Any Activity Becomes Creative When the Doer Cares About Doing It Right Or Better

John Updike? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Exalted activities such as composing a symphony or devising an invention clearly enable the maker to express creativity. Refreshingly, the prominent writer John Updike contended that even quotidian activities allowed for creativity if the doer cared enough to excel. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1968 “Playboy” magazine contacted several well-known writers and asked each one to compose a short piece about creativity. The group included John Updike, Arthur Miller, Le Roi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and James T. Farrell. Updike propounded an expansive notion of creativity. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

For one thing, creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity; the ditchdigger, dentist and artist go about their tasks in much the same way, and any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1975 Updike published the collection “Picked-Up Pieces”, and he included the short item from “Playboy”; hence, the quotation achieved wider circulation. 2

In November 1975 Updike’s remark was reprinted in the “Los Angeles Times” when it caught the attention of a book reviewer: 3

. . . “any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right,” Updike comes through as an appealing and rounded personality: the picked-up pieces fill out the authentic man.

In 1996 “The Life 101 Quote Book” selected by Peter McWilliams printed a version of the quotation with an ellipsis: 4

Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity . . . any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.
—JOHN UPDIKE

In conclusion, John Updike deserves credit for the comment about creativity he penned and published in “Playboy” magazine in December 1968.

Image Notes: Public domain picture of a group of light bulbs from qimono at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to quotation expert Nigel Rees who received a request to explore this quotation which he relayed to readers in his April 2021 “Quote… Unquote” newsletter. Rees mentioned the ascription to John Updike, and he shared a 1969 citation which pointed to a 1968 seminar at the University of Texas. This inspired QI to tackle this topic.)

Notes:

  1. 1968 December, Playboy, Volume 15, Number 12, On Creativity – Symposium, John Updike, Start Page 136, Quote Page 139, Column 3, HMH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1975, Picked-Up Pieces by John Updike, Chapter: Foreword, Quote Page xx, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1975 November 14, Los Angeles Times, The Book Report: Pieces of the Vintage Updike, Quote Page G15, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  4. 1996 Copyright, The Life 101 Quote Book, Selected by Peter McWilliams, Arranged by Jean Sedillos, Topic: Creativity, Quote Page 45, Prelude Press, Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)