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Does Creativity Require Constraints?

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Started by Tessa Gray 17 Feb 2012 12:01pm () Replies (2)

I stumbled across this post a few days ago Does Creativity Require Constraints? It bought back memories of a debate last year, about whether providing examples, exemplars, guidelines for others to follow would stifle creativity

As an ex art teacher, I find the whole idea of creativity both interesting and challenging. I have always loved the Elliot. W Eisner’s quote, which is similar to, ‘First you learn the rules, then you can bend the rule, break the rules and make your own rules.’ 


The blog post Does Creativity Require Constraints? is along similar vein, but presents the idea that constraints (the right kind) can promote creativity.

“Paradoxically, when people are given free reign to solve a problem, they tend to be wholly uncreative, focusing on what’s worked best in the past. This is due to the fundamental nature of human cognition: to imagine the future we generate what we already know from the past. According to Stokes, such freedom can hinder creativity, whereas the strategic use of constraints can promote creativity.”


Four different types of contraints (criteria) are explained that would help develop creativeness in both adults and children.

“This research on constraints suggests that there are various constraints, each step of the way, which impact this transition.”


As well mentoring and feedback, one might assume having guidelines, exemplars and models would aide in the development of creativity. Some interesting considerations to ponder in relation to creativity for the gifted/talented - in fact for all students.


  • Mary St George (View all users posts) 18 May 2012 10:10pm ()

    I've always found this an interesting question. I read a library book when I was 17 that had a drawing exercise to investigate how different one's abstract drawing was if one started with a pencilled circle drawn around a dinner plate on the page (as compared with starting on a plain page). Mine was certainly very different in style. That was the beginning of my interest in creativity and restraints.

    My sister did some study of creativity at architecture school, and also struck the idea that some restraints could be very positive for the creative process. Other restraints have a negative effect. Many architects always start designing on paper, because their research suggests that starting with CAD means they tend to limit themselves to what is easily done with the CAD tools. A friend who is a graphic artist using Illustrator says he has found the same to be true.

    As a teacher, I find that kids react quite individually to freedoms and restraints in their creative processes.  Some can't write until you give them a topic, a story starter, a word bank, and a mark on the page they have to reach. Others can't commit to anybody's topic but their own - they seem to require total freedom to get going. Most seem to write best with some suggestions about topics and some guidance about elements to include - with some slightly bendy rules to bend, I suppose!

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