The likes of U2, Coldplay, and David Bowie can afford to hire producer, artist, and thinker Brian Eno to shake up their creative processes. You and I, alas, probably can’t. We can, however, afford to consult the Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards invented by Eno and painter Peter Schmidt in 1975. Each card offers, in its own oblique fashion, a strategy you can follow when you find yourself at an impasse in your own work, be it music, painting, or any form at all: “Honor thy error as a hidden intention.” “State the problem in words as clearly as possible.” “Remember those quiet evenings.” “Once the search is in progress, something will be found.” “Work at a different speed.” “Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them.”
“The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when panic, particularly in studios, tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working,” said Eno in a 1980 radio interview, “and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach.”
Should you feel the need for just such a break with the obvious approach, you can track down one of the official physical editions of the Oblique Strategies deck, which you can watch unboxed in the video just above. Or you can consult one of its many virtual versions available on the internet. I like the simple one here, but you can find links to more of them, and further details about the Strategies, their development, and their employment, on Gregory Alan Taylor’s Oblique Strategies site. Below, Eno talks about how the deck of cards came into being. Vintage sets can be found on Amazon here.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.