Jasper Johns Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

This afternoon President Obama presented 13 exceptional individuals with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Among them was Jasper Johns, the first studio artist to receive the award since Alexander Calder in 1977. “It has been noted that Jasper Johns’ work, playing off familiar images, has transfixed people around the world,” said Obama at the ceremony, which took place in the East Room of the White House. “Like great artists before him, Jasper Johns pushed the boundaries of what art could be and challenged others to test their own assumptions. He didn’t do it for fame, he didn’t do it for success—although he earned both.” The President studded his biographical sketches of many of the honorees with their own words. In the case of Johns, he included the old chestnut “I’m just trying to find a way to make pictures” and got a laugh out of the artist’s pessimistic resolve. “As [Johns] said, ‘I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that it didn’t matter—that would be my life,'” Obama told the crowd. “We are richer as a society because it was. And Jasper, you’ve turned out fine.” Other recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom include former President George H.W. Bush, musician Yo-Yo Ma, author and poet Maya Angelou, and financier Warren Buffett.