Grant Wood's Artwork, Dream-work, and Literary Work

Grant Wood’s visual work inhabits an unusual space in 20th century American art, both within and outside of the canon, simultaneously uniquely recognizable and deeply inscrutable. In this lecture, a collaboration with the London Review of Books, Kevin Kopelson, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Iowa and one of the LRB’s most distinctive contributors, argues that this inscrutability can be attributed to a curious phenomenon: while Wood produced work much the way dreamers dream, he also did so the way writers write. These are two modes of production that overlap in several respects, but which do not otherwise have a lot in common, and they place Wood in an alternative, literary tradition, stretching from Mark Twain to David Sedaris – the subject of Kopelson’s 2007 monograph. By looking again at Wood’s paintings through a lens of his own statements, particularly concerning the imagination, Kopelson traces their peculiar charge back to its source: a tension between unconscious desires and anxieties and their broad public expression.