Art Works Blog

Out of the mouths of medalists....

2009 National Medal of Arts recipient and singer/dancer/actor Rita Moreno receives her medal from President Barack Obama at an East Room ceremony at the White House on February 25, 2010. Photo by Richard Frasier.

This afternoon President Obama will award the 2011 National Medal of Arts to seven individuals and one organization that have made significant and lasting contributions to the "creation, growth, and support of the arts in the United States." This year's honorees include visual artist Wil Barnet, writer Rita Dove, actor Al Pacino, arts patron Emily Rauh Pulitzer, sculptor Martin Puryear, singer-songwriter Mel Tillis, and pianist Andre Watts. The United Service Organization (USO) is also receiving the prestigious award. To celebrate, we've rounded up some interviews with past honorees. (Click on their names to hear the full interview.)

"Art serves a purpose even though very often one of the definitions of art in our time is that it has no purpose but I don't agree with that. Well, so what could the purpose of art be if it is so universally present all through history and in every culture?  Well, it must be it seems to me a device that aids human survival....How does it do that?  It does that by making you attentive in the Buddhist sense, that it helps you understand what is real." --- Milton Glaser, designer

"I always knew I wanted to be a performer. I started as a Spanish dancer, and when I was still in Puerto Rico before I came to this wonderful country....And when I came to the United States, a friend of my mother’s, who was a Spanish dancer, saw me bopping around in the living room, and she said, “You know, Rosita really seems to have a talent for movement. Is it all right if I take her to my dance teacher and see what happens?” My mother said, “Sure. Great.” And that started the ball rolling. I was five." --- Rita Moreno, actor, singer, dancer

"So [at school] you had an art history class which was art history in the morning and painting in the afternoon and they had a studio so you had a studio class so that combination of art history and studio probably defines my way of living, I guess, or what I think about life because I can't work without thinking in a way and I think in a pretty conventional art historical way about painting, and then I have to go to the studio and make the paintings so you think and paint, paint and think." --- Frank Stella, visual artist

"I thought that [the character of Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind] symbolized all kinds of feminine attributes, or just universal attributes that were worth valuing and preserving. And I thought they were always in danger, generation after generation, and so I thought, 'Well, what can I do about this? And I thought, 'Well, one of the best ways of helping to preserve these qualities and values is to play Melanie.'" --- Olivia de Haviland, actor

"When I wrote the Fantastic Four, I tried to violate some of the usual comic book rules. I felt I wouldn't give them secret identities because I've always felt if I had a superpower, which is not to say that I don't, there's no way I would want to hide the fact I mean, I'm a conceited guy. I'd run around, 'Hey, look at me. I'm super.' I wouldn't wear a mask and I certainly wouldn't walk around in a stupid costume. I'd wear a suit or jeans or something."--- Stan Lee, comic book writer and producer

Don't forget to tune in at 1:45 ET to watch the LIVE webstream of the presentation of the 2011 National Medals of Arts and National Humanities Medals by President Obama at the White House.

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