Issue #3 |

I Am Completely Blurred: An Interview with Hasan Elahi

In 2012, Hasan Elahi displayed his work at York College of Pennsylvania (images from An Undisclosed Location are featured in the print edition of Story #3). What follows is his interview with gallery director Matthew Clay-Robison.

MCR: This exhibition features both your Tracking Transience project and An Undisclosed Location, a brand new body of work. How do these projects relate to the work you were doing prior to your experience in 2002 in which you were detained on suspicion of terrorism at Detroit International Airport?

HE: When I was detained I was actually coming from an exhibition in Dakar that was an extension of the 2002 Dakar Biennial. I was working and showing all over the place and I was teaching at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The work I was doing then was surprisingly similar to a lot of the works that I am doing right now like videos that barely look like videos. They are really more like photographs as videos. I was doing a lot of work looking at perception and a lot of the works were actually very politically involved even back then. Now that I have twenty years of looking back on that work, there is an incredible similarity between the works that I was doing before my adventure with the FBI and the work that came after. The thing that I find really interesting about this new work being shown at York College is that the photographs of the paintings of the photographs look so similar to the photographs that I post on the Tracking Transience site. There is this incredible similarity in the imagery; the barren, stark landscape and emptiness. There are many parallels between the old work and this new work. It is really important to look at how an artist’s career evolves over a long period of time. In my case it has been almost 20 years now that I have been exhibiting on a regular basis. I just turned 40 a few months ago and last week I celebrated my 10-year anniversary with the FBI. It was exactly 10 years ago that I was taken in.

MCR: Wow, you have shared a quarter of your life and half of your career with the FBI.

HE: Which also means that I have been working on this project for a quarter of my life and half of my career. Of course when you are working on a project for that long, it is going to grow in different directions and evolve. Artists have to challenge themselves. The paintings in An Undisclosed Location are a different mediation, but they begin with the same way I gather information. I collect information and data. My work is about the data mining of government public records.

MCR: How had your career developed leading up to your experience with the FBI? What led you to Tampa?

HE: Immediately after grad school I took a position in Houston, Texas. Then I taught at a design school in New Zealand. I returned to the U.S. to start the digital media program at West Virginia University. Then I went to the University of South Florida, which had one of the first digital media programs in the country. They have had it since the early 80s, but the position had been vacant for a few years and needed to be rebuilt. Working in Tampa was interesting at that time because many of the guys who flew the planes on September 11 were trained in flight schools near Tampa. It was a very sensitive area and a lot of the guys from the FBI offices in Washington were sent there at that time. Another professor at USF had already been taken into custody on suspicion of being the head of Hezbollah in the U.S. and Hezbollah immediately released a statement that said, “We have no idea who this guy is, but we like what he does.” I am not sure if that actually helped him or hurt him.

MCR: Had you ever met him?

HE: That is a question that the FBI actually asked me. They said, “How often did you meet with him?” I had never met him, but I did some things in computer science and electrical engineering there and I team-taught a course with a couple of people from his department, but his office was not accessible. It was completely sealed off and cordoned.

MCR: Did you follow his case? I remember reading about him back in 2002, but I have no idea what happened to him.

HE: He was kept in solitary confinement for a couple of years and then all of the charges were dropped and he was deported. He is probably in Kuwait because I think he is a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian. He was a tenured professor at University of South Florida, but he went on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News and said some rather unpopular things and the university fired him because he wasn’t speaking on his area of expertise. They essentially said, “If you were a political science professor you could say that, but you are an engineering professor so you can’t say that.” This poses a huge problem in academia because then what is the Philosophy department allowed to talk about? What can artists talk about? It brought up a serious issue of academic freedom and free speech at the university. I have always been around these kinds of controversies even before I got caught up in it. It was really bizarre because right after 9/11, I was in Sarajevo and Bosnia and I was coming back and had no problems with security. Prior to 9/11, sure, I would get stopped on a regular basis, just the typical profiling that I had kind of gotten used to. After 9/11, I had no problems until that day in June of the following year, which changed my life and sent me in a very different direction.

MCR: Most universities would be thrilled to have a faculty member exhibiting at an international biennial, but what was USF’s response to that same faculty member being detained on suspicion of terrorism?

HE: Nothing at all. The FBI did verify with the University that I worked there so they were aware, but there was no official response.  People didn’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole, which was very common. Quite frankly, until Creative Capital got behind me in 2006, no one wanted to touch this project because of its political nature. People had gotten used to the subject matter and attitudes began to change around that time. But also, after Creative Capital supported the project, other organizations followed.

MCR: The timing is interesting because the 2006 election was a pretty big backlash in which those loyal to the Bush administration and its “war on terror” lost a lot of clout.

HE: Yes, the political environment in 2006 was very different than the era from 2001 to about 2005. During the post-9/11 era of politics we were very good at having a culture of “us and them.” President Bush was famous for saying, “You are either with us or against us.” That pretty much set the tone, and in the name of protecting our freedoms from “them” we lost a lot of what we had fought for over the last 200+ years. I find that extremely disturbing, but that is exactly what happened.

MCR: I know you have recounted your own personal experience many times, but would you please share your story again with our gallery visitors?

HE: It was June 19, 2002, and I had just flown to Detroit from Amsterdam. I was returning from Senegal by way of this crazy, convoluted route through Africa and Western Europe. It took several days. I went to see Documenta and visited some friends in northern Germany and then traveled to Lisbon for a bit and then to a beach in Portugal. That was because of the flights. For some reason if you try to buy a direct flight from the U.S. to Africa it is obnoxiously expensive, but flying first to Portugal and then to Africa is relatively cheap. So I figured so long as I had a few days in Portugal I should eat some good food, enjoy the beach and space it apart just enough to visit France and Germany and see some friends. When I taught at USF we had a summer program in Paris, so I visited them for a few days and then traveled around west Africa, which was just bizarre. Forget chicken buses, you get goats on them too. Chickens don’t complain as much. You tie them up, put them in the corner and if they get some luggage thrown on top of them they will heckle for a little bit, but they quiet down. Goats on the other hand, every bump they remind you that they are there tied up. The trip was an amazing experience, but coming back things changed very quickly. Being taken in and having to explain every movement I had made was truly a frightening experience. Of course nothing prepares you for those kinds of situations, but I had enough sense to realize what was going on and that I needed to be careful and that was just the initial “interview,” as the FBI calls it, at the Detroit airport. The agent who met me at the airport believed me enough to let me go home and I got on my flight and went back to Tampa, but he told me someone from the Tampa office would follow up with me, so I spent the next six months with the FBI justifying every moment of my existence. It finally ended with nine consecutive polygraphs. Up to that point, they would ask me strange questions like “when is the last time you met this other terrorist?” or “how often do you go to the mosque?” or, my favorite one, “have you ever witnessed or participated in any act that might be detrimental to the United States or a foreign nation?” Of course I am thinking yes…

MCR: Yes, it would be pretty difficult to honestly answer “no” to that one.

HE: And I did say yes because I have seen the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico. They are actually quite visible, at least they were then, so I started describing this and immediately the FBI agent just cut me off and said, “We are not interested in indigenous populations.” The FBI language is so precise and so unique. It was quite an experience going through there and fortunately I told them everything and they believed me enough to let me go and said that everything was fine. Well, of course they said everything was fine after polygraphing me nine consecutive times in one sitting. The FBI polygraphs are nothing like the movies with the scratching and the buzzing and the bells. You just
basically have wires coming out of you and there is a guy who sounds like Hal in the room. It is a very sedative experience, but also a pretty freakish situation to be in.

MCR: Did they contact your family and friends? Did you feel harassed?

HE: Many people have this misconception of the FBI as still having the culture of J. Edgar Hoover. In retrospect, after actually stepping back and seeing exactly what happens and talking to many people that work in this business I think the current culture of the FBI very much wants to detach itself from the culture of J. Edgar Hoover as much as possible. It is a very professional organization. After all, you are dealing with the elite of the elite of law enforcement in the U.S. They are not hostile. They are not unfriendly, but they are not friendly either. It is like talking to a wall. They did meet with my ex-wife because Florida does not recognize separations, so you are either married or you are unmarried. We were separated and they showed up at the house expecting to find me there and my ex-wife mentioned to me later that one of the questions the FBI asked her was, “Did he marry you to become a U.S. citizen?” Her response was, “Well, you know what date we got married and you have seen his passport so you can look at the date it was issued and do the math.” I had been a U.S. citizen for many years. I don’t know what else she said to them but I am glad she didn’t say anything that would put me in an orange jumpsuit.

MCR: You can laugh about it now. It has turned into a great project and in many ways it has been fruitful but it could have gone a shockingly different way and how much would we know about that? You’ve got friends and family and colleagues that would have been speaking up, but others have been in a similar situation and it hasn’t turned out so well.

HE: Exactly. I am glad that I can laugh about it now. My story is in the media relatively frequently, so every time I do a lecture somewhere, somebody will come up and say, “Well you know, back in 1977 I got followed by the FBI because they suspected me of being a communist” or some such story. That inevitably happens, but I have only met one other person who has actually been taken in by the FBI on suspected terrorist activities and has been released. That other person is Steve Kurtz from SUNY Buffalo. It is not irony that we are both academics and we are both artists. I think there is a certain level of agency and ability to react to certain situations that artists have that the average person doesn’t. If I was “Hasan the cab driver” and not Hasan the artist and professor, my life would have been very different. If I wasn’t an artist I don’t think I would have had the resources and sensibilities to recognize what was happening, assess the situation and come up with a way of responding.

MCR: I never thought about privacy and anonymity as being dangerous, but I imagine you would have been much more vulnerable if you weren’t so visible and your life wasn’t so easy to verify.

HE: Yes, absolutely. Fortunately I was already archiving a lot of things. This was ten years ago and the technology really wasn’t as common as it is now, but I had my calendar on a palm and a digital camera that time stamped all of my photos. Essentially, I was already working on this project, but the little bit that I was doing got tweaked and accelerated way beyond what I had been doing. Everything got amplified. The photographs were taken with much greater frequency. Instead of taking one photograph while traveling in West Africa, I would probably take one every couple of hours. Sometimes I would do three or four in a row. Now I take them every few minutes so there is a time stamp of my life. In the era of Photoshop we know all images can be doctored, so it is ironic that the digital camera becomes the most authentic image because it is not about the image, but the frequency of the image. We are in a culture where we take many more images than in the past. Right now there are probably more cameras in this room than fingers. I mean we all have one in our phones these days. There are cameras everywhere and what is really interesting is that digital cameras by their very nature time stamp everything. Sure, I can doctor one or two of the images. I can even doctor a few hundred of them, but it is not possible for me to recreate a sequence of 52,000 images spanning eight years because it will take me more time than time exists within that timeframe to recreate that. We are capturing much longer periods of time across multiple images and we are putting those dots together as a timeline. The word timeline is also really interesting because when you look at Facebook, they have actually adopted that word and that technology where it is a timeline of everything that you have done. It is exciting to see that taking place.

MCR: Through your work you have been advocating the idea that by sharing everything you are actually preserving your privacy and the interesting thing about Facebook is that so many of us do share almost every image and event, if not every thought, and yet we still get panicked every time a rumor makes the rounds that Facebook is abusing our privacy. It is a funny contradiction.

HE: We worry about privacy and keep saying, “People won’t know what to do online and people don’t know how to take care of themselves” but that is too easy an answer. We are much more sophisticated than we give ourselves credit for and we learn very quickly. We know what we are doing and we are adaptive creatures. Sure, there may have been a time where the vast majority of users had no clue how to set their privacy settings, but most people know how to do that now. But realistically, everything is archived, everything is collected, every bit of information that you do is digitally mediated and therefore, stored. If you think about it, there is absolutely no need to delete even spam anymore. Gmail sets it aside for me and it just sits there, I never see it, it goes away. It doesn’t matter; I don’t have to delete it. I am not limited to hard drive space. Hard drives are ridiculously cheap. You can buy a three-terabyte drive for $150 these days. So what does that actually mean, if you never need to delete? That means everything is there and if you have it, but so does someone else. Google has that info and so does Facebook and so on. The reason FBI files have value is that they are the only ones who have that information. If everyone has what they have then it becomes completely useless and what they have has absolutely zero value. So my project, in a way, basically comes from the very basics of market economics. If you flood the market with your product, or in this case, my information, it has no value. No one wants it. Therefore what the FBI has no one wants and therefore, the overall currency of the FBI is devalued. I realize that on an individual basis this is a very symbolic gesture, but if 300 million people in the U.S. were to do it, it would force an entire redesign of the entire intelligence system, which we are already seeing because we are all doing this on Facebook right now. There are a billion people, essentially doing what I do. It was about eight years ago when I contacted a handful of telecom companies and transportation places and said, “I want to start this project that will let people know where I am. I want to post a map to where I am and photos of where I am. I want to tell everyone every bit of information about me.” They said I was crazy, I was creepy. I actually had one major telephone company said, “This is really creepy and we would never get involved with such a thing.” I want to have a conversation with that person again. It is ironic that there are now about a billion people essentially doing the same thing that I started eight years ago with the Tracking Transience project. Instead of having the camera pointed at me, I have basically held up a mirror and pointed that camera outward and in that process I am generating so much noise or you could say a smoke screen or camouflage. There is so much of my information out there that I am completely blurred in there.

MCR: So, if I want to know what you had for dinner on June 3, 2009, I can search trackingtransience.com because you have posted all of your dinners there, but how long will it take me to find that dinner from June 3, 2009?

HE: It may take you until next June 3. It is there, but I’m just not going to make it that easy for you. It is not going to be a searchable index. Consider playing the role of the FBI agent cross-referencing this pile of information with this pile of information with this pile of information. Actually, I had an interesting phone call awhile back. The NY Times was doing a little info-graphic on my project for one of their Sunday issues and the photo researcher said, “Look, I have been staring at your toilets for the last three days, I need to know if you have any toilets from this date, this date, and this date because I have been looking at everything and it has been driving me crazy.” It was really amazing that someone would actually sit there and try to rebuild my day. They actually took the existing information and reverse engineered it into a chart.

MCR: How well did they do?

HE: They did one year and they got close. Their process was actually pretty amazing. It is a beautiful chart.

MCR: You don’t find too many artists with an op-ed and a corresponding info-graphic on the editorial pages of the Sunday NY Times. You also don’t see many artists on CNN or the Colbert Report. You have entered into a different sphere where artists rarely tread.

HE: It is interesting because most of my media coverage is not in the arts media. I have been in the arts section a couple of times, but that’s it. You will primarily find me in the culture or science or law or politics sections. It is really interesting to be covered by mainstream media, especially television. You are right; you don’t see artists on late night talk shows. So, it is pretty amazing but I think what that says is I am a real firm believer in art that barely passes as art. I love stuff that barely passes as art. I love Mel Chin’s work. I think the guy is an absolute genius. I love Daniel Bozhkov’s work. These guys make work that really barely passes for art but it so barely passes for art that it goes full circle and ends up being–well, art, but it fits everything else along the way. I get excited about work that is not what you expect and then it turns into something else. It is great when people have multiple reads on the work. I also feel that artists have a responsibility to make work that is read by multiple audiences. Sure, if you have the training to read it as an artist, there is something there but even if you don’t, there is another way of reading it. It is not just that you get whatever you get out of it. I am not saying that. I am saying that it speaks differently to different audiences. It is really exciting to be able to interact and interface with multiple audiences whether it is through galleries, museums, television, radio or any sort of mass media.

MCR: Making art that barely passes for art must really open up your artistic process.

HE: I am in an unbelievably fortunate situation where I don’t know when I am working and when I am not. I simply do not know the distinction and I love that there is no separation of art and life for me. For many artists there is a very conscious distinction; this is my life, this is my art. In my case there is absolutely no distinction, and I love that. It really took awhile for it to come to that point and it also took a while for me to accept. I recently moved to Maryland from San Francisco and I have been looking for a house.  I can live anywhere; I don’t have any kids so I don’t need to be in a particular school district. I can be anywhere within a two hour radius of College Park, so I have looked everywhere and searched through every possible real estate listing. Some say that my hobby now is looking for real estate, but that is not all I have been doing. Between 2005 and when I bought my house last year in 2011, I had essentially been living in sublets and hotels. Every few months I would move and when I got to Maryland it was a different sublet or hotel every month and sometimes almost every week so I saw a lot of different neighborhoods. Owning a house is really freaking me out because the longest I have ever lived anywhere aside from my parents’ house has been nine months.

MCR: Nine months is the longest stretch in one place over the last twenty years? Was that something that the FBI took an interest in?

HE: They asked for a list of all of my addresses from the last ten years. That goes on for awhile because I listed every single address.

MCR: Where did you finally settle?

HE: I bought a house in Greenbelt, MD near NASA. There is talk about the FBI moving to Greenbelt, so I am really excited about having new neighbors. Maybe I will bake them a cake.

MCR: That would be very neighborly. Your bio mentions that you live roughly equidistant to the FBI, CIA, and NSA. Was the proximity to these agencies part of the consideration in looking for a home?

HE: I actually considered moving to Dick Cheney’s neighborhood. I had heard that he had a house in Saint Michaels, MD. I thought that maybe I would like to be his neighbor, but realized very quickly that I could not afford his neighborhood. It turns out that it is actually pretty easy to find out where people live. There are way too many resources online of public records where you can find just about anything
about anyone. That is how I got pictures of his house. The work I am showing at York College shows the inside of the Death Star. This is where Darth Vader lives. I thought this would only be appropriate since he is probably the most secretive man in the universe, but everything I found is publically accessible. When I look through my logs on my web server I can see who is seeing me. I see who is watching
me and whether those hits come from the House of Representatives, the Pentagon, the office of the Secretary of Defense or even the Executive Office of the President. Every three-letter agency out there is popping by and visiting. I am not trained in computer science; I only know what I need to know to do this stuff and I have no training in this. So, if I can get this information of who is watching me, what are countries and governments and multi-billion dollar corporations whose business it is to do this; what are they getting from us? So in that same sense, if I can access images of the inside of the home of one of the most secretive men in the universe, what can these companies and these organizations get from the average person? That is a pretty scary thing to think about. That is the underside of this project that you don’t see. I am really interested in showing you the things that you don’t see. I am going to show you one thing but really I am going to be talking about something else.

MCR: Can you describe the process by which the images in the gallery, and reproduced in this catalog, were made?

HE: These were basically found photographs and the photographs were mediated as paintings and the paintings were then re-photographed and that is what is being shown. So there is a detached image of a detached image of a detached image of a place. It is very much the place, but it has also been altered in the process. So if you notice, there are no people in them. This house is completely vacant. When you look at these images of vacant interiors they are not very different than about 20,000 of the images I have already posted on my website and they could be anywhere. One of the main characteristics of my images is that they could be anywhere. But they are not. If you know what that image is, you know exactly where that is and what point that is. But if you don’t recognize where that is, it literally could be anywhere. So in the same sense, this house could be any house. But if you know the house, it is that house.

MCR: So, if we send this catalog to Dick Cheney he’ll recognize the images?

HE: Maybe he’ll come to the show. It is only appropriate that this work be shown at York College given your proximity to Raven Rock, which is the other undisclosed location that Vice President Cheney would be taken to. Raven Rock has an interesting history. Many people in Pennsylvania are probably aware of its existence but I don’t think anyone knows what actually goes on inside of it. You just see these driveways that go into the middle of the mountain and that’s it. So you can see it on Google maps but I don’t think anyone actually has photos of what the inside of it looks like.

MCR: I’m actually surprised Google hasn’t managed to get some interior views.

HE: Just look at the possibility of what Google has. It would be interesting to see how Google would be marketed as a privatized intelligence company. What would the promotional materials and advertisements look like? I am curious about that; I think they would be the friendly face of big brother because we have no problem giving our Gmail accounts to Google or everything that is in it; we have no problem giving our Google calendars, we have no problem giving them our photos; they have everything. If you are using an Android phone, that’s Google. So they have all of your information but we have no problem with that. Google has too many letters in its name. That is what it is. If they had three letters, there would be problems.

MCR: One thing that interests me about the idea of giving away all details of your life is the issue of making yourself vulnerable in the workplace. I have heard several stories about people getting fired over their use of social media. At what point do people not get fired anymore because there is so much out there about so many people that you just can’t punish employees for online social activity?

HE: I think that we are already seeing that. I think the reason you hear about those things in the news is that they happen rarely. They become watershed moments in history: so and so got fired because of this, but, realistically there is so much information about so many people out there that it should protect people. If the only photo of you online is the one of you drunk passed out, you deserve your
punishment, but if there are 500 photos of you out there and only one of them happens to show you drunk and passed out while the other 499 show you being a pretty decent person then that is just part of being normal; it just happens. So it is okay and if your only post is about how much you hate your employer that is idiotic. But, if you have 10,000 posts some of which are positive toward your employer then the negative comment is put in perspective and context. I think that is the part that we keep forgetting. We are beginning to look at things in broad ranges rather than just isolated incidents and isolated bits of information. You process information differently. I think it is important for us to acknowledge that.

MCR: And yet, certain images can still destroy your career. I am thinking about how former New York congressman Anthony Weiner’s career ended abruptly after some of his cell phone pictures were publicized.

HE: That is true, but the senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, is still in office. He is still there in spite of being exposed in the famous D.C. Madam prostitution case. In many cases involving politicians, it is the cover up that gets you in trouble more than the actual act.  As we see more of these acts everywhere, I think we will see a change in what we accept as social norms. I cannot tell you what is going to happen in the future, but I can pretty safely say that the rules of tomorrow will be different than the standards lived by today or yesterday. We are not going back. We are not going to detach from our technology. The current population of the United States is close to 312 million including infants and we have more than 327 million cell phones so when someone tells you that they don’t use a cell phone, it is just a matter of time. They will either go away or they will pick up a phone; it is going to be one or the other

MCR: Even the infants will have phones.

HE: I am pretty sure they will. It is just a matter of time. It will be like, “I want my milk, press this button. I need my diaper changed, press this button.” It will happen. We are joking about it right now, but as crazy as it sounds, it might actually happen. I think it was several decades ago at the World’s Fair where people were amazed at this idea of invisible eyeglasses. We just call them contact lenses now.

MCR: And pretty soon contact lenses will be capable of uploading all kinds of information about what is being viewed by the wearer.

HE: Yes, that is in development. Actually, my work group at the University developed a project that allows you to see objects floating around through space using a phone. The objects simply don’t exist in reality but they are there on the phone, tablet or other smart device, which sometimes aren’t actually that smart.

MCR: That is not the kind of project one might expect to emerge from a class taught by an artist, though considering the nature of your work and your interest in technology it shouldn’t be that surprising.

HE: It goes back to the idea that I practice in the field of art, but make things that barely pass for art. So it only makes sense for me to work with students that barely pass as art students. I work with incredibly creative students in the Digital Cultures and Creativity program here. I currently have no art majors, though one might switch, but it is a pretty amazingly creative and innovative student body that I am working with. We all have a bit of a hybrid identity, so I get aerospace engineering students who are writing musicals. That is a very specific type of a brain that can do both. It is great.

MCR: You’ve got a whole program of students with that type of brain?

HE: Yes, we have a whole bunch of students like that. I have another student who is going to med school and for her project she composed music based on collaboration with a guy from linguistics who has figured out how to map speeches into sounds into musical patterns. So again, it is not just one focus, it is people who are multi-focused and that is a very exciting thing. We are seeing more generalists than the hyper specialization that we used to see. I think the industrial revolution forced hyper specialization onto the culture. Prior to that era, the artist was also the scientist who was also the diplomat who was also the musician who was also sometimes the doctor. The artist played a much broader role in society. The point in history where we needed specific cogs for specific tasks, the artists became those specific
cogs. So I think it is really great to see art outside of where you would expect it to be taking place. I think that is where things get really exciting, things that barely pass for art.

MCR: Your program is very different than the typical experience one might have pursuing a degree in art. I imagine it is very different than your undergraduate experience. You attended Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA, and the size of that art program and the demographics of the student body are fairly similar to that of York College. What advice would you give a student at a
program like ours if they want to experience a career like yours?

HE: First, I would recommend being open to things and adaptive to changes and different directions. I never actually intended to do what I am doing. It just happened and I was good at it. One of the great things about being in a liberal arts program is that you get a broad education. And really, let’s be realistic – if we go up the road to NIH (National Institutes of Health) to the doctors that have been there for ten to thirty years, some of the top researchers in the world, and ask them, “what did you learn in med school that you do right now?” the answer will likely be zero. The same thing happens in computer science. Some of the top developers out there were trained in computer languages that are now extinct. They had to adapt. Having a broad skill set in a liberal arts environment is a really amazing experience and it lets you be adaptive. I think the most beneficial thing you could do is be open to change and to not say, “this is exactly what I want to do and what I must do.” I have a lot of issues with the private art schools that train students to be animators rather than artists. They train students to be a specific type of artist that does a specific task. Sure, you can train yourself for that, but then what? What happens when that field completely changes? The scientific definition of extinction is a species that fails to adapt to changing conditions. It happens to ideas too; if ideas don’t evolve and adapt, they go away. We are seeing this in industry and some industries are doing very well and some are not. I recently heard this anecdote about how all but one stagecoach manufacturer disappeared when the car came around. They didn’t stay in business because they didn’t adapt. You need to be adaptive because the world around us is constantly changing. A liberal arts education is an excellent baseline to start with, to allow those different ways of thinking.

Hasan Elahi is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Maryland.

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Matthew Clay-Robison teaches at York College in Pennsylvania. His work can also be found in the permanent and private collections of the Library of Congress, the Dr. David C. Driskell Collection, and the Dr. Robert E. Steele Collection.

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