Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough

Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough

Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough

Creativity from Constraints: The Psychology of Breakthrough


In this exciting new contribution to the study of creativity, psychologist, artist, and writer Dr. Patricia Stokes delves into the minds of famous creative artists and discovers the surprising source leading to their creative breakthroughs. From Picasso to Stravinsky, Kundera to Chanel, to Frank Lloyd Wright, it is not boundary-less creative freedom that inspires new ideas, but self-imposed, well-considered constraints. Monet forced himself to repeatedly paint the way light broke on, between, and around his subjects, contrasting color instead of light and dark, and softening edges in the process. His constraints catapulted the art world from representational to impressionist art. Whatever your creative field-be you an artist, educator, or psychologist who studies creativity and problem solving - Stokes shows you how to think clearly about your creative development and design the vital constraints that will take you to breakthrough.


This book grew out of things I learned in art school and in advertising, things which I only understood when I became a psychologist.

Psychology obviously is my second career. 1 would say teaching too except that when I was a group head, I taught cub copy writers. That career, the first one, was in advertising. I went to Pratt. I worked at J. Walter Thompson, Ted Bates, Jordan Case McGrath. I wrote on national accounts, primarily on package goods—things that come in packages and are sold on shelves. I worked on food (Wonder Bread, Good Seasons), toiletries (Arrid, Ponds), cosmetics (Avon, Maybelline, Helena Rubenstein).

It was terrific. I even got to work in Tokyo for three years. It was terrific for a long time, and then something terrible happened—I got bored. In a creative business, where I was successful, I got bored. (We'll get back to boredom as a catalyst).

To get un-bored, I went to back to school, to Columbia, for a PhD. I always wanted to be a doctor, a certified expert. Why psychology? I worked in the [creative department,] where success meant solving the same problem, selling the same product, over and over in different ways. Psychologists studied creativity. I read a lot of what psychologists wrote. Much of it was about traits, talent, genius, stuff you have or don't have: not very useful in an advertising agency. The parts that were more pragmatic— training, steps, strategies—never came close to what goes on in a professional school like Pratt or an advertising agency like Bates. Let me tell you something about art school and advertising:

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