Tonight Jasper Johns will receive the first Presidential Medal of Freedom given to a visual artist in over three decades from President Obama (who’s got a piece of Johns’s hanging in the White House). Only five other visual artists have ever received the medal, and it hasn’t always gone smoothly.
The first visual artist who willfully (clarification shortly) received the Presidential Medal of Freedom was Andrew Wyeth back in 1963. He’d been selected for the honor by JFK, but Kennedy was assassinated two weeks before the ceremony, and Lyndon B. Johnson distributed the medals. The most recent visual artist to get the Medal of Freedom was Alexander Calder, who got it posthumously in 1977 after refusing to receive it from Gerald Ford one year earlier in protest of the conflict in Vietnam. Will Johns do the same over Iraq and Afghanistan? Doesn’t seem completely out of the question, does it?