George Bush photo

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medal of the Arts

November 17, 1989

The President. Excuse the delay -- we've been out there trying to calm the national turkey, which has all worked out very well. [Laughter] No double entendres around here about that, either. [Laughter]

Thank you -- all of you -- for being here today for the fifth annual presentation of the National Medal of the Arts. It is a great pleasure and an honor for Barbara and me to welcome you to the White House. I just want to thank the National Council on the Arts; the Committee on the Arts and Humanities; as well as John Frohnmayer, our new and distinguished Chairman of the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts]; and of course, Hugh Southern, for the support and encouragement of America's cultural life.

Dante once wrote that "Art imitates nature as well as it can, as a pupil follows his master; and thus it is a sort of grandchild of God." Well, as this "grandchild of God," art embraces our values in history, gives meaning to our existence, and illuminates the basic human truths which give us purpose. In a way, art defines our civilization. But in another more personal way, art opens entire new worlds for each of us, letting us see and hear and even feel life through the mind of someone else, from new perspectives. And instead of seeing a single world, we can see as many worlds as there are artists and writers, dancers and musicians.

The diversity of art in this nation is truly a product of the diversity of our democracy. The American arts, like a many-faceted mirror, have been a colorful reflection of this nation's history. The music of the frontier led to the blues of the bayou and the swing bands of the cities. The primitivism of the early painters gave way to the romanticism of the Hudson River school and, later, American impressionism and abstract expressionism. In architecture, Americans see everything from the Federal style to postmodernism. Modern photography and filmmaking have their roots in the tintypes of the Civil War era. And from our earliest writings to this week's bestseller list, we've seen American poetry, novels, short stories earn a unique place in the literature of the entire world. Cities like New York and Los Angeles have become art capitals of international importance; and regional orchestras, museums, dance troupes, and opera companies have enjoyed spectacular successes.

We need to make this great diversity of art more a part of the lives of all Americans. And we need to begin this effort in our schools so that our young people will have a sense of their heritage and the creativity of the present. We need to make special efforts to reach out to those who do not regularly participate. The work of the National Endowment is especially important in these areas.

Today, we honor a group of men and women whose creative ideas, talent, and passion have added so much to the rich tapestry that is our nation's cultural heritage. Their work is not just of the mind but of the heart and of the soul. And some have challenged us, some have amazed us, and some have brought remarkable beauty of sight and sound to us, but all have helped us to think and to dream and to understand ourselves and our world a little better.

Today, we honor Alfred Eisenstaedt for his photography, Dizzy Gillespie for his jazz innovations, John Updike for his prose, Katherine Dunham for her dance and choreography, Walker Hancock for his sculpture, Czeslaw Milosz for his poetry, Robert Motherwell for his paintings, and Leopold Adler for his historic preservation. And we honor someone whose great talent and energy will live on, long after the sounds of his music has faded, and that is the late Vladimir Horowitz.

And we honor the patrons of the arts, those who understand that without the artistic creativity of its people no nation can be whole, and those whose dedication, energy, and commitment have sustained that creativity over the years. We honor Martin Friedman of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Leigh Gerdine of Webster University in St. Louis, and the Dayton Hudson Corporation.

And now I will ask John Frohnmayer if he will read the citations for the National Medal of the Arts to our recipients. John, all yours.

Mr. Frohnmayer. Thank you, Mr. President.

Leopold Adler II is a nationally recognized expert in historic preservation, one who has changed the face of his hometown, Savannah, Georgia. He was the driving force behind two remarkable revitalization experiments. One refurbished the historic section of Savannah, and the other renovated low-income housing in the Victorian district. Mr. Adler has also served as a trustee for almost a decade for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The citation reads:

To Leopold Adler for his civic leadership in preserving for all time the beauty of Savannah, Georgia, and for making that city a model of the art of historic preservation.

Katherine Dunham is an outstanding dancer and choreographer. The Dunham Company, the first black professional dance company in America, performed throughout the world from 1938 through 1963, presenting the dance, music, and folklore of Third World countries and the United States. For over 30 years, Ms. Dunham has maintained the only permanently self-subsidized dance troupe in America. She also founded the Dunham School of Arts and Research in New York City.

The citation reads:

To Katherine Dunham for her pioneering explorations of Caribbean and African dance, which have enriched and transformed the art of dance in America.

Alfred Eisenstaedt is the quintessential photojournalist who pioneered the introduction of the candid camera technique into news reporting. After emigrating from West Prussia in 1935, he joined the original photography staff of the new magazine Life. Mr. Eisenstaedt's most famous photo is that of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. As a photographer, he has won almost every major national professional award.

The award is received by his long-time friend and photo editor, Bobbie Baker Burrows.

The citation reads:

To Alfred Eisenstaedt for the extraordinary photographs that document the tragedies and triumphs he has witnessed over a lifetime.

John Berks "Dizzy" Gillespie is a virtuoso musician, pioneer, composer, and bandleader who has been a pivotal figure in 20th century American music. The founder of the jazz bebop movement, he developed a radical new approach to improvisation that was to change the course of modern musicmaking. For more than 40 years he has explored the varied music of different cultures. Mr. Gillespie has performed before countless world leaders and has won numerous awards. Dizzy Gillespie.

The citation:

To John Berks "Dizzy" Gillespie for his trailblazing work as a musician who helped elevate jazz to an art form of the first rank and for sharing his gift with listeners around the world.

Walker Kirtland Hancock is a renowned sculptor whose work spans a period of 70 years. He began by sculpting the bust of an orphan and was awarded a Prix de Rome while still an apprentice. He has spent a lifetime sculpting over 268 pieces, many of them portraits, busts, monuments, and medals in the heroic Renaissance style of Florence. Mr. Hancock has sculpted busts of American heroes and Presidents. He has said that just as the ancient Greeks did in their sculpture, celebrating heroes is still one of the worthy functions of sculpture today. Walker Hancock.

The citation:

To Walker Hancock for his extraordinary contribution to the art of sculpture and for demonstrating the enduring beauty of the classical tradition.

Vladimir Horowitz was a consummate pianist and a genius who was known for the controlled thunder and the electricity of his performances. Appropriately, Mr. Horowitz's first home was on Music Street in Kiev. He left the Soviet Union as a musical sensation in 1925 to play in Berlin, Paris, and ultimately in America at Carnegie Hall. He returned to Carnegie Hall 25 years later at the height of his popularity and returned to play in the Soviet Union in 1986. Vladimir Horowitz's music had a colorful blazing quality and technical excellence. Truly, he was a man with no equals.

The award will be delivered to Madame Horowitz upon her return from Italy.

And the citation reads:

To Vladimir Horowitz for his extraordinary achievements and distinctive style as a pianist whose concerts brought pleasure to audiences everywhere and whose contributions to music made him a citizen of the world.

Czeslaw Milosz is a poet and educator, whom Joseph Brodsky called "One of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest." Mr. Milosz was born in Lithuania in 1911 and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1970. As one of the leaders in the avant-garde poetry movement in Poland during the 1930's, he edited an anti-Nazi anthology called "Invincible Song." Mr. Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980 for his poetry on life in this century. Czeslaw Milosz.

The citation:

To Czeslaw Milosz for glorious poetry and prose that celebrates the freedom-loving spirit not only of his native Poland but that of his adopted country, the United States.

Robert Motherwell is an artist of global stature, renowned as one of the founders of the American abstract expressionism school, the first American art movement to receive recognition internationally as being on the leading edge of world art. He is best known for a series of monumental paintings on the "Spanish Eulogy" theme, for abstract paintings in the open series, and as a master of collage. He has received a multitude of honors in five decades of a very distinguished career. Robert Motherwell.

The citation:

To Robert Motherwell for reflecting in his art the very essence of American Freedom with paintings that have found a distinguished place in collections everywhere.

John Updike is the author of over 30 books of poetry, novels, short stories, and essays. Mr. Updike is one of the best chroniclers of American smalltown life in literature. He began as a writer for the New Yorker magazine and then authored the novels "The Poorhouse Fair," "Rabbit, Run," and among many others, "The Centaur" and "The Witches of Eastwick." Among many other awards, in 1982 Mr. Updike received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for "Rabbit is Rich." John Updike.

The citation reads:

To John Updike, for novels and stories that, over a 40-year career, have given us a wryly affectionate, yet penetrating analysis of the complexity of life in today's America.

Martin Friedman is one of our nation's most innovative and scholarly museum directors. Mr. Friedman has served as director of the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis since 1961, making it into one of the premiere small museums in this country, in exhibitions as well as in the performing arts. In addition to his activism in the arts community, he has written extensively on contemporary art and recently helped create the new Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

The citation:

To Martin Friedman for opening the doors of his museum to the best of all of the arts in our time -- from painting and sculpture to film, video, and performance -- and for opening our eyes to the vital connections between these forms of expression.

Leigh Gerdine is an outstanding civic leader who has paved the way for development of every major cultural institution in St. Louis. Mr. Gerdine is a 40-year resident of that city, and for 18 years has been president of Webster University. He has been deeply involved in the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Louis Repertory Company and was founding chairman of the St. Louis Opera Theater, now one of the most widely acclaimed companies in the country. Mr. Gerdine.

The citation:

To Leigh Gerdine for his distinguished career as a musician and educator, and for the enlightened patronage which has earned him the title of spiritual father of the arts in St. Louis.

Dayton Hudson Corporation has been a leader in corporate giving for 43 years. Since 1980 the corporation has contributed nearly $70 million to arts programs in the United States. Dayton Hudson has targeted support to programs that, on a long-term basis, make a community a more vital place in which to live. During 1988 alone, Dayton Hudson generously awarded $7.4 million to 580 arts programs in 37 States and the District of Columbia. Accepting is Mr. Kenneth Macke, CEO of Dayton Hudson Corporation.

The citation:

To Dayton Hudson Corporation for helping to forge a vital partnership between the corporate sector and the arts community and for demonstrating how both can benefit in the process.

The President. Well, let me just say in conclusion, first, thank you, John Frohnmayer; and to all of you recipients, congratulations for your achievements, for the passion you bring to the arts. You have honored this country. Your nation is grateful to you. And congratulations to all of you. Barbara and I are just thrilled that you're here at the White House. And now I'd like all of our medal winners to join us up here for just a minute, if we could, for one quick -- what they call in the trade a photo op. [Laughter] Please.

Note: The President spoke at 12:12 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Hugh Southern, former Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

George Bush, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medal of the Arts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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