Arts and culture

Artist David Hockney is obsessed with looking. He looks and looks; and then, in his works, he makes us see what he sees.

The artist says looking and showing are as old as time. "I think the first person to draw an animal on a wall would have perhaps been watched by someone. And then, when he'd got the animal down, the person would've grunted or something, and said, 'I've seen something like that.' "

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If you really want to understand a place, writer Colin Dickey has some advice: "Ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the emptied and decaying old hospitals."

Dickey has spent a lot of time travelling the country searching for places that go bump in the night. The result is a new book called Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places.

America has a long and storied history with marijuana. Once grown by American colonists to make hemp rope, by 1970, it was classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Possession of it was — and is — a federal crime, despite the fact that in recent years 25 states have legalized medical marijuana and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use.

Some artists seem to be in an ongoing contest with themselves. Take Australian creator Shaun Tan: In 2006's The Arrival, he built a dense black-and-white world that told a story without any words. For the 2010 short film The Lost Thing he took on animation and won an Academy Award for it. Now, in The Singing Bones, he's set yet another bar — make that bars — for himself.

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If you're looking for evidence of Andrzej Wajda's filmmaking smarts, it's right there in his first, black-and-white movie, made in 1955. A trench-coated young man races through Warsaw at the height of World War II, past corpses dangling from streetlights, pursued by Nazi soldiers who chase him into a building and up a central staircase.

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Christian Siriano has been designing clothing since he was a teenager. He's 31 now, and for the past decade he and his company have been making clothing for women of all shapes and sizes.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


The restaurant inside the new National Museum of African American History and Culture offers food that satisfies the hunger — and a space that satisfies the mind.

Sweet Home Cafe has four serving stations, each representing a region of the United States: the North States, Western Range, Agriculture South and Creole Coast.

The idea is to expand people's understanding of just how much African-Americans have contributed to our nation's culinary heritage, says Joanne Hyppolite, curator for the cultural expressions exhibits that feature foodways, culture and cuisine.

John Kaag hits the sweet spot between intellectual history and personal memoir in this transcendently wonderful love song to philosophy and its ability "to help individuals work through the trials of experience." Kaag, a young philosophy professor questioning the meaning of his life, finds answers — and a soul mate with whom to share them — in a neglected library hidden deep in the New Hampshire woods.

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Actress Gaby Hoffmann is at home with non-traditional families — as a child in the 1980s, she lived in Manhattan's Chelsea Hotel with her mother, an actress in Andy Warhol's Factory.

"I grew up with artists and drag queens," Hoffmann tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "These were just my neighbors and friends and the people who are raising me."

When she was growing up, Dina Gilio-Whitaker was constantly asked, "How much Indian blood do you have?" She could never figure out how to respond, which is not to say she didn't know who she was.

"I knew that I was Native, I knew that I was Colville, I knew my family up there on the reservation," she said recently. "But what I grew up with was a process of not being seen and not being recognized as being Native, because I was completely out of context.

Alongside the massive, rising death toll in territories controlled by the Islamic State, one of the major casualties has been a trove of ancient treasures that are part of the Middle East's cultural heritage.

Now, replicas of several masterpieces vandalized or destroyed in Syria and Iraq have been created in Italy and are part of a UNESCO-sponsored exhibit called "Rising from Destruction." The exhibit, which goes through Dec. 16, has been set up in the Colosseum, the most visited site in Rome, drawing 6.5 million tourists a year.

In a lot of memoirs, it feels safe to assume that the author really knows what they're writing about. But here's an exception: Molly Brodak's new memoir is about her dad, a man she barely knew growing up. Her father is a gambling addict. And when Molly was in middle school, he robbed 11 banks outside of Detroit in 1994 to fuel his addiction — the FBI dubbed him the "Super Mario Brothers Bandit" because of his flat cap and fake mustache.

Look, the debut collection of poetry from Solmaz Sharif, opens with all the grace of an unpinned grenade: "It matters what you call a thing." But this comes as less a warning than a war cry.

Even if you knew nothing about Vijaya, her haunting portrait would likely give you pause. She peers out of the page, unsmiling, her silver hair pulled back and her eyes conveying an unspoken anguish. From the accompanying narrative, we learn that a few years ago, almost overnight, Vijaya became her granddaughter Anjali's primary caretaker. Her daughter, Gayathri, set out to find nutritious food for the family amidst heavy shelling, at the violent end of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, and never returned home.

You don't need us to tell you that backyard chickens have become an urban (and suburban) obsession.

But here's what you may not know: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented a record high number of salmonella infections linked to these domestic flocks.

"This year saw the largest number of illnesses linked to contact with backyard poultry ever recorded," the CDC writes in an investigation update.

Tourists to the Napa Valley may visit the exclusive wineries and fine-dining restaurants. But locals love a more humble dish called malfatti. It's a little spinach and cheese dumpling, shaped like a pinky finger, smothered in sauce and packed with local history.

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There are few living theater directors who can convince audiences to stay up all night watching the staging of a Sanskrit poem. But 30 years ago, director Peter Brook did just that. He put on what came to be known as one of the great theater events of the 20th century: The Mahabharata. It was nine hours long, and it was epic.

James Beard award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson says it feels like he's been cooking his entire life. He has a soul food restaurant in Harlem and a new cookbook inspired by that restaurant called The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem.

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden so we suspect he's no doubt tired of hearing about the beloved Muppet character, The Swedish Chef. So we'll ask him three questions about other Muppets.

Rabih Alameddine's novel The Angel of History begins with a conversation between Satan and Death. The two are sitting in the home of Jacob, a poet in the midst of a mental breakdown; long after the death of his partner from AIDS, he's begun hearing voices (again), and is currently trying to check himself into a mental hospital.

In theory, the two new movies dealing with America's racial history ought to describe a cinematic straight line: Nate Parker's provocatively titled drama The Birth of a Nation imagines the events leading up to an 1831 slave revolt, while Ava DuVernay's documentary, 13th, examines the legacy of the constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery. A matched set...yes?

In practice, the underlying social narrative is twisty, and the films intersect in complicated ways.

Sharon Horgan didn't let her intact marriage get in the way of creating her new HBO comedy series Divorce. "We made sure we had a couple of emotionally damaged, divorced people on the writing staff," she jokes with NPR's Kelly McEvers.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church play Frances and Robert, a middle aged couple whose relationship is crumbling. And Horgan says a lot of the frustrating moments in the show were inspired by real life.

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