This article sketches an assessment of Jon Elster’s theory of creativity in the arts, especially in the context of modernism. Elster’s perspective on constraints in the arts is immensely valuable for thinking through questions of artistic strategies, norms, innovation and originality. The article considers Elster’s views on artistic maxima, including a consideration of the distinction between aesthetic and non-aesthetic emotions, and then applies some of his insights to the field of modern poetic discourse as a means of assessing some aspects of his theory. It is argued that Elster’s prioritising of classical principles of artistic creativity as against modernist principles is not in fact necessitated by his own theoretical perspective. Indeed, constraint theory is in many ways as applicable to modernism as it is to classicism.