Sunday, December 08, 2013

Amer-OAR-can Gothic

Last week, I posted an example of a graphic "allusion" to my passion du jour, George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, in an Angie's List mailer. Upon further review, I believe I chose the incorrect term to suggest what was happening. While I claimed "allusion," the cover art can better be described as an example of "appropriation." This subtle distinction is... uh... appropriate as the source which was being referenced (an iconic image associated with the television show) was graphic, rather than textual, in nature.

According to Wikipedia: "Appropriation in art is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them... Appropriation can be understood as 'the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work.'" Armed with this new information, when I came across another example, one generated from a quip to my students and to be shared more formally on the next A Day, I am glad to have the correct language with which to explain.

Another Term of the Day I shared with my high school English classes recently was "Gothic." While a term they had been introduced earlier in the year while reading representative selections from both English and American literary movements, in an effort to find relevant grammar/literary terms for sharing on "G Days" (it's a somewhat complicated A through J school day rotation schedule), it seemed a more interesting class starter than "Gerund."

American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood and cover to the 2013 Princeton 3-Mile Chase Regatta program.

In passing, the title to Grant Wood's familiar painting, American Gothic, came to me and I inquired if students were familiar with the painting. Though none could recall it by name, once I described the image of the rural American farmer in overalls with pitchfork and his dour-looking wife, more than a few hands went into the air. American Gothic by Grant Wood is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art. It has also been widely parodied and appropriated within American popular culture, earning I high level of visual recognition.

This past October, my stepson rowed in the Princeton 3-Mile Chase Regatta on Lake Carnegie in New Jersey. Unfortunately, work commitment precluded my going, but my wife did take the trip and returned with the event flyer. As fate would have it, the flyer featured an appropriation of American Gothic for it's cover. in  addition to a more minimalist depiction (and slightly more positive expressions on the two primaries' faces), the most signification (and appropriate) alteration was the replacement of the pitchfork with A Princeton Tigers "blade."

The layers of influence on our culture, whether "allusion" in novels, "appropriation" in art or even "sampling" in music, is dense and multi-layered. As always, however, the mantra I repeat to my students suggests how we can limit or open our analysis to observing these strategies at play: The more deeply and broadly you are read, the more these nods and influences will reveal themselves to you!

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