Aleatory creativity: The role of random constraints

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


The role of constraints in the creative process is complex. One specific kind of constraint, which has been employed by artists and scientists to stimulate their creativity, is the deliberate use of random or aleatory (chance-based) elements. For example, painter and scientist Leonardo da Vinci extolled the benefits of staring at the random ‘patterns’ in brickwork, composer John Cage made use of star maps to start his compositional process, and pop artist David Bowie used a computer program called the ‘verbasizer’ to create random word strings as a starting point for lyrical ideas. However, although such anecdotal evidence suggests that these approaches may be effective, they have not been clearly conceptualized, and remain understudied. In this chapter, we therefore aim to put forward a definition of random constraints, provide a brief overview of historical and anecdotal evidence for the use (and purported effectiveness) of some aleatory creativity techniques, and review the scarce literature on aleatory influences on the creative process. Subsequently, we will argue that random constraints have three core characteristics. First, because they are not meaningfully related to the task or context, they are remote. Second, because of their remoteness, random constraints are cognitively demanding. Third, because random constraints are typically self-imposed, they do not threaten autonomy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConstraints in Creativity
EditorsCatrinel Tromp, Robert Sternberg, Don Ambrose
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022

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