Self-Imposed Creativity Constraints

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis


This dissertation epitomizes three years of research guided by the research question:

how can we conceptualize creative self-binding as a resource in art and design processes?

Concretely, the dissertation seeks to offer insight into the puzzling observation that highly skilled creative practitioners sometimes freely and intentionally impose rigid rules, peculiar principles, and other kinds of creative obstructions on themselves as a means to spur momentum in the process and reach a distinctly original outcome. To investigate this the dissertation is composed of four papers (Part II) framed by a summary report (Part I) that weaves together the arguments and contributions of the papers and positions the work reported. Rather than attempt to offer one final answer to the research question, the dissertation is devised as an exploratory study, which aims to balance breadth of scope and depth of analysis. Informed by the insight that constraints both enable and restrain creative agency, the dissertation’s main contention is that creative self- binding may profitably be conceptualized as the exercise of self-imposed creativity constraints. Thus, the dissertation marks an analytical move from vague phenomenon to clear concept.

Given the exploratory scope of the research approach, the dissertation draws on various sources, notably philosophy, aesthetics, and design. Recognizing its debt to these disciplines, the dissertation is clearly positioned as humanistic crossdisciplinary creativity research. As the majority of work in creativity research originates from psychology, the dissertation shows how the humanities – given their salient critical-analytical reflection and high concept awareness – can contribute new types of studies to creativity research, which, despite its blossoming as a field, is becoming increasingly fragmented and in need of new ‘big’ unifying questions. Hence the designation of the dissertation’s research approach. The four papers serve a dual purpose. They are contributions in their own right, and they provide partial answers to the overall research question. In this respect, the concept constraints as a denotation of limitations on agency is crucial. Building on extensive critical literature reviews of the current dispersed studies in constraint research, the dissertation proposes creativity constraints as a domain- general unifying descriptor. This enables the dissertation to offer key findings from peer collaboration. Analyses of creative self-binding in datasets from poetry, filmmaking, and engineering ensure breadth of scope, while a theory-oriented study in interaction design with three case examples warrants depth of analysis.

The main contribution of the dissertation, therefore, is the following assertion:

The elusive phenomenon of creative self-binding may profitably be conceptualized
as the concrete exercise of self-imposed creativity constraints. Subsumed under this main contribution are three supplementary contributions:

(1) An extensive critical summary and bibliography of the current dispersed studies on constraints in creativity, spanning psychology, engineering, philosophy, design, and aesthetics.

(2) Definitions, concepts, and models of self-imposed creativity constraints for analytical application within and across creative domains, including the 6i model for demonstrating self-imposed creativity constraints in highly dissimilar creative domains, the concept decisive constraints building on two definitional conditions, and other concepts based on identified patterns of innovative expert handling of creativity constraints in general and self-imposed creativity constraints in particular.

(3) Furtherance of theory and knowledge interchange in creativity research informed by the dissertation’s humanistic crossdisciplinary research approach. The main contribution, self-imposed creativity constraints, articulates a common conceptual starting point for studies across very dissimilar creative domains. Also, the concept exemplifies the rigor, richness, and relevance of imparting a humanistic approach to creativity research in a crossdisciplinary scope. Infusing creativity research with this research approach yields (at least) three benefits:
the (a) critical-analytical reflection and high concept awareness characterizing the humanities’ general mode of inquiry;
(b) expertise in formulating new ‘big’ exploratory and unifying questions, which are waning in creativity research; and
(c) greater versatility in the use of empirical data material, since the analytical, speculative, and interpretative methods of the humanities render it possible to rely even more on the artifact as a resource in the analyses. Overall, this research approach enables new types of studies to serve as critical correlations to both comprehensive abstract theorization and narrow, mono-disciplinary studies confined to a single domain, the latter characterizing much of psychology’s seminal work in creativity research.

In addition to the main contribution, i.e., the concept self-imposed creativity constraints, the second (2) and third (3) supplementary contributions mark the dissertation’s chief contributions to knowledge.
Translated title of the contributionSelvpålagte kreativitetsbegrænsninger
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages272
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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