expressions on the faces of the couple … because, although the style … of the painting is like folk art or something like that, the people aren’t idealized in any way. They look sort of unfriendly … you get the feeling that you’re not welcome. They’re kind of shutting you out. It’s like … they’re defending their world from outsiders. The man looks as if he’d use that pitchfork as a weapon if necessary …. And the woman looks … kind of suspicious …. It’s as if she’s worrying about somebody stealing her laundry or something.

Because of the expressions on the faces and because of the title of the painting, there was some bad … some negative reaction to it at the time. The word Gothic has a lot of kind of different connotations, but some of the meanings are dark, a little scary. And then other people point out that there’s a contrast between the marvelous Gothic architecture in Europe, where you have all these beautiful cathedrals, and the architecture of the house here.

Many people think that Grant Wood was being ironic, poking fun at farmers or people in small towns. He himself said that that was not his intention. But then, you know, he had to live there. He had to live in a small town, so he couldn’t say anything else. The painting went on to become one of America’s most famous paintings, but there’s always been this mystery about it. What was the artist really trying to say? Nobody really knows for sure. What do you think?

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