Arts + Life

Arts + Life

First, it's not really black. It's not even a color or a pigment. "Vantablack" is a "material," according to Surrey NanoSystems, the British company that created it.

Comic Louie Anderson has had a hugely successful stand-up career for the past 30 years, but he admits he wasn't a very good actor early on. "I didn't know who I was or how to do it," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Host Chris Rock made sure Sunday's Oscars were about as black as they could be, given that no black people had been nominated in any high-profile categories.

Of course, Rock brought the pain, as he always does, in a razor-sharp monologue skewering sensibilities on all sides of the #OscarsSoWhite debate. And his comedy bits throughout the show kept up a steady drumbeat, reminding audiences in the hall and at home just who had been left behind.

Craig Windham, a voice familiar to many NPR listeners, died unexpectedly last night of a pulmonary embolism. He was 66.

Windham was an award-winning journalist who covered presidential campaigns, hurricanes, earthquakes and the first Persian Gulf War. More recently, he focused on anchoring and reporting for NPR's Newscasts. In less than 40 seconds, Windham could explain the intricacies of a complicated bill or capture the glory of a space shuttle flying over the nation's capital.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal wanted to be an artist. His dad wanted him to study medicine and encouraged him to draw cadavers at the graveyard.

The rest is history.

Eleven-year-old Neel Sethi is about to be kidnapped by monkeys. Rigged up to a harness in front of a blue screen, he prepares to run, leap and cavort — a live-action dance that will later be mixed with computer-generated animals.

I came home from a trip the other day with a small plastic bag filled with 4 ounces of brown powder that, truth be told, made me a little nervous.

The powder had a strong odor that reminded me of badly burnt coffee, with perhaps a note of brown sugar.

I didn't dare open that bag. It contained crude caffeine, about 90 percent pure. That small bag held as much caffeine as 1,000 tall lattes from Starbucks, or 2,000 cans of Coke or Pepsi. It was enough to kill several people.

As if there's not enough controversy over the Oscars, there's also the matter of a curse.

The French have gotten themselves into one of their recurrent linguistic lathers, this one over the changes in their spelling that will be taking effect in the fall. The changes were originally proposed more than 25 years ago. But nothing much came of them until the government recently announced that they'd be incorporated in the new textbooks, at which point traditionalists took to the barricades.

British costumer Sandy Powell already has three Oscars, and now she's been nominated for two more. This year she's up twice for best costume design: one for Cinderella -- with its sweeping ball gowns — and another for her work in Carol -- featuring impeccable 1950s dresses.

Carol is a love story starring Cate Blanchett as a wealthy woman whose marriage is falling apart. Powell says Carol can afford the latest 1952 clothes — including a blonde mink coat.

It's hard to imagine a more magical way to begin a museum visit than to step inside The Infinity Mirrored Room at The Broad Museum. Artist Yayoi Kusama has covered the walls, floor and ceiling with mirrors. LED lights hang from the ceiling and are reflected everywhere you look. The lights sometimes move with the closing of the door, and create a wonderland of infinite color.

In the central Japanese mountain village of Damine, children have kept up an unbroken tradition of performing Japan's classical theater, kabuki, year after year for more than three centuries. But as people age or leave for opportunities in cities, the village is running out of performers.

A newly released study suggests diversity in TV and film is so bad, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite should probably be changed to #HollywoodSoWhite.

That's because of an "epidemic of invisibility" cited by researchers at the University of Southern California, who analyzed more than 21,000 characters and behind-the-scenes workers on more than 400 films and TV shows released from September 2014 through August 2015. They tabulated representations of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual status.

When you think of tract homes, you think of houses that look the same: the same color scheme, the same style; homes that form two uninteresting walls on either side of a suburban street. That might be the case today, but nearly 60 years ago — at a time when "real" architects wouldn't touch tract homes — one architect did everything he could to break the monotony. His name is William Krisel, and he's being honored by a place whose look he helped define — Palm Springs, Calif.

One of the most dramatic homes in Los Angeles has just been donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Designed in 1961 by John Lautner — an influential Southern California architect — the glass and concrete house clings to the side of a canyon. Its present owner, James Goldstein, has been revising and perfecting it for 35 years.

With its elaborate headdresses, colorful sequined gowns and statuesque dancers, Jubilee is the classic Las Vegas show. It was the last showgirl extravaganza on the Vegas Strip, and now it's closed, its last performance on Feb. 11.

Women go through eight to 12 costume changes in a show that packs in at least as many different routines in about 90 minutes. There's a patriotic medley, the story of Samson and Delilah, even the Titanic.

Just ahead of Valentine's Day, we visited the tomb of a poet who wrote often of love.

The 14th century Persian poet Hafez is buried in Shiraz, the city where he lived almost 700 years ago. He remains venerated in Iran, even though he wrote of romance and other topics that are not obviously embraced in the modern-day Islamic Republic.

One of his lines: "Oh Cup-bearer, set my glass afire with the light of wine!"

In 1996, when Dominque Dawes became the first black woman to win an individual gymnastics medal at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, critics said her look wasn't quite right.

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