Jump Start Your Creative Process with Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” Deck of Cards (1975)

Image by Bas­ti­aan Ter­horst, via Flickr Com­mons

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

Watch Bri­an Eno’s “Video Paint­ings,” Where 1980s TV Tech­nol­o­gy Meets Visu­al Art

Day of Light: A Crowd­sourced Film by Mul­ti­me­dia Genius Bri­an Eno

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 Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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  • Morgen says:

    I HIGHLY rec­om­mend peo­ple not order the Oblique Strate­gies from Enoshop. I ordered and paid for two packs which I nev­er received. When I inquired about the pur­chase, their cus­tomer ser­vice rep told me that the item had been shipped but that there was no track­ing or ship­ping information.shipment. There also should have been a cus­toms form as it was an inter­na­tion­al ship­ment, but they could not give me that either. They offered no redress and my cred­it card com­pa­ny is now dis­put­ing the trans­ac­tion. I have seen sim­i­lar reports else­where. The oper­a­tion is either breath­tak­ing­ly ama­teur or a scam.

  • Marina Lutz says:

    They have them on Ama­zon But they’re the 2001 fifth edi­tion. Black box with unnum­bered cards.

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