University Museums

Title: Honorary Degree
Name: Lithograph
Date: 1938
Medium: Lithograph on paper
Country/Culture: American
Dimensions: 11 7/8 x 6 7/8 in. (30.2 x 17.5 cm)
Signed: Hand written in pencil, lower right: Grant Wood
Classification: Prints and Printing Plates
Credit Line: Gift of I.H. Pace. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: UM2003.211
More Information
In this print Grant Wood placed a squat caricature of himself between two gaunt academic giants. Having received such an institutional honor from the University of Wisconsin in 1936, he could not resist the temptation to poke fun at the affected solemnity of the ritualized custom, and once more a Gothic reference serves as the satiric device. An auspicious ray of sunlight beams through a collegiate Gothic window just at the moment when a Gothic-arched mantle descends from the hands of a towering dean. Peering up at the severe, steel-rimmed visage of a second academician, the plump little farm boy from Anamosa, his shoes shined bright for the occasion, accepts the diploma, bewildered by the dark-robed mystery of it all. (Dennis, James. Grant Wood. Columbia: University of Missiouri Press, 1986. p 121)

Grant Wood received no formal degree after high school and embarked on a sporadic art education that began in Minneapolis and ended in Paris in 1924. Despite this lack of formal training, he became an associate professor of fine arts at what is now the University of Iowa. During his controversial tenure, he encountered confrontations with the standard "academic" professors.

One of Wood's adversaries was H. W. Janson, then a young professor in Iowa City, whose textbook History of Art is now a standard. Friction between them prompted Janson's rash criticism of Wood and Regionalism in the 1940's and 1950's. The latest edition excludes any mention of Wood, Regionalism, or American Gothic.

Nevertheless, Wood received a number of prestigious honorary degrees. In Honorary Degree Grant Wood, somewhat "short" on formal training, is honored with a "gothic" hood by his taller and more pretentious academic colleagues. Wood is basking in the glory of the Gothic arch, his symbol for Regionalism and American Gothic, his claims to fame. This is one of the few self-portraits he completed.