Susan Stamberg

One hundred years ago, the U.S. entered the first global war — an ugly, dirty, agonizing conflict that cost millions of lives and changed the world. Now, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is observing the centennial with art and artifacts in an exhibition called Artist Soldiers.

When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1962, St. Elizabeths Hospital was notorious — a rundown federal facility for the treatment of people with mental illness that was overcrowded and understaffed. Opened with idealism and hope in 1855, the facility had ballooned from 250 patients to as many as 8,000. Its vast, rolling patch of farmland had fallen into disrepair, too, in the poorest neighborhood in the U.S. capital.

Behind the scenes at major art museums, conservators are hard at work, keeping masterpieces looking their best. Their methods are meticulous — and sometimes surprising.

The painting conservation studio at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is filled with priceless works sitting on row after row of tall wooden easels, or lying on big, white-topped worktables.

There's no rain in her clouds, no gray in her shadows; Maud Lewis' small paintings are bright with sunshine, and filled with blue skies, crystal snow and calm waters. Now, a new movie tells the true story of a painter from Nova Scotia whose joyful works hardly hint at the difficult life she led.

One of the most glamorous creatures ever to grace the silver screen is back in pictures at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. A dazzling new exhibition features dozens of photographs of the seductive, German-born movie star Marlene Dietrich.

France's ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, is a fan of 19th-century French painter Frédéric Bazille. But I had a confession to make when I spoke with him about the National Gallery's "Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism" exhibition. I said that I usually walk right past Bazille's paintings and go straight to the impressionists — and I assume I'm not the only one who does that.

Intellectual, philosophical, literary, rebellious, Simone de Beauvoir spoke a mile a minute, and wrote quickly, too — novels, essays, a play, four memoirs. She was an atheist, bisexual, pioneer feminist, and her longtime lover, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote the book on Existentialism. When she died in 1986 she was world-famous — now the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., is saluting her again.

One hundred years ago Tuesday, in a working-poor neighborhood of Newport News, Va., a laundress and a shipyard worker had a baby girl. The father soon disappeared, and the mother and child moved north to New York. The mother died. The girl ran away and became one of the most important singers of the 20th century.

Ella Fitzgerald could sing anything: a silly novelty song, like her breakthrough hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." A samba that scatted. A ballad, spooling out like satin.

If you've ever spent an afternoon with "Under the Sea" or "A Whole New World" or "Be Our Guest" stuck in your head, you can thank composer Alan Menken.

Menken scored The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and many other Disney classics. He says he prefers his songs "to be hummable."

There isn't an Oscar for choreography, but if there were, La La Land would almost certainly be taking it home this year. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this musical for the 21st century is full of tapping, waltzing, fox-trotting salutes to 20th century musical classics.

Painter David Hockney once said, "It is very good advice to believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work." On Thursday in London, a major retrospective at Tate Britain will give visitors the chance to see 60 years of the English artist's "doings."

Oils, acrylics, sketches, photographs, smartphone drawings — Hockney has worked in every medium. He's one of the best-known contemporary artists and his works sell for millions.

Breaking news is everywhere, 24 hours a day. And now, it's made its way into an art gallery as well — in an exhibit called "Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media." In Los Angeles, a Getty Museum show examines artists' reactions to mass media in decades past.

The exhibit includes more than 200 photos and videos, from 17 different artists. They're not photojournalists — these artists take the work of photojournalists, and turn it into something else.

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Dorlyn Catron's cane is making its radio debut today — its name is Pete. ("He's important to my life. He ought to have a name," she says.)

Catron is participating in one of the America InSight tours at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum offers twice-a-month tours, led by specially trained docents, to blind and visually impaired visitors.

This holiday season, the color red is the focus of a small exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian show finds links between a 15th-century Ming dynasty dish and a 20th-century painting by Mark Rothko.

A "conversation" between two major artists — Henri Matisse of France, and Richard Diebenkorn of the U.S. — is taking place on the walls of the Baltimore Museum of Art. The two artists never met, but Matisse influenced Diebenkorn's work, across decades and continents.

Many, many Thanksgivings ago, my fiance took me home to Allentown, Pa., to be inspected by his family. During our visit, my mother-in-law-to-be served a relish so delicious that I married her son.

Ever since, I've shared the recipe with NPR listeners right before Thanksgiving. Now, supportive listeners may be shocked to learn that over the years, I've gotten a good deal of grief about this recipe — especially from my NPR colleagues, many of whom have never bothered to taste it!

A big blue rooster has appeared on top of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It's part of the museum's renovated East Building, which recently opened to the public with several new exhibitions — including a handful of pictures by the highly regarded German art photographer Thomas Struth.

"Do you know how many words there are in 80 minutes?" asks actress Kathleen Turner. "My god!"

Turner is referring to The Year of Magical Thinking, a play based on Joan Didion's 2005 memoir. The book was written while Didion's daughter was in a deep coma, and after her husband of 40 years suffered a fatal heart attack. In her role as Didion, Turner is the only one on stage. "It's very lonely," she says.

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.' "

Barbie at the Louvre?! Sacré bleu! But it's true — the impeccably dressed blonde bombshell has her very own exhibition in Paris. As a '70s feminist, I've always disparaged that doll — a wasp-waisted, clothes-horse, sex pot. But for all the Barbie lovers out there, I paid a visit to the lavish exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre Palais.

In Paris, a really old dress has sold for more than $150,000. Now, if that sounds like an unreasonably high price tag, keep this in mind: The 1730s dress is in mint condition, it might have been worn at Versailles, and it was part of a fashion revolution.

Known as a robe volante — or flying dress — the long, luscious yellow brocade gown is patterned with silver thread. It's loose-cut, with soft pleats in the rear, a deep V in front and graceful flow-y sleeves.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and George Bellows were very different artists, but they did have at least one thing in common: They all studied with painter William Merritt Chase. Now, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., is marking the centennial of the artist's death with a retrospective.

"You walk around these galleries and the paintings are gutsy and bold and scintillating and brilliant," says Dorothy Kosinski, director of the Phillips.

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How does an artist know when a work is finished? Sometimes it's a deliberate decision. Other times, the decision is made by fate or circumstance. Now, an extensive exhibition at The Met Breuer Museum in Manhattan is exploring great works of unfinished art.

The Unfinished show has an intriguing subtitle: "Thoughts Left Visible." The exhibit showcases works made over some 600 years, which offer glimpses into the creative process and sometimes reveal artists' anger or despair.

When Louis XV, King of France, first met the woman who would become his chief mistress, she was dressed as a domino, and he was dressed as a plant. It was 1745, and Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the pretty young woman who would become Marquise de Pompadour, had been invited to a masked ball at Versailles. If this sounds like a chance meeting, it wasn't — her family had been strategizing to orchestrate this very moment for years.

Writer Michael Schulman conducted 80 interviews for Her Again, his new biography of Meryl Streep. He talked with her friends and colleagues, read articles, letters and commencement addresses — but he never actually talked with Streep herself.

Los Angeles is a city of extremes: There are neighborhoods so luxurious only millionaires can afford them and neighborhoods so poor that residents work several jobs to pay the rent. Now, a young LA painter is bringing these neighborhoods together on his canvases.

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