Conversations in Management
that observation, Grant Wood left Paris and sought inspiration
in the place he knew best—Iowa. Wood was definitely a
child of the great Midwest. Born in tiny Anamosa, he was nine
when the family moved to Cedar Rapids following the death of his
father. After graduating from High School, he attended the
Chicago Art Institute and University of Iowa up until the
outbreak of WWI. Already a skilled artist, the Army (in what
has to be anomaly) assigned him to a specialty that drew on
his talent and he spent the war painting camouflage. Like so
many other American artists, Wood traveled to Europe for
inspiration after the war. He associated himself with a group of
painters who considered themselves neo-meditationists.
These artists believed that one must quietly wait for
inspiration. Grant wryly noted that they seemed to do all their
waiting in Parisian bars while sipping brandy. He gradually came
to believe that modern European art was incapable of adequately
expressing the American experience. He later wrote, “I lived
in Paris a couple of years myself and grew a very spectacular
beard that didn’t match my face or my hair, and read Mencken and
was convinced that the Middle West was inhibited and barren. But
I came back because I learned that French painting is very fine
for French people and not necessarily for us, and because I
started to analyze what it was I really knew. I found out. It’s
his home state, Wood, who had been a competent painter, became a
great one. With a group of like-minded friends, he founded a
movement called Regionalism. Regionalism encouraged
artists to take their inspiration from the things they knew best
and to express that inspiration in images close at hand. In
Wood’s case the images were of the people and places of Iowa.
And his vision was idyllic, nostalgic, gently satirical, and
ultimately optimistic. It was precisely the right tonic for
people living through the Great Depression, and it produced our
country’s single most recognizable work of art—American
Gothic. (For the record, the house is in Eldon, Iowa, the
woman is his sister Nan, and the gentleman is his dentist, Dr.
Byron McKeeby. Nan and Byron sat separately for the portrait.)
speak in our own voice and possess a unique authenticity, but
like Grant Wood in Paris, it’s seductively easy to lose our way
among other sweet voices that tell us how to act and think. The
fashion police tell us how to dress, the cultural cops tell
what’s hot and what’s not while other, more
intimate voices, measure our dreams against their expectations.
Sometimes it takes an act of real courage to just stop
listening. When we do, we touch home and rediscover what we
know, who we are and what we hope to be. That’s the awareness
needed to start making a distinctive contribution to the world
around us. By tapping into our strengths—into the things we
know and do best—we can find the inspiration to vastly
exceed our own expectations of what’s possible. At that point
imagination thrives and creativity prospers.
went home to find success. It’s a journey we all should make.
Read More CM in the Archives!
Find More In The Archives!