John Updike Delivers 2008 Jefferson Lecture

On May 22, John Updike, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, author and critic, presented the 37th annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities in Washington. His lecture on American art, “The Clarity of Things,” is available by clicking here. Selection as Jefferson Lecturer is the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for intellectual achievement in the humanities.

One of the nation’s most distinguished authors and leading literary critics, Mr. Updike drew from his more recent experience as a critic of American art and chose for his subject to examine the connection between America’s art and its ideas in “The Clarity of Things.”

Mr. Updike featured in his lecture several works of art included in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ new Picturing America initiative. Launched in February 2008, this program brings great American art to schools and public libraries to help citizens learn about the people, events, and ideas that have shaped our nation’s history.

Using slides of over 60 works of American art from colonial America to the pop art movement of the twentieth century, Updike engaged the audience with an exploration of artists ranging from Copley and Homer to Pollock and Rothko.

The annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities was established by the NEH in 1972. Created to honor the intellectual and civic virtues exemplified by Thomas Jefferson, the lectureship recognizes significant scholarship and the ability to communicate the knowledge and wisdom of the humanities in a broad, appealing way. The Jefferson Lecture is held each spring in Washington, D.C. The lecturer receives an honorarium of $10,000.