“Tyranny of the Possible.” In Leonardo, Vol. 38, No. 1. 2005. P. 1.

Several recent conversations with concerned colleagues during new media art events have compelled me to think over what I see as a “tyranny of the possible” in new media art practice. The following, therefore, are my reflections on this relationship between new media art and technological possibility [1].

First, let us go back just a little, almost a hundred years back:

The word “art,” etymologically speaking, means to make, simply to make. Now what is making? Making something is choosing a tube of blue, a tube of red, putting some of it on the palette, and always choosing the quality of the blue, the quality of the red, and always choosing the place to put it on canvas, it’s always choosing. So in order to choose, you can use tubes of paint, you can use brushes, but you can also use a ready made thing, made either mechanically or by the hand of another man, even, if you want, and appropriate it, since it’s you who chose it. Choice is the main thing, even in normal painting [2].

I would argue that this lesson of “choice” as “the main thing” in art making—especially in relation to new information, communication and biotechnologies employed in the new media arts—urgently needs to be revisited. Unlike painting, which has been transformed and is still being transformed by that lesson, other art forms are particularly vulnerable to the tyranny of the possible, when little thought is given to the question of choice as the main thing. When the urgency of such reflexive judgment is not enacted, when one is not constantly vigilant about one’s choosing (even if such awareness decides on “letting oneself go”) among the technically possible options, then one’s art becomes a mere exemplar of the possible.

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