Grant Wood’s work has always put me in mind of a Sinclair Lewis novel. At some point, I learned that this is not an arbitrary connection:
In 1937, Grant Wood was asked to illustrate a novel that, like his painting American Gothic, had already become a classic: Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. Published nearly twenty years earlier in 1920, Lewis’s novel had come to represent the Midwest just as Wood’s paintings symbolized that region during the 1930s. Today Sinclair Lewis and Grant Wood still endure as cultural figures who captured something distinctive yet elusive about the Heartland; yet Lewis and Wood looked at the American Midwest through different eyes. Lewis saw provincialism and narrowness, while Wood gloried in the solid, earthy strength of his fellow midwesterners and their land. Both men felt conflicted about their homes, and these dichotomies filtered into their work.
At the Art Institute’s “Master Drawings Unveiled: 25 Years of Major Acquisitions,” Wood’s “January” reminded me anew that serendipity-synchronicity-synthesis weaves powerful connections in my learning life: At the urging of my youngest, who is currently reading Arrowsmith on the recommendation of a mentor, I have moved my copy of the 1925 Lewis classic to the top of my TBR stack.
From the museum, we made our way to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater for The Winter’s Tale, a play with which I grow more irritated each time I see it. It’s a fairy tale, my older daughter has patiently explained. Well, then, I have retorted, the only suitable conclusion would be the lonely and terrible death of Leontes. Cheek by Jowl’s production earned my respect not only for its inventive direction and wonderful performances but also for amplifying my sense that, yes, Leontes is a disturbed drama king, and his queen, his friend, his court are his enablers. This staging unabashedly holds all of them accountable for the despair that defines their kingdom, and it made. me. think. High praise.
On the way home, as we discussed the psychology at work in such an interpretation of the play, I scanned the landscape and wondered how Wood would capture the cold night. Oh! “January” is a winter’s tale.
Serendipity. Synchronicity. Synthesis.
The following are a few other images I took during our recent visit to the Art Institute.