WASHINGTON?US President Barack Obama on Wednesday lauded the power of the arts to ease the pain of hard times, as he honored stars including actress Meryl Streep, songwriter James Taylor and novelist Philip Roth.
"There are people here whose books or poetry or works of history shaped me," Obama said at a White House ceremony before presenting the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal.
"The fact is that works of art, literature, works of history, they speak to our condition and they affirm our desire for something more and something better," Obama said.
"The arts and the humanities help us through the hard times and they remind us of what make the good times worthwhile. After all, the goal doesn?t always have to be so lofty.
"Sometimes, we just need a break, a chance to laugh or escape from the moment."
Among National Medal of Arts medal recepients were pianist Van Cliburn, jazz and pop musician Quincy Jones, and Taylor whose distinctive hits include "Carolina in My Mind" and "Fire and Rain."
The reclusive Harper Lee, author of the classic novel of race and inequality "To Kill a Mockingbird," and Oscar-winning Streep, who will star as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in an upcoming movie, did not attend the ceremony.
Recipients of the National Humanities Medal included historian Bernard Bailyn and novelists Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral.