Two Latino Scholars were also honored: Teófilo Ruiz and Ramón Saldívar.
Ruiz, 69, who teaches at the University of California at Los Angeles, has published over 13 books and 60 articles on medieval Spain. Ruiz had a special message for the Latino community: "We have to study, care about the humanities and sciences, and demostrate that this country belongs to us as well," she told The Associated Press by phone.
Another honoree was Ramón Saldívar, a professor of literature at Stanford University. Saldívar's monographs on Chicano literature were described by the White House as "audacious explorations."
Before awarding the medals, Obama said the arts have the power to bring together people of different backgrounds and beliefs. And he urged the honorees to help mentor a new generation of artists and scholars, saying their role in the nation's future would be equally as important as the next generation of engineers and scientists.
"The arts and humanities do not just reflect America, they shape America," Obama said. "As long as I'm president, I look forward to making sure they are a priority for this country."
Others receiving arts medals:
— Will Barnet, painter, printmaker and teacher.
— Emily Rauh Pulitzer, curator, art collector and philanthropist.
— Martin Puryear, sculptor.
— Mel Tillis, singer-songwriter.
— André Watts, pianist and teacher.
Receiving medals for the humanities:
— Kwame Anthony Appiah, philosopher and novelist.
— John Ashbery, poet.
— Robert Darnton, author and librarian.
— Andrew Delbanco, social critic and professor.
— National History Day, program that celebrates history.
— Charles Rosen, pianist and author.
— Amartya Sen, economist.
This report is based on The Associated Press.