PICTURES, VIDEOS

Honouring opera to Star Wars, Obama awards arts medals to 24

US President Barack Obama presents the 2012 National Medal of Arts to director George Lucas during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
US President Barack Obama presents the 2012 National Medal of Arts to director George Lucas during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
President Barack Obama awards Jill Ker Conway the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her contributions as a historian and trailblazing academic leader, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHO
President Barack Obama awards Jill Ker Conway the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her contributions as a historian and trailblazing academic leader, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AO
President Barack Obama awards Edward L. Ayers the 2012 National Humanities Medal, for his commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in
President Barack Obama awards Edward L. Ayers the 2012 National Humanities Medal, for his commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama stands with Natalie Zemon Davis as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her insights into the study of history and her exacting eloquence in bringing the past into focus, during a ceremony in the East Room of Wh
President Barack Obama stands with Natalie Zemon Davis as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her insights into the study of history and her exacting eloquence in bringing the past into focus, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama laughs with Frank Deford as he awards him the 2012 National Humanities Medal for transforming how we think about sports, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama laughs with Frank Deford as he awards him the 2012 National Humanities Medal for transforming how we think about sports, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama stands with Kay Ryan as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her contributions as a poet and educator, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama stands with Kay Ryan as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her contributions as a poet and educator, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama stands with Marilynne Robinson as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her grace and intelligence in writing, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO:
President Barack Obama stands with Marilynne Robinson as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her grace and intelligence in writing, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Robert B. Silvers the 2012 National Humanities Medal for offering critical perspectives on writing, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Robert B. Silvers the 2012 National Humanities Medal for offering critical perspectives on writing, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Camilo José Vergara the 2012 National Humanities Medal for his stark visual representation of American cities, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Camilo José Vergara the 2012 National Humanities Medal for his stark visual representation of American cities, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama stands with Anna Deavere Smith as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her portrayal of authentic American voices, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- P
President Barack Obama stands with Anna Deavere Smith as he awards her the 2012 National Humanities Medal for her portrayal of authentic American voices, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama welcomes Allen Toussaint to the stage to award him the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as a composer, producer, and performer, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Was
President Barack Obama welcomes Allen Toussaint to the stage to award him the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as a composer, producer, and performer, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama welcomes Ellsworth Kelly to the stage to award him the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Was
President Barack Obama welcomes Ellsworth Kelly to the stage to award him the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as a painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Ernest Gaines the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as an author and teacher, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Ernest Gaines the 2012 National Medal of Arts for his contributions as an author and teacher, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama stands with Joan Myers Brown as he awards her the 2012 National Medal of Arts, for her contributions as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House
President Barack Obama stands with Joan Myers Brown as he awards her the 2012 National Medal of Arts, for her contributions as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director, Wednesday, July 10, 2013, during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards the 2012 National Medal of Arts to Laurie Olin for his contributions as a preeminent landscape architect during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards the 2012 National Medal of Arts to Laurie Olin for his contributions as a preeminent landscape architect during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Renée Fleming the 2012 National Medal of Arts for her contributions to American music during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
President Barack Obama awards Renée Fleming the 2012 National Medal of Arts for her contributions to American music during a ceremony in the East Room of White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
US President Barack Obama presents the 2012 National Medal of Arts to playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
US President Barack Obama presents the 2012 National Medal of Arts to playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. -- PHOTO: AFP
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the 2012 National Medal of Arts to musician Herb Alpert during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on July 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the 2012 National Medal of Arts to musician Herb Alpert during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on July 10, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama makes a light reference to old movie special effects while speaking about award recipient George Lucas who created Star Wars during the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal ceremony at the White House in Wash
US President Barack Obama makes a light reference to old movie special effects while speaking about award recipient George Lucas who created Star Wars during the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal ceremony at the White House in Washington on July 10, 2013. Citing the power of artists and academics to open minds, Mr Obama on Wednesday awarded 24 medals to people including Lucas and writer Joan Didion who he said touched his life and the lives of Americans. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Citing the power of artists and academics to open minds, President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded 24 medals to people including Star Wars creator George Lucas and writer Joan Didion who he said touched his life and the lives of Americans.

"They challenge us to think and to question and to discover, to seek that inward significance," Mr Obama said, awarding the winners of the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

This year's winners included film-maker George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, whom Mr Obama applauded for transforming movies.

"I remember when I first saw Star Wars," Mr Obama said. "There's a whole generation that thinks special effects always look like they do today. But it used to be you'd see, like, the string on the little model spaceships.

Mr Obama, known for his love of basketball and football, seemed particularly tickled to award a medal to Frank Deford, the legendary sportswriter who has spent 50 years at Sports Illustrated magazine.

"Frank, I grew up reading Sports Illustrated, and I think it was very good for me," Mr Obama said, to laughter.

He praised the winners for working hard and following their dreams against the odds.

One of the most poignant moments of the ceremony came when Mr Obama strode to the edge of the stage to meet author Joan Didion, 78, frail and elegant, carefully lifting the thick red ribbon holding the palm-sized humanities medal over her neck.

"Today, decades into her career, she remains one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture," Mr Obama said, describing how Didion taught herself to read as her family moved frequently around the country with her father, who was an Army officer.

He cited the courage shown by Ernest Gaines, the descendent of Louisiana sharecroppers, who writes about the lives of African Americans, and blues and jazz musician Allen Toussaint, who helped revive his native New Orleans with music after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Other medal winners included Herb Alpert, who made Latin music popular in the 1960s and co-founded of A&M Records, soprano Renee Fleming, playwright Tony Kushner and comedian Elaine May.