John Updike and Contemporary Artistry vs. The Transcendent

While passing through airports this week, I ran across this New York Times feature on John Updike, one of the great American writers of our time. Focusing on his early career, the piece includes some of Updike’s personal feelings toward his craft, well before he established himself among the legendary novelists. I find his thoughts applicable to us artists today.

In a letter to his parents, Updike writes:

We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled. This age needs rather men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic.

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